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  • Writer's pictureMadaline Dunn

Dr. Emily Grace on teaching with compassion

Dr. Emily Grace of J. C. Roe Center is an educator who believes that the best way to reach students is to tap into compassion and find ways to lower their stress axes. Promoting self-efficacy within the classroom, Emily also seeks to provide students with the tools they need to learn independently.

Educator Dr. Emily Grace has been in education her whole career. Initially intending to go into human resources, while at college, Emily, an industrial psychology major at the time, became involved in a research program called ‘Families and Schools Together.’ The program, aimed at helping at-risk children and integrating family support to achieve student success, led to her working directly with the children every Saturday. Emily said this was deeply satisfying and filled her heart. So, she went on to graduate school to obtain her education degree and later her administration degree. She now works at J. C. Roe Center, an alternative school with small classes that allows her to really make connections with students and individualize instruction.

Emily noted that math is a huge stress trigger for many children, on top of the anxiety and stress that many are already carrying, so she makes it a priority to approach teaching with compassion. Part of this compassionate approach involves acknowledging that her students won’t always be in the mental space to learn. To help, Emily has introduced several stress-reducing tools (fidget toys, weighted balls, dumbbells) in different areas around her classroom, where students can go to decompress. To further facilitate this calming atmosphere, her classroom is also filled with color, and she encourages natural light wherever possible.

Due to many of the children Emily teaches having experienced significant trauma, routine is also a key feature in her class. She explains this helps lower students’ stress axes as much as possible, and they always receive advanced notice if this routine has to undergo changes. She also ensures to include activities in which every student can succeed because Emily recognizes that success moments can be transformative for students’ confidence and self-worth.

Beyond this, she uplifts students with positive feedback and emphasizes how impressive their efforts are. Emily said this is an especially important step when a particular part of math has fewer real-world applications. In such situations, she focuses on applauding their understanding of such a complex topic. “Another shift that I’ve made is not telling kids that they’re smart or did a good job; instead, I’m focusing on more phrases like ‘You worked so hard to get there and you did it,’ without judgment.” Emily said that this kind of positive narration is powerful and that by just pointing out what they’ve achieved, they’ll start to have those internal messages themselves.

Understanding the importance of keeping math fun and engaging, Emily also employs short, accessible warmups and focuses on getting students up and moving when the class mood permits.

Boosting students’ self-efficacy is a number one priority for Emily, too. J. C. Roe Center is a temporary school, so she works hard to ensure students are equipped with the tools they need to succeed at the next school they attend. This also means teaching students how to ask adults for help, both in verbal and non-verbal ways.

Photos courtesy of Emily Grace

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