As we start a new school year, I have been reflecting upon some of our students and how far they have come over the past 3 years. Many of our students who have shown the most substantial growth in the time I have known them, also seem to have the furthest to continue to grow. Yes, some of them still have challenges with self-regulation, sleeping habits, tardiness, lashing out, anger, and sadness. However, you should have seen what they were like over three years ago! The difference is quite amazing and I am so proud of each and every one of them for their hard work and determination to “improve”.
You see, some teachers may look only at what the troubling child presents as at the moment. Yes, absolutely, some of the students still struggle with many aspects of “traditional” school. But, as I would like to point out, each of our students is so much more than what they present in their current grade. Like each one of the adults who support them, each of our students have a story. Many of them have a story of heart-ache, loneliness, loss, determination, perseverance, and resilience. To truly connect with each of these students, which will be important if we want to make a real difference with them, we need to take time to learn these stories. There is no Prescribed Learning Outcome that we can focus on that will be as important as this relationship that we will develop with our students. All students, but especially with those who may struggle the most.
My own children came home from their second full day with their new teacher with homework for mommy! Now, I must admit, when I arrived home after 11 hours at work, and my daughter (who is in Grade 4) laughed and said, “Hey Mommy! You have homework tonight! <chuckle chuckle>” I wasn’t too impressed. I thought to myself, “I don’t have time to do my own homework, let alone homework for my daughter!” And then, I was even MORE impressed (or LESS) when I heard that I had similar homework from my son’s Grade 1 teacher. Then, I looked at my homework. I was taken aback. I was impressed by this work I was to complete! My children’s teachers wanted to know about my children. They wanted to get to know their students. In doing so, all the parents/guardians were asked to complete a paper survey for their children.
The grade 1 survey was quite short, only about 14 very short, but insightful, questions (some of which included):
– Names of brothers and sisters & parents/guardians.
– What do you see as your child’s strengths?
– Does your child like to listen to stories that you read?
– What is your child’s favourite activity?
– Is your child involved in any organized community sports program?
– Health problems? / Allergies?
– Is there any other information which would be important for me to know?
My Grade 4 daughter’s survey was much more detailed. This surprised me because I’ve always associated these surveys with what teachers do in Kindergarten to get to know their students, but I’ve never seen them used with this age. I think it is a wonderful idea! Some of the 14 detailed questions (that really made me think), included:
List 5 words that best describe your child’s character.
What motivates your child?
What upsets your child?
What are your child’s out-of-school interests and activities?
What activities do you share with your child?
How would you rate your child’s student habits? (1-10)
What study skills does your child need to develop?
Who normally helps your child with his/her homework?
Which academic subject is your child’s best?
What academic subject is most difficult for your child?
What particular academic areas would you like to see stressed?
What social skills would you like to see developed?
Does your child have any personal and/or physical problems of which I should be aware?
Do you have any other comments or concerns?
Some of those questions were really easy to answer, but some of them required me to be much more thoughtful.
I am grateful that my children’s teachers took the time to develop such thoughtful questions for these older students so she can start to understand the “story” of each of my children. Who better to start to tell the story, than a parent? This made me, as a parent, feel listened to and respected as my children’s first teacher. It made me feel a real connection to the school, that often seems to get lost after kindergarten.
My message is really to please take time to get to know your students. In doing so, try to remember, even on the most challenging days, that each of our students is on a journey of their own, they each have their own unique story, and they, like all of us, are on the road every day to become better. That “better” is different for each one of us. We have such power as educators to see our students in a positive light and to see them as such amazing human beings, let’s try to see them in the best light possible. There is such power in story.
What do you do to develop those relationships with our students?
What do you do to learn the stories of our students?
How has learning the stories of your students changed who you are or how you deal with particular students?
How have you connected with the families of your students to learn about their story?