If I have realized anything over my past year as a connected educator it is that building relationships is of the highest importance. Only when the class culture is built on trust and respect will students be able to take the risks necessary to experience meaningful learning.
I remember studying Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs in my teaching program. At the time it was stressed as important, but didn’t mean a whole lot to me. I focused on curriculum and assessment. I was good at creating interesting lesson plans, adapting for a variety of learning needs and using a variety of formative and summative assessments. So I was perplexed early in my career over why some students were still “slipping through the cracks.”
I spent 6 years at one elementary school. I taught all the students music and shared a grade 2 class with another teacher. I have always liked the fact that as a music teacher I get to work with all (or most) of the students at a school. When I am out on the playground I know everyone’s name & might know a little something about them. But it took 2-3 years of teaching music classes before I felt that I could delve much deeper into concepts. Looking back I understand that it took much longer to build relationships with students when I only saw them 1-2 times per week for 40 minutes each time.
I marvelled at how much better I got to know the students in my grade 2 class. I learned much more about each child. I built relationships with their parents, siblings and sometimes extended families. I remembered one of my favourite teachers and how at the end of the year she had given the biggest hugs to the most troublesome students. As a child this perplexed me, but as a teacher I now understand how close a relationship she must have had with those students.
A few years later I find myself in a new district teaching in a regular classroom again. I know that for my students to succeed there are many needs that must be met. Relationship building has to come before curriculum can be learned. While I had connections with my previous students I had not purposefully made it a priority.
This year (and future ones) will be different. I am giving a higher priority to connections. One example is an idea I stole from a great teacher in my PLN (Kory Graham). I am having lunch with the special helpers each week. A different student gets to be interviewed by the class each day and at the end of the week the group (4-5 students) eats lunch with me. We just had our first one and it was so interesting to talk to the students in a relaxed setting. I am looking forward to the next few Friday lunches where I will learn more about my students and build the foundations for higher level learning.