Teaching with Kindness
Discussion with Mélanie Collon
Learning is not only theory, it’s also a lot of practice. This is why today I wanted to have a little chat with Mélanie Collon, multi-talented teacher with unbounded curiosity. We discussed the joy of learning, tools, failures, and kindness. I hope you will enjoy this article!
Mélanie connects to the call, already smiling: learning is a topic she is fascinated about, and is eager to discuss. She’s a joyful and inspiring woman.
Today, Mélanie works at the Institut Thérapeutique Éducatif et Pédagogique (ITEP) where she teaches students between 13 and 15 years old. This institute takes care of students who suffer from emotional and behavioral disorders that make tradition school difficult. In addition to the educational efforts, this institute also includes a therapeutic department composed of psychiatrists, psychologists, speech therapists, music therapists, nurses, psychomotor therapists, etc. All the help that these students might need to support their learning. Mélanie has been teaching at the ITEP for almost three years now, and she is very happy to share her vocation with a team of people working towards the same goal. In her class, she works with a specialized educator, Vincent, and together they guide the students towards an apprenticeship.
Mélanie is convinced that there is not only one way of learning and founded her microbusiness in 2017: Abracad’Apprendre. Through workshops and posts on social media, Mélanie shares new tools for learning. She is particularly attracted to tools supporting visual thinking. These are tools that she uses and refines daily with her students, when they let her: "They are teenagers so they complain often and swear a lot."
Mind mapping, for example, is a tool to organise one’s thoughts and knowledge about a specific topic. This tool works particularly well with children as they need to organise their learning in a clear way. Starting from a central topic, children learn to decompose it in different ideas, organised around different sub-themes.
Mélanie also likes to use sketchnoting: a note-taking technique mixing writing and drawings or pictograms. Mélanie insists: sketchnoting is different from graphic facilitation, most commonly used in conferences. With sketchnoting, the goal is not for everybody to be able to understand the notes, but to express one’s understanding with one’s personal language towards a result that is easy to understand and assimilate. With this tool, students take control over the topic in the language that makes most sense to them. Moreover, the creative and pictural nature of these tools is particularly important to Mélanie’s students: often, these students tend to panic when confronted with activities that remind them of traditional school, such as writing.
However, Mélanie’s favorite tool is definitely the Bullet Journal. Her journal follows her everywhere she goes, she even nicknamed it her “second brain”. In it, she organizes her tasks, her upcoming songs, her objectives… It’s a tool that she handles with creativity and that she believes to be essential. Every monday, with her students, they complete the “page of the week”, where everybody writes an objective for the week. Mélanie ensures that each objective is precise and realistic. As she likes to explain to her students, for some, an objective could be to beat a certain time at a marathon, but for her, a realistic objective would be to simply finish a half-marathon. The objective needs to account for where each individual starts.
Moreover, Mélanie asks her students to compose “joy” pages where they list things that they like about themselves. It’s a very difficult exercise for these students who, often, lack self-confidence. But this also makes it even more necessary. As Mélanie says it: "For my students, it's very difficult, they think they suck at everything. But I'm starting to know them, so I can show them where they succeeded, and focus on the positive." Therefore, these pages are only positive, and record nice comments received, happy events, and fulfilled objectives.
Mélanie cannot stay constrained in a box, she is constantly discovering and trying out new ways of teaching. According to her, although it is possible to learn by sitting on a chair in a lecture, it would be a pity to restrict ourselves to this pattern. Other approaches are possible, such as giving time to students to figure out how they learn, giving them the opportunity to fail, or letting them use their bodies for learning. All these techniques are beneficial for the students and are supported by research in this field [3, 4].
However, Mélanie is aware that these novel approaches are difficult to implement in most schools, where classrooms can count up to 35 students. Dozens of students who are not there just to learn, but also come in class with their own personality, story, feelings, difficulties, and objectives. School plays a crucial social role, as we all noticed during the lockdown: school enables children to bond with each other, to communicate with people their own age, and to discover the rules of communication and interaction. Teaching is much more than just talking in front of a class, teaching is a profession of major importance, requiring work, energy, and patience.
In this context, Mélanie always reminds herself that the most important aspect of teaching is kindness towards her students. To her, learning is a party, it’s a primary need that can make people happy. So: never stop learning…
To go further:
Instagram Abracad'Apprendre : https://www.instagram.com/abracadapprendre/
Philippe Boukobza’s blog: https://www.heuristiquement.com/
Mind mapping: https://www.mindmapping.com/
Bullet Journal: https://bulletjournal.com/
Biesta, G., 2009. Good education in an age of measurement: On the need to reconnect with the question of purpose in education. Educational Assessment, Evaluation and Accountability (formerly: Journal of Personnel Evaluation in Education), 21(1), pp.33-46.
Feynman, R.P., 2005. The pleasure of finding things out: The best short works of Richard P. Feynman. Basic Books.
 Our article on productive failure: productive-failure
 Our article on embodiment: embodiment