We talk about the importance of connecting with our students. We talk about how important those connections are for student learning and engagement in their learning. This is true for all students and these connections can have powerful impact on the learning in our schools. In turn, the lack of connections and lack of understanding about these powerful connections can have devastating effects for some of our students.
The lack of connection and caring relationship with the classroom teacher can have long-term negative effects on our students and their attitude toward and engagement in school now and in the future. One might think it is only one year and that can’t be that big of a deal. I believe it is. Each and every year is important to the future of our students. However, while we know that the classroom teacher has the most powerful impact, does the impact of our school staff stop there? I don’t believe so. I have witnessed different, both with my children at home and our students at school.
All members of our school are important to the future and success of our students. You just never know who will make that powerful impact on a particular student who needs that connection the most. Maybe a student does not connect with his/her classroom teacher very well. Sometimes two people just don’t connect well. It doesn’t mean that this student can’t connect with someone else. In fact, I have seen this happen.
My daughter made a strong connection with one of the noon-hour supervisors at her school. One might wonder how strong of a connection could she really have made with someone she only saw for 1 hour each day. It was strong. This connection spanned over four years. At dinner, over the past 4 years, whenever I asked my daughter (who is currently in Grade 3) what her favourite part of her day was each day, her response often involved the cherished, Mrs. Mayer. She would tell about memorizing Mrs. Mayer’s weekly schedule so she would know where Mrs. Mayer could be found each day. My daughter would tell about the stories and the laughs they shared. She talked about the jokes they told one another and about the surprise on Mrs. Mayer’s face when my daughter would show her tricks on the monkey bars. She talked about what they would do the following day.
Sadly, last fall, Mrs. Mayer stopped coming to school suddenly. My daughter talked daily about how much she missed Mrs. Mayer and how much she couldn’t wait for her to return to school. Shortly thereafter, however, the students at school learned that Mrs. Mayer was sick. Very sick. And then, suddenly, the day of their Terry Fox Run, they learned that Mrs. Mayer died. Staff and students all ran for Mrs. Mayer that day. It was a special run, indeed. Since then, my daughter still talks of Mrs. Mayer often. She even dreamed about her just the other night. The next morning she talked about how nice it was to see Mrs. Mayer, if only in her dreams. Mrs. Mayer had a true connection with my daughter. My daughter cared deeply for her. My daughter is still sad when she thinks of how much she misses Mrs. Mayer. She was never my daughter’s classroom teacher, but she taught my daughter a great deal and she continues to impact my little girl.
Another example for you …
This year, our school was involved in the Spirals of Inquiry project with our school district and the Networks of Inquiry and Innovation (NOII) with Linda Kaser and Judy Halbert. If you have not read their book, Spirals of Inquiry for Quality and Equity, it is a powerful read. As part of our inquiry, we focused on student attendance and what we could do differently to try to get our most chronically absent students (24 students) to attend school more often (and more promptly). (I will write about what we did and some of our findings in another post.)
One of the questions we asked our 24 target students (students who had the greatest struggles with attendance the previous year), came straight from what Judy and Linda suggested in their book, “Can you name two people in our school who believe you will be a success in life?”. 21/24 of the students were able to name 2 adults who believed they would be a success in life (3 were not able to name 2 people, unfortunately). Those 21 students named 20 staff members (some had repeats) who believed they would be a success in life. Of those 20 staff members, 13 were classroom teachers (not necessarily their own teacher) and 7 were support staff (Learner Support Teachers, Aboriginal Education Assistant, Child Care Worker, Community Schools Outreach Worker and Administrators). Another interesting finding was that 7 of the 24 students responded first with names of 2 peers who they thought believed they would be a success in life. They went on to name 2 adults when asked after their initial response. This demonstrates the importance of peers for many of students.
These are just two examples of many which demonstrate that the impact we have on our students is far and wide. This is one reason why it is important to remember that the students in our school are ALL our students. They are ALL our responsibility. We can have a deep impact on these students for years, even if we have never been their classroom teacher. Never underestimate the power of our connections. Our students need us.
ALL our students need ALL of us.