Teaching for the Student

Thinking about my class and students this year, I have been blessed to have worked with these guys for several years. I first met them through teaching them kindergarten gym, taught some of them in grade one and two, and am lucky enough to have several again in their final year at our school in grade four. I would consider this class “the dream team.” They all are incredible students who go out of their way to work together, show kindness, and embrace each others uniqueness. They really are very special!

Throughout this year, I’ve always wondered has this five year relationship with them attributed to their outstanding character? Is it true that building a strong relationship with your students is more important than anything else? I don’t doubt for a second that it isn’t, and this year has proven that to me time and time again. If I didn’t know their favourite sport, that their older siblings annoy them, the snack that they always despise, would we interact the same way? I would say no. I believe that when you truly understand each one of your students, learn who they are as a person, only then will true learning occur. This is the first step for authentic engagement for students.

Having this strong foundation of a relationship being built for the last five years, has allowed me to really understand how my students learn; what works for them and what they struggle with. They are open to communicating, excel for excellence, but support each other when failure occurs. I teach for them. Not for a test. Not for the highest marks, but for the students.

Tonight I participated in a twitter chat, #mnlead, led by a student, whose discussion focused on creating a student centered place for learning. It brought up many ideas and questions about how we get the most out of student’s learning, to be an effective teacher. Below is a brief summary of this chat:

Question #1: How should you record a student’s comprehension of a subject? Essay, test, quiz, or an in class discussion? What works best?

Question #2: How do you instill a mindset in student’s that failure isn’t an option? What motivates students to excel?

Question #3: In a classroom there are several types of learners. How do you make sure you are reaching everyone?

Question #4: Should you encourage students to take a variety of courses or focus on one that they are passionate about?

Question #5: How do you create a positive learning culture for your students where they are wanting to be there each day?

Providing a caring environment, where students can take risks, be challenged, and be supported when they fail is important for every classroom. It all begins with building a relationship. How will you discover each of your students in order to optimize their learning? Get to know them! Teach for the student.

You’re More Than Just a Teacher

Teacher and elementary student walking down school hallway

Heading out on supervision at lunch recess today, a young girl in my class approached me and asked if she could walk with me. Our conversation went something like this:

“Ms.Petley, do you mind if I walk with you today?”
“Ok, so what do you want to talk about?”
Pondering for a few seconds, I responded, “How about how great life is?”
Looking puzzled she answered, “But my life isn’t great right now.”

Those words broke my heart, and of course, I had to delve deeper into the situation. I asked her what was making her life not great and she talked a lot about home and how her family is always busy and never has time to spend with her. How they are always yelling at the younger kids, especially her cousin, who never listens and is always rummaging through her room. She also was having issues with wearing her glasses, about how initially she loved them but now would rather not wear them.

Although to some these could seem like minor things it reinforced to me how there are numerous outside factors going on in children’s lives that they have no control over. Who knows if while writing her math test, she was thinking about what would happen tonight with her cousin? In many cases, we do not even know these things are going on. I was lucky enough to have this student approach me.

In October of 2012, I attended the Character Education Partnership conference in Washington, DC. There was an excellent speaker there by the name of Hal Urban who really spoke to me. His words about developing relationships with students is crucial for any teaching professional. In his book, Lessons From the Classroom, he said the following:

“Good teachers start teaching at the door. It was the most important thing I ever did as a teacher. It was also the simplest, least time-consuming, most enjoyable, and most energizing thing I ever did as a teacher.”

Building a strong relationship with students can be challenging. Start simple. Start by keeping a checklist of each student and say something positive to them each day. Start by saying hello and asking each student how his/her day is going. Let them share their news. Be available for them. Be present. Something so small could make all the difference in their lives. They need that connection. They need to know you care.

“The deepest urge in human nature is the desire to be important.”
~John Dewey