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Teacher Spotlight: Building Empathy and Sharing Culture

30 Nov 2021 by Allison Bloomfield

As part of our Teacher Spotlight series, we recently asked the CLASS Learning Community to nominate a Head Start teacher who made the most of meaningful interactions. Our winner, Likaa Mohamad, has been teaching at All Kids Academy/Casa de Oro Head Start since 2019. Likaa immigrated to the United States in 2012 and went to school to get a master’s in Autopsy and worked in the field for about two years. Upon reflection, she felt a pull to the early education field and changed her major. She began working at All Kids Academy in 2019 and got her bachelor’s degree in Education in May.

Why Likaa Loves Teaching

When I asked Likaa about what made her seek out the education field, she shared that autopsy helps people, but in a limited way. Instead of being involved at the end of people’s lives, she wanted to be part of the sprouts. By starting with young learners, she saw a way to empower and shape her community.

In Likaa's opinion, education is the noblest career on the planet, for every other vocational pathway starts with educators.  They spark doctors to be the best doctors, engineers to be the best engineers, and all of our community members to hold the best perspective about life. It is a challenging career, however, she stays and sees herself as a successful educator because she accepts learning from every child. She finds that she grows with her students each and every day.

Tips for New Educators

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Believe In Yourself

  • Embrace yourself and be proud of your skills, regardless of where you are in that skill. 
  • Don’t let your circumstances stop you. If you hold onto the belief that you can do anything, you can!

Learn From Those Around You

  • See the world through the children’s eyes and follow their lead. 
  • Always expect to be challenged by the children, their families, and your coworkers. 
  • Find the opportunities and the beauty in these challenges.

Seek Knowledge

  • Knowledge is power. It makes you feel engaged, it makes you love doing what you do.
  • Be a learner and you’ll model that for the children. 

Tips to Increase the Quality of Your Interactions

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Be Intentional

  • Every word, every action, and even every intention is felt by the children, and it’s very powerful. 
  • If the child is shy and not engaged, prompt their inquiry and interest and start the spark. Prompt them, be there alongside them.

Be Present

  • Whenever you are in a learning moment with a child, enjoy that moment. 
  • Be fully present for that child and acknowledge every single thing they do. They deserve acknowledgment, so acknowledge their actions, the beauty of their work, and their minds. Be genuine. 

Follow The Child's Lead

  • Listen to the children and take their recommendations for what they want to learn. Incorporate their ideas into your lesson plans. 
  • Observe the children and find a way to engage every single child. 
  • Create a place for each child to be themselves.
  • Encourage them to participate in the classroom community and allow them to take on different roles. Empower them to be leaders and helpers. 

Building Empathy

Those who recommended Likaa spoke about her use of empathy and being sensitive to others’ feelings. “Children in this teacher’s room follow instructions very well because they don't like to break their teacher's heart; they say that it is hard to fix a broken heart. They generalize this to their homes”. It is clear that empathy is a large part of the classroom community Likaa has created.

In an activity designed to model empathy, Likaa brings in eggs that vary in appearance and asks the students to describe the eggs. They talk about the shape of the eggs, the size of the eggs, the color of their shells, and how they feel. Likaa contributes to the conversation and uses rich vocabulary, such as “semi-ovular,” to describe the shape of the eggs. They then crack the eggs into individual cups and look at the contents of the eggs, and again they describe the eggs. Likaa then tells the students that even though we might be different on the outside, we have similar feelings on the inside, and we are all vulnerable. 

This creates an opportunity to encourage her children that it’s okay to be vulnerable, it’s okay to cry, and it’s okay to feel weak. She encourages them to pay attention to the other children in their community and to support their friends when they need help. 

Sharing Culture

One other theme that was common among the submissions was the sharing of culture that occurs in this classroom community. Likaa shared that at the start of each year when they are getting to know one another and their families, she encourages them to bring something from their homes and their culture to the classroom. 

Before the pandemic, parents would come into the classroom to observe the way their children interacted with their community and could witness their learning firsthand. Since the pandemic, parents no longer come into the classroom, so Likaa asks the parents about their cultures and does some research on her own. She learns about their traditions, interesting facts, what they do on a daily basis, and how their culture is shared at home. She then finds an item and places it in the “anticipation box”. During the morning message, she brings the box to the children and starts to give them some hints. The children make guesses about whose culture the item might belong to, and eventually, Likaa introduces the child. The child then shares with the rest of the community how this item is important to them and their culture. She finds that it really helps the children to become more understanding and the community to feel more inclusive while also sparking curiosity. In Likaa’s words, “The anticipation box has a lot to show the world.”

Matching teaching and learning/parenting styles

Likaa is very passionate about matching the child’s learning style to her teaching style, and for this to carry over into the child’s primary environment. Likaa feels that if we ever want education to occur, this matching is very important. Many people know that there are different learning styles, but these beliefs can be limited in the sense that they put children into one category. Her belief is that most people have multiple learning styles, but there are many different combinations and percentages of each style for each person. When you do your best to see the world through the child’s eyes by soliciting their perspective, you can gain a sense of how they learn, and then can adjust how you approach teaching them.

Thank you to Likaa for sharing so much of her knowledge. We are wishing Likaa all of the best as she attends Yale University for her Master's in Education. 

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