Good people, we are back in stride again!
Yesterday was the first day back with our children, our babies, our darlings…indeed our pride and joy! If any of you are like me, you might have even been a little nervous and I always feel that is a good sign that you care about the children that you teach everyday. If you are honest, you may still long for days at the beach or sleeping in but hopefully there is a positive energy that starts off your school year, an undeniable excitement that should mark a fresh start with your students. If you are new to teaching, somebody might have told you “not to smile until December.” That is some strange advice if you ask me, but I wasn’t immune to it. However, if you are really bringing love, connection and enthusiasm to your practice then you know it is really bad counsel.
You all may remember the fifth grade teacher, Mr. Barry White Jr. (gotta love his name) and the wonderful way he greeted each and every student in his class with their own personal handshake. The video (see below) of this young brother went viral and then a White teacher basically copied his technique (hmmm culturally appropriate much?) What he had established with his ritual was brilliant but the attempt by the second teacher demonstrates how we can miss the point of building authentic connections with our students.
As you were taking attendance yesterday and getting acquainted with your class I wonder what thoughts came to your mind? If we are honest, there is a story that begins on that first day, during those first few weeks. It’s the narrative of your students and who you decide they are based on their attitude, behavior, interactions, habits you take note of and maybe even more subtle things like the spelling of their name or how they came dressed to school. These ideas become stories that begin to take root in your mind about your students and you need to examine them closely. We know teaching is challenging work and no, we don’t always “love” every kid who sits in our class but they shouldn’t know that. Before you know it, you are in the teachers’ lounge complaining with your colleagues about how awful the students are; spewing off all the things you can’t stand about them.
What I want to call to your awareness is the idea that the relationship, rapport and experience you have with your students over the course of this new academic year begins with the story you begin to build about them in your own mind right now, how quickly you take hold of this story, this perception of who they are and ultimately what they are capable of.
In Dr. Chris Emdin’s extraordinarily popular book, For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood… he warns teachers against constructing narratives and presuppositions that could rob students of promising learning opportunities. As Emdin explains the negative biases that we carry are often used to make excuses about low student performance or lack of engagement and more importantly “to justify ineffective teaching”.
There’s no doubt that some of us, especially if you have been teaching for a while, are familiar with some approaches to building rapport with students. You may have some routines or strategies that you use to “get to know them” in those initial weeks. Strategies like…
- Developing classroom expectations together
- Giving students ownership of the classroom
- Reaching out to parents and families
Every school year presents a new opportunity for you to improve your practice and to evolve in your role as a teacher. This is the year that you can commit to making your classroom a space where students feel they truly belong, are valued for who they are and where they realize more and more of their own brilliance and potential. So our hope for you this year is that you deepen your connection and relationship with your students. We hope that like Mr. White you find authentic ways to let your students know that they are special. It is my wish that you are like the Brooklyn teacher who used the beat to Cardi B’s Bodak Yellow to teach geography (see below). That’s right, don’t shy away from the hottest songs out. Just find a meaningful way to incorporate it into the magic that you bring every day to your students. And remember to be true to who you are because our children can spot fakes a mile away. To achieve real connection, community and trust with your students doesn’t just take a few weeks or the first month but every day, all year finding ways to show you are genuine and that you care.
So it’s ok to smile on Monday and every day this year and we encourage you to do just that and it’s also okay to be frustrated some days too. Bring your joy and your love for teaching and for your students every day. It will not only change the stories you tell about your students but it will help bring out the best that is within them. That is your real “aim.” As we venture into another year with you here at CREAD, we hope to help you achieve and maintain that connection and trust with your students all year. Don’t worry. We got your back.
We want to know what are your go-to strategies for getting to know your students and building classroom community? Please comment below and share some of our best practices with the CREAD community.
Peace and love good people!
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