This past weekend, one of my sons, two of his aides (B is quadriplegic and needs help getting around) and I had an amazing experience: we were able to go and meet over 100 people who B admires and who work in an industry that he wants to pursue after he graduates. Over three days we talked, ate, and laughed with people who do what he wants to do or are close to it. And they made it amazing. B and I are still sitting here four days later just shaking our heads and smiling at how much fun we had and how many friends B made.
As I continue to process the weekend, I was struck by what made the biggest difference to the four of us. Time and attention. Everyone we met was happy to give us a few minutes to talk. More importantly, they talked with B and asked him questions. The people who made the biggest impact were the ones who over the weekend gave a couple of hours of time. They sought B out to make sure things were going well and to talk with him. They sought out others to introduce to B – the sake of both sides. Throw in B’s two aides who could help people understand in a matter of seconds how B interacts with the world and that intellectually he’s all there in addition to helping B seek people out, and it was clear how much some time and attention could pay off.
Time and attention are huge factors of student success (see Gallagher and Rimm-Kaufman/Sandilos for some examples). As more of my time each year (and I’m guessing yours) has been required to do all sorts of things outside of my classroom (lot
s of tech and data), I know those things still don’t impact kids as much as getting to know them and showing you care. Technology is a good tool if used properly – paper and pencil still works. Data is great but when I can’t talk with students because I’m crunching numbers, that’s not good either.
In my experience, many students who have grown a lot in my classroom are usually the students with whom for whatever reason I talked to about their weekends regularly or I joked with about something. Students who wandered into my room before school, “just for a place to work,”often end up talking with me about a myriad of things. And with those relationships started, approaching one another about problems in math was much easier and to be honest, didn’t have to have a real-life context (and that’s a whole different post in itself). In addition to helping them with math (or computers or physics), I invested in them and it works.
When I thanked people for coming to this weekend’s event and spending time with us and everyone else who came, to a person the response was, “it’s the least I could do,” and, “glad to give you guys some time – wish it could be more.” It was driven home that a little time from people you respect can have HUGE dividends. With all the data crunching, stress on technology, etc., it’s easy to lose sight of that.
Will I be all things to all of my students? No. But I am challenging myself this year to get back to the simple things that work – investing in students. Good lessons are important. Being prepared for class and classroom management is important. But as I ponder the years I feel I had the biggest impact on kids, it was the years I worried more about checking in with students specifically on their lives inside and outside the classroom than if I was filling out my curriculum map correctly.
So I will use our Chromebooks effectively, collect data on my students’ achievements, tailor lessons as needed. But my first priority is my students and getting to know them. Investing in people makes it easier for them to be invested in class.
Giving of yourself and your time to students: simple idea, hard to execute consistently. Please comment with your experience!