"We carry with us habits of thought and taste fostered in some nearly forgotten classroom by a certain teacher."
- Jerome Bruner, The Culture of Education, p. 24
I have written on occasion in the past, including last week, about the importance of relationships in the classroom. After hearing it mentioned a few times on the Teachers Talking Teaching podcast, I have dived into listening to the EduChange podcast. Each episode has been an interview with someone involved in the education space in some way, usually as an educator, talking about what they have changed in their context and the impact that it has had. There have been some striking consistencies across the episodes that I have listened to thus far.
Initially, each guest is asked to outline a brief synopsis of their life in education and how they have ended up where they are, and at the end are asked to share a takeaway message with the listeners. In between is the really interesting conversation.Strikingly, relationships have been coming up a lot in the episodes that I have listened to. I do not know if that is a specific focus or if it is just how the interviews have played out, however, so far relationships with students has been a strong component of the change being affected in the interviews with Shane Hancock, Brett Wood, Peter Hutton, Matt Noffs, and Ashanti Branch.
The five educators whom I have listened to thus far are from very disparate ares, the UK, North America, and various parts of Australia. But for all of them, relationships with students came through. One of the educators made a remark that for some students, they are confused when a teacher shows them care outside of where a teacher should care because they are not used to being cared for.
“If you care more about the subject you are teaching than the subjects WHO you are teaching, there will probably be a disconnect.”
- Ashanti Branch
We do not necessarily know what is going on at home, students, just as much a teachers, wear masks to hide things from those around them. Ashanti Branch is working in his community, through the Ever Forward Club, to break down those masks, to help students see that students' challenges are not there's alone, but are being borne by others as well.
Brett Wood, co-founder of Music Industry College, has used embedded relationships into the school. The size of the school has deliberately been kept small so that all staff know all students. The power behind that is incredible. To be able to know the names of all the students in a school has the power to change your relationship with them immensely, and their relationship with you, and with their learning.
There are a range of available resources to help you learn how to build and strengthen the relationships with your students, from the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) (here), to the National Education Association (NEA - North America) (here), and the Victorian Education Department (here), and the American Psychological Association (APA) (here).
Hattie's work in Visible Learning indicated that student-teacher relationships had an effect size of 0.72 on learning outcomes in both his 2009 and 2011 reports, which is quite a significant impact. Relationships play such an important role in the classroom.
What are you going to do to help strengthen yours?
“What is a teacher? I'll tell you: it isn't someone who teaches something, but someone who inspires the student to give of her best in order to discover what she already knows.”
― Paulo Coelho, The Witch of Portobello
The final unit in the Flipped Learning Level II certification course is titled The most important things. I am not going to talk about the unit in this article, however, other than to say that it is a largely an interesting conversation between Jon Bergmann and Pedro Noguera on the topic of student-teacher relationships
I agree wholeheartedly that our relationships with students will be one of the most important factors in determining whether you will have a fruitful year with that student. Relationships can start poorly and recover, start well and sour, or as in most relationships, be up and down throughout the year. But good relationships will bear fruit in the form of learning.
What do you do at the start of each year to build strong relationships with your students? What do you do at the start of term/week/day/lesson to reconnect and check in with your students? It is something that you do not receive any training or advice on during your initial teacher education other than learn their names and their dis/likes. That is pretty basic and, unless you are a robot, should happen naturally. How do you take it another step so that students look forward to your lesson, knowing that your class is a safe and supportive space where they can fail with confidence, learn without fear, and be challenged with a foundation of trust and respect underpinning their perception of the classroom?
There are some fairly straightforward things that can be done that I have seen and/or used in my own classes, such as simple celebrations of every students birthday as class, sharing (appropriately) about yourself, having one-on-one conversations with your students each day, recognising celebrating their successes and failures, trusting them, showing them the respect that you expect....the list goes on.
I will end this short article with a video from Kid President. My regular readers will have seen this before, as I referenced it when I delivered the Graduate Address at my graduation ceremony. I would love to be remembered the way that Mrs Flexer was and is remembered by her students. I think that we should all be striving to be remembered this way. I have been asking teachers in professional learning sessions that I have been running lately who can point to a teacher that you had a student, who you can look back on and point to as, if not influencing your decision to enter teaching, then as having a significant and positive impact on your life. I am yet to ask this question in a session and have no responses.
As teachers, our words and ideas can change the world. Be awesome and build amazing relationships with your students so that they can be awesome.
Thank you, as always, for reading.
Every successful individual knows that his or her achievement depends on a community of persons working together.
-Attributed to Paul Ryan
I stumbled upon this article via Facebook today, and it is so powerful, beautiful and heartbreaking all at the same time that I felt it had to be shared.
Colorado Teacher Shares Heartbreaking Notes From Third Graders
Kyle Schwartz teaches third grade at Doull Elementary in Denver.
Schwartz encourages other teachers to use the same lesson in their classrooms. Although she says her students are a pleasure to look after, the educator of three years adds that many of them come from underprivileged homes.
“Ninety-two percent of our students qualify for free and reduced lunch,” Schwartz tells ABC News. “As a new teacher, I struggled to understand the reality of my students’ lives and how to best support them. I just felt like there was something I didn’t know about my students.”
In a bid to build trust between her and her students, Schwartz thought up a lesson plan called “I Wish My Teacher Knew.”
For the activity, Schwartz’s third graders jot down a thought for their teacher, sharing something they’d like her to know about them.
“I let students determine if they would like to answer anonymously,” she says. “I have found that most students are not only willing to include their name, but also enjoy sharing with the class. Even when what my students are sharing is sensitive in nature, most students want their classmates to know.
“Some notes are heartbreaking like the first #iwishmyteacherknew tweet which read, ‘I wish my teacher knew I don’t have pencils at home to do my homework.’ I care deeply about each and every one of my students and I don’t want any of them to have to suffer the consequences of living in poverty, which is my main motivation for teaching.”
Blown away by her class’ honesty, Schwartz shared some of the notes on Twitter using the hashtag #IWishMyTeacherKnew, encouraging fellow teachers to employ the same lesson with their own students.
The tweets and photos of notes from other schools came pouring in from around the world.
“I think it caught on so fast because teachers are highly collaborative and freely share and explore resources,” Schwartz says. “In the end, all teachers want to support their students, and #iwishmyteacherknew is a simple and powerful way to do that.
“Building community in my classroom is a major goal of this lesson. After one student shared that she had no one to play with at recess, the rest of the class chimed in and said, ‘we got your back.’ The next day during recess, I noticed she was playing with a group of girls. Not only can I support my students, but my students can support each other.”
Schwartz says she also hopes her lesson can help her connect students and their families with the proper resources they need to live comfortably.
The lesson here is about trust and community, and building strong relationships between students and between the students and the teacher. There is so much potential for interpersonal learning in this simple movement, powerful relationships can be built on the back of this. Of course, there are going to need to be ground rules about how students react, with some silliness, but if you have a strong relationship with your class already, this could help to solidify it even further.
I encourage you to not just read this article, or the original source article that I have copied into this article, do not just look at the #iwishmyteacherknew search results on twitter. Share it with your friends, your colleagues. share it with your students and ask them if they would like to do the lesson together.
It may change the dynamic of your class, and it may take a dysfunctional class and help to sync it together. Those unruly students, the ones who are rebelling against life because they feel that no-one is in their corner? This could potentially turn them around when they see how you and their peers react and become supportive after there is a more general awareness.
I would love to hear from anyone who plans on doing this, and how you implemented it. As always, thank you for reading.