What do you know about each of your students?

At the beginning of this school year we held a back to school retreat.  One of the slides was based on something that Aaron Hogan, author of Shattering the Perfect Teacher Myth, had shared in his Twitter feed this summer.

My Challenge

We have talked over the years about the value of relationships.  We all know that there are some students who are EASY to get to know.  At the same time, we all know that there are some students that are very difficult to get to know.

Getting to know about the things that are tied directly to school is what teachers do. Test scores, homework completion, attentiveness in class…  I think all of us are good at that.  To have a true and meaningful relationship with a student, we need to have a knowledge of all the aspects of the child’s life, not just their ability to “play school.”  To know this, we have to be excellent watchers and listeners.  This watching and listening has to come from the idea that the only way to create solid learning environments for our students is through truly knowing a student.

Do you have a system of tracking what you know about kids?  Whether you have a spreadsheet that you type info into, a stack of notecards with one for each kid, a class list with simple notes, sticky notes in a binder, or whatever works for you, there needs to be some way to keep track of the things you know about those kids.  If you haven’t done this yet, take a few moments in the coming week to assess your own knowledge of your students.  What do you know about their life outside of school?  What interests do they have?  What did they do over the weekend?  What do you know about their family?

As you assess your own knowledge, are there any kids who stand out as someone you don’t know much about?  If you don’t know much about that child, how can you be sure that you are creating a learning environment that meets that child’s needs?

The good news, it’s still very early in the school year!  If there are kids you want to get to know better, there’s plenty of time for that.  Make it a goal to learn what you can about those kids you aren’t able to write much about.  Use strategies like the 2 for 10 method (spending 2 minutes every day for 10 days talking about something that has nothing to do with school) can help you learn a lot in a very short time.  Conversations in the hallway or at recess can be a great chance to get to know kids too.

Caring about kids can have a huge impact.  The kids who drop out of school in 9th or 10th grade don’t decide one random Monday morning that they are going to sleep in and never come back.  Dave Brown and Trudy Knowles share in What Every Middle School Teacher Should Know that:

“The decision to drop out is a reflective process that begins during the middle level years based primarily on the relationships they have at school with classmates and particularly with teachers.”

In the book Canaries Reflect on the Mine: Dropouts’ Stories of Schooling, Jeanne Cameron interviewed several high school dropouts.  One of the things that stood out in the comments from those students was the belief that they needed teachers to notice them and care about them.  That care doesn’t come just from looking at students grades and test scores.  It comes from the recognizing the difficulties that each of our students have in their lives.

If that isn’t enough of a motivator for you to try to get to know those quiet kids a little bit better, I don’t know what would be.  Do you know there are kids that you don’t know much about?  What do you know about the quietest kid in your class?  What are you going to do in the next week to get to know those kids?  Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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3 thoughts on “What do you know about each of your students?

  1. One new idea I thought of this year to help me get to know my students better, particularly as readers, has been to have students do a weekly reflection (that only I see) in CANVAS. Although my preliminary motivation was to get to know about their reading lives, I am finding out so much more. Students share many personal things that I wouldn’t otherwise know such as, “I am working really hard to read every night, but sometimes my house is very noisy with four young siblings.” “Last night I had to go to my dad’s work and hang out there, but I took my book with me.” “I forgot my book at school, and we don’t have books as my house. Is it okay if I read the Bible instead?” “I am on the travel team, but I have been reading in the car each night.” These are just a few examples of how students have let me see into their home lives. I am able to make a private comment back to them on CANVAS. Lots of days I find a minute to connect In person on what I read, such as: “I read your strategy for keeping going with your reading. Taking a book with you to a game is something others might try. Would you want to share that with the class?”

    I also use discussion boards in CANVAS, and KidBlog, and all students see these discussions. This helps me get to know students better too. Lots of my quietest students will open up in a forum like this in ways they wouldn’t otherwise do.

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    1. I love so much about what you share here! Reading the writing of our students is such a great way to know about our kids. Using Canvas makes it so easy to read and respond quickly – much easier than the reader’s notebooks that I used to carry back and forth from school to home to read and respond to student’s writing. Thanks for sharing!

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  2. Wendy and I both have our students answer some get to know you questions at the beginning of the year. We have excel spread sheets for every class where we enter in what they shared with us. It takes a lot of time to do that for 500 students but it is time well spent to build connections and get to know them. I find myself often referring to that spreadsheet to get some insight on a student. With so many kids, it is tough getting to know them all as well as we would like but we sure do try really hard! Taking just a minute to chat with a student can change everything! They know when you do not know their name and they notice when you are taking initiative to care about them as a person.

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