Sunday, April 19, 2015

Do You Really Know Your Students?

This past week there has been much discussion in many educational circles and on social media of the twitter posts by a third grade teacher I follow - Kyle Schwartz:
Students Share What They Wish Their Teacher Knew

Initially, my ears and eyes perked up when seeing her postings because my son is a third grader. However, when I delved deeper, I saw many of the students that have entered my classroom throughout my 25 years in education in her students.

It is inspiring to see a new teacher create opportunities for her students to share in a safe environment with the intent to build relationships and an understanding of her students as they journey through life.

This takes me back to my first years teaching in a small town in the Salinas Valley.  Although I never explicitly asked my students what they wished I knew about them, I did know that their education depended on the relationship I established with them.  What they did not know was my survival as a beginning teacher hinged on the authentic and meaningful relationships I built with my at risk students. Some mornings they would come into the classroom to tell me they spent the night huddled on the living room floor while gun shots rang out in the neighborhood.  I remember leaving school each day ready to quit and waking up each morning excited to get to school and my students.  It was such an interesting dynamic and it provided the foundation for my life as an educator.

My last few years as a classroom teacher, I made sure that I had a face to face conversation with each of my middle school students each day.  I had 120 students that passed through my door each day, how did I accomplish this?

  • When the students entered my classroom, there was an activity for them to complete.  (If the students are engaged, I can touch base with all of them).
  • As they worked, I "checked homework" by going to each group and checking in with each student.  
  • If a student did not have their work, their book, their notebook or other materials, I made eye contact and ask them why (with empathy).  I had a coding system so I could keep track of each student's work patterns and level of understanding and look for work behavior patterns.  
  • I also made sure that I smiled genuinely at each student and acknowledged their successes or understood their anxiety, frustrations, and/or confusions.
  • This formative check I did with each student in each class everyday also enabled me to make sure the students knew I was there to challenge and support their learning in a respectful collaborative environment.
  • I allowed for 5-10 minutes at the beginning of class to accomplish this task and build relationships.  It was the most valuable time of the day for establishing a foundation for trust and risk taking in a middle school math class.
Now I am working to transfer this process to the adult learners I work with.  What do you do to really get to know your students?