Connections and Relationships

Read a facebook post this morning about making a difference with challenging students. It reminded me of a couple of practices that were incredibly successful in my schools during my career.

I started teaching in an inner-city Junior High in the late 1970’s. I wasn’t from the neighborhood, it was quite the culture shock for a this first year teacher from white bread southwest Kansas. The district was still under a court order for desegregation, our junior high drew students from eight different elementary schools. This meant that our students were from all over the city, and they hadn’t had the chance to get to know one another prior to coming to us in grade 7. There were seven new teachers in my “class” that year, and our principal impressed us from our first meeting with him about the importance of culture and getting to know our students as people. After school on Friday of the first week, we all had to report to his office with just a pen. No grade books or seating charts were allowed. He gave us a blank sheet of paper, we had to write down the first names of all the students in our first period class, followed by something uniquely personal about each of them, that had nothing to do with our first period class. I taught students in the bands and orchestras, my first period class was advanced band with an enrollment of about 80 musicians. While I still have unused first week lesson plans from that year, I did get very well acquainted with a wonderful group of kids that week. And in ways that never appeared in my lesson plans. Our principal’s point was powerful, every student in our school knew that at least on adult on the staff knew them as a human being, not as the kid who sat in the 5th seat in the 3rd row, with a reading level of….  Too often, the numbers define the students. There is something really wrong with that!

We are all somewhere in the middle of the second quarter, can you name each student?

I remembered that after I moved from the classroom to the office. And took it a step further. Most of my adminstrative career was spent in rural schools in economically challenged areas. This meant we hired a lot of first year teachers. They became my students. Which meant I had to walk my talk about the importance of contacting parents and working with them. After the first round of formal evaluation observations, and unknown to the teachers, I would send a letter to the parents of our new teachers, letting them know that their son/daughter was doing a fantastic job as a brand new teacher, all the sleepless nights and other sacrifices the parents made to get their child through college had paid off, we were thrilled to have their child on our staff. Will never forget the conversations I had with new teachers the day after the parents received my letter. Seems like the parents and kids shared a phone call. Teaching is tough enough, it gets a bit easier when you know you are both appreciated and respected. And when you work for people who aren’t afraid to share their appreciation and respect.

It isn’t so much about interventions used, Google docs shared, progress monitored as it is about the people. If you don’t know the people, what motivates and has shaped them, the other stuff won’t matter, much.

And so it goes…

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