Building Relationships – the first week back

The first week back is always a whirlwind as everyone gets set into routines. For me it is all about establishing relationships of trust and respect with my students and parents. I will be asking students (and parents/guardians) to take some risk over the course of the semester and need them to trust me and each other. Without trust they may memorize some facts, but they won’t be able to push their thinking.

Some things that stood out this week for me include;

  • having a parent text message me within the first 30 minutes of the first day to set up a relationship to support her daughter (I teach at an alternative school in the morning)
  • being called by my first name by students (again, at the alternative school)
  • my grade 10 science class cheering out loud when told they could use their own devices in class
  • the realization that my grade 10 science class has very little understanding of how those personal devices can be used to support learning (they are seen as play and social tools only). I can’t wait to see how they use them at the end of the semester.
  • showing a student who struggles to write how to use the Dragon Dictation app on his iPod and the pride he felt after producing something
  • my science students co-creating the science lab safety rules and tips in a google doc while we watched some pretty cheesy youtube lab safety videos
  • my science students tagging the safety equipment and potential lab safety hazards on pictures of our classroom in thing link
  • my 7th Fire (alternative program) students creating Animoto videos about themselves and their strengths
  • my 7th Fire students getting excited to participate in Rock Our World (where we create a drum track using Garage Band and then pass it on to a school in another country. They add another instrumental track and it gets passed on, etc. until we create a variety of music tracks). The students got so excited for the photo challenge component as well, they are already planning their photos. Their positive attitude when I told them it would be mostly younger students participating and that they could be skyping with kindergarten classes from around the world impressed me entirely.
  • the online evening Adobe Connect webinar/information session I held for parents of my science students. What a great way to quickly build some relationships.
  • the general helpfulness and good demeanor of every single one of my students when every single piece of technology failed me 🙂
  • my grade 10 science classes amazement and excitement to learn about creative commons and how it can help them
  • phone call from an amazing parent who worked in Computer Crime (against children) to have a candid conversation about his concerns and willingness to grow and learn with us. Continuing conversations and learning with this parent will be a great opportunity for me to keep in check with the real hazards there are in the online world (just as there is in the physical world) and ensure that I am continuously guiding and modelling safe use for my students. This parent could have easily taken offence to the amount of technology and posting online I am asking our students to do – and it would have been completely understandable. Instead we had a productive, supportive and relationship-building conversation so that we both understand where the other is coming from and how we can work together to ensure all our students safety. I feel truly lucky to have this parents student in my class so that I can learn from them both.
  • when my PLN added tweets and comments to support my students learning

We have had a great start to the year. Now, to relax for the weekend before starting the fun whirlwind again!

Relationships in the Classroom

A few years back I heard Dr. Russell Bishop speak in Simcoe County. Coming across this video of him has got me wired for sound again. 🙂

He has done research in New Zealand around Maori education. In New Zealand, educators face a similar situation as we do here. We are failing our First Nations population when it comes to our responsibility to educate all. There is a major achievement gap between First Nations and non-First Nations students. Dr. Bishop has come to the conclusion that a big part of success for Maori students is the relationships in the classrooms. I would assume (without any research of the sort – yet) that the same thing is true for our First Nations, Metis and Inuit students in Ontario. How wonderfully empowering is that for a teacher? All those times we’ve thrown our hands in the air saying “if only I could do something”, expressing that feeling of hopelessness which often turns into frustration. Well, it looks as if there just might be…

The reason I am so fascinated with Dr. Bishops work is that he’s actually found a way to work with educators to improve these relationships. That is amazing to me. I’ve helped colleagues and other educators work on specific skills (using technology, using math manipulatives, assessment techniques, rich tasks), but to work with teachers on something so personal is intimidating. My weak understanding of what he does (which may be wrong) is to create PLC within the schools and send in trained facilitators. What I wouldn’t give to be able to attend the training for one of these facilitators! I am unaware of any place in Ontario that is working with teachers to improve the relationships with students in the classroom. Please, please correct me if I’m wrong, I’d love to know of places that are focusing on this.
I would like to extend my thought one step further – that this building of relationships between teacher and students would also improve the success of students at-risk (whether they are of an Aboriginal background or not). They do not relate to the school culture. The one where reading and writing well are what get recognized. The one where you learn while sitting in a desk. So, if we cannot change everything about the educational system quickly enough, maybe we could at least focus on these teacher-student relationships to help improve access to education for many struggling students.
Now, if only I knew HOW to develop the ability to build these relationships… 🙂