What’s your story?

Earlier this week I was doing some reading and came across a quote that was talking about the levels of exhaustion that we are seeing in the workplace. This exhaustion is part of what’s leading to the rise in workplace burnout – something that I know educators can definitely go through. The quote made reference to an article in the Harvard Business Review that talked about how that exhaustion is more often a symptom of loneliness than anything else. Oftentimes when we are feeling burnt out, our solution might be to take a “mental health day” and stay home, relax, binge something on Netflix, etc. But if exhaustion is correlated to loneliness, then that mental health day may not be the solution you were hoping for.

After reading the article, I posted a series of tweets with some of my thoughts:

So, all of this got me thinking – how can we attack that feeling of loneliness in our school setting? As I thought about this, I recalled something that we did as a part of our Administrative Team Meetings a couple years ago. Every time all the intermediate administrators from my district got together, one person would “share their story.” In this, they’d start wherever they wanted and talk about the journey that led them to the point that they are now. I loved this time of our meetings because I learned so much about each of my colleagues – even people I had worked with for years. It created a space where we were able to collaborate with one another on an even deeper level. It seemed that knowing where everyone came from helped us to connect in a whole new way.

In the coming weeks, I challenge you to take a few minutes of some time that you are together with your team – it could be your teaching team, it could be your grade level team, it could be your lunch group – and spend some time sharing your story. To get us all started, I thought I would share mine.

I grew up in Bloomington, Indiana as the son of the county extension agent and a stay-at-home mom (she ran an in-home daycare for much of my childhood). In time they transitioned to careers at Indiana University. I attended elementary school at what I later learned was “the rich kid school” in my hometown. I spent time while growing up at the county fair, on the farms of my parent’s families, and in Bloomington. As a child, I had all kinds of dreams about what I might do with my future – be a star basketball player at IU, become a lawyer, be a train engineer, etc.

I was a pretty typical student. I didn’t get the best grades, but I did well enough to not get in trouble either. In high school, there was a program that upperclassmen could apply to called LOTS (Leadership Opportunities Through Service). Part of this program involved spending time as a senior with fifth grade students somewhere in our district. Suddenly I found something I really enjoyed. The time I was able to spend at school with them, plus a week camping at Bradford Woods made me decide that education was the path for me.

Education had always been something in the background for me. My mom taught home economics before I was born, my grandmother was also a home economics teacher, and my great grandfather was a high school science teacher, college professor, and school administrator. I guess you could say that it ran in my blood, but it took me until my senior year of high school to realize it. That time with a class of 5th graders led me to make a huge decision about my future. I was ready to become a fourth generation educator.

I attended IU and majored in elementary education – the first in my family to not be in a secondary education role. I loved my education classes while I was there, with placements in a variety of grade levels for different practicum work. For my student teaching, I was actually placed in the same school that I had worked with as a LOTS Senior four years earlier.

After graduation, it was my hope to stay in the Bloomington area. That dream didn’t work out to well. I had several interviews for teaching positions, but people with more experience than me kept getting selected for the spot. I was able to land a temporary contract for a teacher on maternity leave, and did some coaching, but no full-time jobs worked out.

After a year of substitute teaching, coaching, and one temporary contract, I made the decision to expand my search. After applying to and interviewing in several districts in the Indianapolis area, I received a job offer at Oaklandon Elementary School in Lawrence Township. The position was in fifth grade, and school started in just a few days.

That first year was a whirlwind! If it hadn’t been for some awesome teammates, some great people working in the office who helped me out, and an amazing principal as our leader, I’m not sure I would have made it. I definitely had some doubts that I was on the right track. On the last day of school, I remember that principal stopping me in the hallway and asking me if I’d ever thought of school administration. I hadn’t! He told me that he thought I had leadership potential. I took the compliment and moved on. I kind of thought he was crazy.

A few years down the road, I made the jump to Hamilton Southeastern Schools, the district I’m still in. After a couple of years in HSE, I decided it was time to start thinking about a master’s degree, and the comments from that first principal came back to me. I did some research into schools, and eventually chose to take classes through Ball State.

After 2 hard years of work, I received a master’s in administration and supervision. I was happy to have that degree but wasn’t sure I was quite ready to make the jump to an administrative position. I loved the work I was doing in the classroom with my students and was in no hurry to make a change.

Eventually I decided I wanted to test the water in administration. I interviewed for several positions (a couple of them I even thought I really had a solid chance), but nothing was panning out. Then, an opportunity fell right in my lap. The current assistant principal in my building left. I threw my name in the hat, and after a long interview process, I was chosen as the best candidate. I’m forever grateful for the opportunity to make that jump to assistant principal. While I’m sure it’s not the final stop in my journey, it’s definitely one that I’m happy with now!

So, you may be wondering why I took the time to tell you my story here. I just wanted to model for you what it might look like. One of the things that seems to be colliding from a lot of different places for me right now is the power of a good story. The next chance you get, talk it over with your team. Find the time to share your stories, even if it’s just one person at a time. The things you learn from one another in those few minutes can be so meaningful! Talk it over with your team, your PLC, your go to people at school. It’s totally worth the investment!

If any of you want to share some of your story, go right ahead in the comments below!

And, here’s that article I referenced earlier:

https://hbr.org/2017/06/burnout-at-work-isnt-just-about-exhaustion-its-also-about-loneliness

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Relationships (and a few ideas to make them better)

It is redistricting time here in HSE, and for those of you who have been through that, you know what that means – not only do we have students who will be shuffling schools, we also have some teachers who will be shifting. As a school who will be growing as a result of the redistricting, we have 4 new positions to fill in my building. At the same time, there are multiple buildings around the district who will be losing positions. All of this goes to say that there is a LOT of change going on around our district.

As a result of those changes, I have had the opportunity to sit in on interviews with a TON of super talented, motivated, and innovative teachers from all over our district. As I reflect on those interviews, one of the things that was reaffirmed is the fact that ALL teachers that I talk to seem to value relationships with their students above all else. For several years now, one of the school improvement goals at our school has been developed around the idea of the importance of strong relationships with our students.

This year our district embarked on a new process to be able to gather data from multiple stakeholders to better understand the beliefs that students, families, and teachers have about our schools. This was done through a survey called Panorama. The survey allows us to learn about a multitude of aspects of what happens at our buildings. We even got data from that survey about the perceptions that we all have about those student to teacher relationships in our building.

What was fascinating to me is that the data shows that within three percentage points, our students, teachers, and families all scored the strength of the connections between teachers and students almost at the same level. I was a bit concerned to learn though, that almost 30% of our responses on these questions were not favorable. Now, many of you know me – I love data. Out of the 851 students who were able to respond to this survey, somewhere close to 250 of those students responded unfavorably on the questions that related to teacher-student relationships.

No significant learning

So that got me thinking – as teachers, we know that relationships are important, and we work hard to create them. Even with that effort, we’re still looking at a significant portion of our student body who did not respond favorably when self-reporting their beliefs about relationships between teachers and students.

You know, when we look at a percentage, saying that our results are a little over 70% favorable sound pretty good. But c’mon, 250 kids did not give a favorable response in this category. That’s an average of about 7 kids per homeroom! Yikes!

So that has me reflecting on 2 questions:

  1. What are the things that are burning our relationships with kids?
  2. What can we do to improve those relationships?

I’m sure we all have theories on why students might not have a favorable response to questions about those relationships, but ultimately we want to think about what things we can do to build relationships. One of the other awesome things about our Panorama survey data is that you also have access to a section called the Playbook. Here you can find ideas for activities that support certain topics. One of the topics on the playbook is Teacher-Student Relationships. Here are a few examples that I think would provide huge bang for your buck in terms of building relationships:

  • Proactive Community Circles – The benefits of circling up and talking about what matters to kids is huge! When we begin looking at data from the Panorama survey, the schools who have already integrated these circles into their daily schedule have higher outcomes in the teacher-student relationships section of the survey. Want to build better relationships with your kids? Start circling up to have a conversation a few times a week!
  • Game time – What if you randomly selected a student to pick a couple of friends and come play a game with you during non-class time? It could be at lunch, during prep, or after school, but think about the opportunity that creates for you to get to know your students in a new way, and for them to get to know you!
  • Contact parents with positive information – make it a point to pick one day a week that you call the parents of a handful of students to share something positive about them. Especially target a student that you might have been struggling with. See if you notice a difference moving forward!
  • Form book clubs with students – Personally I love to read, and I love to talk about reading. What if you picked a group of students to do a book club outside of normal instructional time? Let the students select the book, and find a time once a week or every couple of weeks to get together and chat.

It’s clear to me from the data that teachers value relationships with students, but for some reason there seems to be a disconnect between what we as educators understand and what our students perceive. Maybe some added intentionality in our relationship building will help achieve stronger connections!

What are some of your favorite ways to build relationships with your students? Share some ideas in the comments below!

What’s luck got to do with it?

Recently I was listening to an episode of the TED Radio Hour. If you’ve never heard it before, this show takes a theme, then pulls clips from a few existing TED Talks that tie in to that theme. The host, Guy Raz, interviews the speakers about how their talk ties in with the theme. One of the recent episodes was titled Luck, Fortune, and Chance, and one of the segments in particular got me thinking about the work we have been doing around Equity in my school district. You can listen to just the segment of the show here:

https://www.npr.org/player/embed/697809215/699112445

Mark Sutcliffe, a talk show host from Canada who is also an entrepreneur and runner gave a recent TEDx Talk on the role that hard work and luck play in our stories of success. Our society has traditionally put an emphasis on the idea that hard work can lead to success. The reality is though, that this is not true for all.

Hard work is an element of success in life, but it’s not the essential element… The secret sauce is luck.

Sutcliffe shares that he won the genetic lottery the day he was born. Because of the makeup of his family, their experiences, education level, socio-economic status, and so much more, Mark had an excellent starting point on the day he was born. Not everyone has those same chances. As a runner, Mark makes the analogy between our starting point in life, and the starting point in a marathon.

If you’ve ever run an organized marathon, half-marathon, or possibly even 5k, you’ve started the race with a timing chip attached to you in some way. When the starter at the front of the race says go, the timer starts for everyone that is right at the start line. But if you’re anything like me, you probably aren’t at the front of the pack. In the last half marathon I ran, it was almost 20 minutes between the time the starter said go and the time I crossed the official start line. Thanks to the help of that timing chip, my time didn’t officially start until I crossed that start line.

Sutcliffe shares that life isn’t quite like that. There is no computer chip that levels the playing field. As he points out, if you’re born as a visible minority, a member of a lower socio-economic class, with a physical disability, with a mental illness, or of a different sex, then you start your life further back. And, as Sutcliffe goes on to point out, “You carry that disadvantage your whole life.”

I was raised as the child of a middle class, college educated, white family. I remember conversations about the key to being successful was through my effort. I remember sitting at the kitchen table and being told that if I worked hard in life, I would be more likely to be successful. And when I think about the life that I have led, I know that I have worked hard to get to where I am. But as I come to grips with what I am learning in my work with equity, I’m beginning to realize that not every one of my students starts at the same point. Merit does not drive all success in life, and what Sutcliffe is trying to get at is that when you start your life in one of those lucky situations, chances are pretty good that we will continue to be lucky throughout our life.

In the actual TED Talk the Sutcliffe gave (linked at the end of this post), he shares his plan to run his next marathon starting 3 hours after the official start time. His reason: he wants to remember that anyone who starts life at the back of the pack is likely to get a lot less help and support. He knows that he will most likely be running alone when he runs this marathon.

Some of our students are the ones who are starting the race a little farther back. As the people in their life who make it our goal to help them learn and grow, we have to keep remembering that some of our students may have started their life a little further back in the pack. As a result of that starting point, they may need a little more support in order to be successful.

And some of you may be thinking of someone who likely started further back in the pack and led a truly successful life. Sutcliffe shares that “When the winner comes from the back, it’s an exception, not a rule.” Hard work simply doesn’t do it all.

This past weekend, as the ideas for this post were bouncing around in my mind, the following tweet showed up in my timeline:

Before my work with equity, I probably would have said something very similar. I would have believed that everyone started on an equal playing field. The reality is though, and I think Sutcliffe’s talk does an excellent job of putting it into words, is that not all of us start at the same point. As one of the “lucky ones” who got to start near the front of the pack, I now make it a point to take Sutcliffe’s suggestion of what to do with our luck: be humble; kind; and generous. I can help those who may have started a little further back than me. I do it because it’s fair, it’s smart (there’s a cost of others not having the same opportunities that I do), and it makes me happy.

What are your thoughts? As you reflect on your starting point, where were you in relation to the start line? Do you believe that you have led a lucky life, or is your position in life based solely on hard work and effort? What steps to you take to help level the playing field? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

If you’d like to listen to the entire episode of TED Radio Hour that the idea of this post came from, you can find it here:

https://www.npr.org/programs/ted-radio-hour/697805275/luck-fortune-and-chance

And if you’d like to see Mark’s full TED Talk, check it out here:

Principles of Restorative Practices in Our Classrooms

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend a workshop on the Introduction to Restorative Practices. It was one of the most powerful learning events that I have attended in my many years in education. For the past couple of years, I have been dabbling in the concepts of restorative practices, trying to gain an understanding of just what it is, and how we could use the ideas in my school building. Until attending this workshop, I’ve struggled to figure out just how to implement some of the things I have learned. This seemed like the perfect opportunity!

Restorative PracticeToday’s post will focus primarily on the principles of restorative practices as shared by Kristina Hulvershorn of the Peace Learning Center in Indianapolis, Indiana. But before we get into the principles, let’s talk about why we should be looking at restorative practices as a piece of our plan for handling behavior and conflict.

One of the things that I think we can agree on is that our more traditional methods of blame, shame, punishment, and exclusion just don’t effectively work for our stakeholders. It may make you as the teacher feel better when the student who has made a poor choice is removed from the room, but does it really solve the underlying problem? When we push students out, we’re providing the opposite of what they really need – an opportunity to learn to do better. When misbehavior occurs, it’s the perfect time to help students learn the skills they are lacking. As Dr. Ross Greene reminds us in his book Lost at School, “Kids do well if they can.” In addition, restorative practices help to address disproportionality of discipline on students of color. I hope we can look at restorative practices not as something new and different, but another tool to use when incidents of misbehavior occur.

So, what are the principles of restorative practices?

  • Acknowledges that relationships are central to building community.
  • Builds systems that address misbehavior and harm in a way that strengthens relationships.
  • Focuses on the harm done rather than only the rule-breaking.
  • Gives voice to the person harmed.
  • Engages in collaborative problem solving.
  • Empowers change and growth.
  • Enhances responsibility.

Traditionally, our system of discipline in schools has been mostly based in punitive measures. Things like detention, suspension, or expulsion has been the primary method of handling student discipline. I know that in my own history, I had moments of discipline where the consequences were purely punitive. But let’s remember for a moment the root of the word discipline – it comes from discipulus, the Latin word for pupil. That word is also the source of the word disciple. What if we began shifting our mindset on discipline towards the idea that it’s based on teaching, not on consequences? How might that change what you do when a student misbehaves?

Now I know the pushback from some of you – the real world won’t look at discipline as a teaching tool. If our students make these mistakes in the “real world” when they are older, they will face serious consequences, like losing their job, facing fines, or maybe even jail. You’d probably be able to come up with some great examples of times where this has happened. I agree that maybe this isn’t how the real world works. But here’s the thing: We’re a school, we’re dealing with kids who are bound to make mistakes, and we’re teachers. Shouldn’t we make it our goal to teach students how they should behave while they are still with us?

So, what can you do to start building a more restorative setting in your classroom? There are a few universal steps that will help you start down that path:

  • Daily community circles – Think about sitting in a circle with your class every day. Take a few minutes to have students share how their feeling, a high or low point of the weekend, what they are looking forward to, etc. The ideas are endless, and if you are struggling to come up with topics, ask your students to submit them for you! These circles will help build safety and trust among your class, help kids make connections, and help you build relationships with your kids because you know more about their interests.
  • Student-led norms/rules – What if all your classroom norms and rules were set by the students? I know there are a few classrooms in my school that use this. If you don’t, what ownership do students have in the norms? Most of the time, students will create norms that all can agree on, that meet your needs as the teacher, and then we can all agree to those norms and refer back to them on a regular basis.
  • Explicit teaching of SEL skills – Social Emotional Learning is such an important piece that too often gets shoved to the bottom of the to-do list (which means it doesn’t get done). If we want students to understand what is appropriate in our school, we have to take the time to teach them. It’s tempting to say “they should already know this!” but if their actions show that they don’t, then maybe it’s something they need to be retaught. Just like how you’d reteach a math or English lesson if you realized that students don’t understand, it’s important to reteach behavioral skills too!
  • Affective StatementsRestorative language (the use of affective language) – To the right you’ll see a screen shot of a document with sentence starters for affective statements (I’ve also included a link to the document at the bottom of this post). If you share this with your students, post it in your room, and begin using statements like these, the kids will too!
  • Effort to build relationships – I think all teachers have stories they can share about “that kid” who has given them so much trouble, but then when you take the time to get to know them and what they care about, you begin to have more success. Building real relationships can help you get there with any kid! The community circle is one way to learn about kids, which can then help you find connections and conversations that you can have with that kid.

I hope to share more about restorative practices in the future, but here’s my ask to you: Take one of the 5 universal steps and give it a try. See what happens in your classroom. Does it change the way students treat one another? Does it lead to better relationships?

I know there are some of you who are already doing these things. If you have tried any of the ideas offered here, share with us what your experience has been. Let us know that positives (or struggles) you have found with these ideas?

Affective Statements

Relationships matter

I think you all know how much I value relationships in the classroom. I’m a firm believer in the idea that no significant learning can happen without a meaningful relationship. Earlier this week, I was listening to one of the episodes of the podcast “We’re Doing It Wrong”, and it was a reaffirmation of that belief.

In the podcast, the host Joseph Pazar (a middle school math teacher) was interviewing the authors of Angels and Superheroes, Jack Jose and Krista Taylor. The conversation covered a wide variety of topics including relationships, behavior, and student misbehavior (I included a link to the podcast below).

I’m guessing that you’ve all heard the great TED Talk from Rita Pierson, “Every kid needs a champion” (if you haven’t, take 8 minutes right now and watch!), and in that talk, she shares the wisdom that kids don’t learn from people they don’t like. Krista Taylor takes it a bit further. She says:

Students need to like you,

I heard that quote and then rewound to relisten to that section of the podcast. Leading up to this comment, Taylor shared that most teachers don’t go into teaching because they want their students to get a good test score. More likely, they go into teaching because they want to:

  • Work with students
  • Build the whole child
  • Have social emotional learning happening
  • Raise responsible citizens
  • Raise students who care about each other and their community.

To accomplish any of these goals, and so many others that might come to mind for you when you pause to think about why you became a teacher, it takes meaningful relationships! Meaningful relationships aren’t built just because you make class fun, they don’t happen naturally for most kids. True relationships take work! So, how can we go about building those real relationships with our kids? Here are a few ideas for ways to build relationships:

  • Get curious and ask questions – Find out what they like to do when they aren’t at school. Engage with them on their interests, even if it isn’t an interest of yours!
  • Take your students outside of the classroom – I loved my 6th grade class and teachers. I remember doing a camping trip on the property behind our school one night. I remember walking from school into the neighborhood next door where one of my teachers lived to have a picnic. Those were powerful events to build relationships with my teachers and with my classmates! I can’t tell you much about what we did during class time, but I definitely remember those fun moments outside of the classroom. And I still think fondly of both of those teachers.
  • Listen to your students concerns and pause to re-examine ourselves – the reality is that implicit biases creep into all of us! And the more tense a situation may be, the worse our decision making process becomes. When students share concerns about something you are doing in the room, hear them out and reflect. It’s tempting to defend our actions, but if it’s bothering one brave soul enough that they tell you, there may be a few more who feel the same, but aren’t brave enough to share!

As the conversation in the “We’re Doing It Wrong” podcast went on, Jack Jose shared that when we work to build relationships, we also have to:

“Trust that the child in front of you wants to behave, wants to succeed, wants to do well… then, work with that child to get past those gaps so that they can be successful”

If we think back to what we’ve learned from Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, misbehavior from a student is a form of communication. It lets us know that some need is not being met. Most likely, the missing need is a feeling of belongingness. When we don’t fulfill that need, they continue to misbehave. Our punishments might redirect that need in the short term, but it will not solve the overarching need that is creating the misbehavior.

Let’s think about a typical situation, and how we might respond:

A student in your class is often off task. He talks to his neighbors and generally goofs around. Occasionally, that student will raise his hand to answer the question, so we call on him, excited that he wants to participate. We praise his answer to the question hopeful that it will instill a greater desire for participation. The next day, he comes in, goofs around, and causes a disruption. You schedule a conference with his parents. On the day of the conference, you and the parents gather with the child around the table and share that the student is “so bright” and capable of so much more. In the meeting the student commits to doing better. The next day in class, you see a little improvement, but later that week the behavior returns to what you were seeing prior to the conference.

Now, let’s look at this from the perspective of the student who is misbehaving:

  • The student has a need for the feeling of belonging. During class he gets to talk with the friends he likes, they laugh at him and make him feel good.
  • He cherry picks the questions that you ask to only respond to the ones he feels confident in because he knows that he will get it right, then he gets your praise for being bright, fulfilling yet another need. And do we really know that he’s that smart if the child is cherry picking the questions he wants to answer?
  • He creates a situation where there are several adults (most of whom he likes and trusts) around a table telling him how bright he is.
  • He returns to class and goofs around again because that fulfills his need to belong with the other kids.

Our traditional methods do not fulfill the needs that this child has – only a true and meaningful relationship will allow that child to have the sense of belonging he needs to help stop the misbehavior. Keeping that kid in the room, making them do the work, holding them to a high standard is not “letting them off.” In actuality, kicking them out of class or sending them to the office is letting them off because now they don’t have to do the work, they will get one on one attention – the secretary will talk to them about what happened, maybe the counselor will too, another teacher might talk to them, and they get one on one attention from the principal or assistant principal. These all give the student attention, and may allow him a sense of belonging with those people, but it doesn’t lead to that sense of belonging in the classroom where he needs it most!

A more powerful method – have the student complete a reflection form on what they’ve done and have them return to class when they are finished. Maybe that’s done in the back of the classroom, maybe it’s done in another teacher’s classroom, or maybe it’s done in the hallway. By sending them out we all get a break from one another which allows us to re-regulate, the kids reflect on the situation and process that, and then when they walk back into the classroom, they will most likely be ready to learn. The child sees that misbehavior isn’t going to lead to his needs being met, and they will trust that you will treat them fairly, and that trust helps give a sense of belonging.

What are your thoughts? How does relationship building help you? What are some of the ways you build relationships? Share out your best strategies so that we all can have some new ideas!

We’re Doing It Wrong Podcast: http://www.weredoingitwrong.com/podcast/6-angels-and-superheroes

 

#IMMOOC Week 3: Proactive vs. reactive

In my first year as an assistant principal, I felt at times I was running around, putting out fires, and never seeming to make any progress on the things I was doing.  For those of you who have been an assistant principal, you probably recall the feeling of only being able to react to the things that were happening around you.  I was trying to learn my role, learn the expectations that students and staff had for me, and help however I could to lead our students towards success.

I’m so glad that I’m past that feeling! (Most of the time, let’s be real, sometimes you have no choice but to react!)

Currently I’m in my sixth year as an assistant principal, and it has become a lot easier to identify ways to avoid reacting.  I have learned that every year there is a group of students that I lovingly refer to as my “frequent flyers.”  I typically know who those 6th graders will be because I probably got to know them in the 5th grade year.  I typically learn who those 5th graders will be because they start to have some difficulties early on.  For these frequent flyers, I work (and sometimes it really is work) to build relationships with them.  I talk with them at times other than when they have made a poor choice or are feeling escalated.  I work to get to know what makes them tick, and use that to my advantage.

This strategy helps me to recognize when something is off.  At the start of every school day I’m on the sidewalk greeting students as they come in off the buses.  If one of my “frequent flyers” has his/her head down, or is behaving differently than normal, I know that something must be off.  I might pull them aside to have a quick chat right there, or I might go find them as classes get started so that we can have a more private conversation.

School teachers (or leaders

By getting to know those kids that most need to be known, I have found that they are not as likely to have the explosive behavior that might lead me to have to go back to my reactionary steps.  I’m a big believer that when we know what makes a kid tick, we are a lot more likely to be able to find the spark that leads to success and learning.

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!