Sometimes our students come to us with stories that we could never imagine. Sometimes we are their refuge. Sometimes, we don’t even know what part we play until years later, and sometimes we will never know. The barriers that sometimes surround our students can be brutal, and yet, the students show up. They try to learn. They try to do their very best. And we need to be the ones that welcome them.
So this will be the year that I try not to create more barriers for my students. This will be the year where I try to make it as easy as possible for them to access the learning . While I cannot control everything, particularly what goes on outside of our classroom, there are so many small things I can control that will make their day easier.
I can hand them pencils. I used to be a tentative pencil-hander-outer. There was usually a lecture involved, a smirk, and some sort of thinly veiled threat as to what would happen if they didn’t get more pencils by the very next day. And I get it. Pencils cost money and we don’t have a lot of that in education. But still, a pencil is the most basic tool that our students need. And yes, they need to bring their supplies. Yes, they need to be responsible. Yes, they need to come prepared. But we all have days where we need a pencil. Not a lecture, not a glare. Just a pencil so we can get to work. If you want it back, write your name on a piece of paper and tape it to it.
I can withhold judgment. Yes, I know better than most of my students. I better, after all, I am more than 20 years older than them. So when they make “stupid” mistakes, when they make a poor decision, I can withhold my own judgment. I can help them find a solution, help them find the light, or even find the humor in a situation. Most students face enough judgment in day, they don’t need more from me.
I can let them leave. There are days when all we need is a walk. A quick two minutes to resettle, to find room to breathe, to calm down even if we seem very calm on the outside. Teaching students to recognize when they need a break is something we should all be doing. If we teach younger students then finding a way for them to take a break safely is also important, even if they cannot leave the classroom on their own.
I can make it easy for them. I can write the date, I can write out homework, I can post my email address on the wall. I can make as many visual reminders as I can fit onto a board so that they can access it without asking. I can also create a website with all of the handouts, resources, and information they need to stay organized outside of school. That doesn’t mean they won’t pay attention in class.
I can welcome them. Even when it is inconvenient, even when I am busy. Just because a child seeks us out does not mean they need us to speak with them. On our team we often have students ask if they can simply work in our room. Yes! Please do, let me know if you need anything. Sometimes all a child needs to be successful is a safe place to work. If we cannot offer up our rooms, we often find another place.
I can ask a follow up question. On our team, we teach more than 120 students. Every day, we stand outside our doors and ask students how they are, how their evening was, how they are feeling. When a child answers, we ask a follow up question because it’s the second question that matters. That’s the one that shows we care, that’s the one that shows we are paying attention. Anyone can ask “How are you?,” but it takes time to say more.
The barriers we create in our rooms are often ones that we don’t even notice, yet it is within the smallest details of our days that students learn the most about us as people. It is when we take time to do the little things that we can make a huge difference. What are the small changes you will make?
If you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students. The 2nd edition and actual book-book (not just e-book!) comes out September 22nd from Routledge.