aha moment, Be the change, being a teacher, connect, Student, Student dreams

How Do We Know Who We Don’t Even Know?


I think I teach 128 students this year but I haven’t done the math.  There is a lot of them.  I know all of their names, have since the first week.  I know their writing styles, their book preferences, I know who will avoid me and who will seek me out.  I teach 128 students but  am not connected to 128 students.  I have those that I am closer to.  That I joke around with, that come to me asking for help, that leave me notes, that I have nicknames for.  I have the ones I truly consider my kids, the ones I consider mine.

Call it the curse of teaching a lot of students, but no matter how much you try, not every kid will become connected to you.  That is why I am thankful for my incredible team; I know how much they care about the kids we teach, I know they have “their” kids too that they feel close to.

And yet, in all of those connections, we know that there are kids that do not “belong” to anyone.  That do not have a special relationship with a teacher.  And by now those kids that we haven’t quite built a relationship with are starting to fall through the cracks.

So what do we do?  How do we know who we don’t even know?  How do we as a team, whether school-wide, grade-level or in some other configuration figure out who those kids are that nobody is seemingly connecting with?  Well, there is a simple way to find out, and no, I did not come up with this idea but wanted to pass it on.

Put all of their names on a big piece of paper and hand every teacher a marker.  Put a dot next to those kids who you feel you have a closer relationship to.  Then stand back and look.  Who has no dots?  Who has just one?  Discuss those kids.  Pay special attention, make a list, and the next time you teach them, ask a question not related to school.  Not related to the work.  Not related to what you share already.  Do it the next day, and the next day.  Pick a few kids at a time if there are too many.  Invest your time, and not in a forced way, but in a human way.  don’t force a relationship, but dedicate time to giving one a chance.

As my brilliant colleague, Reidun Bures (follow her at @ReidunLee) pointed out today, “We don’t see our own patterns of who we speak to.  We get comfortable and then wonder why some kids don’t respond to us as well.”  And she is right; we all try to connect with all of our kids and don’t see the ones we haven’t quite connected with.  Not seeking them out becomes a part of our pattern.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.  All kids should have at least one teacher that has their back, one teacher to fall back on.  And the first step is to grab a marker and make a dot.  And then do something with the result.

If you are looking for a great book club to join to re-energize you in January, consider the Passionate Learners book club on Facebook.  We kick off January 10th.  


5 thoughts on “How Do We Know Who We Don’t Even Know?”

  1. Such a great idea! I remember the year I taught middle school and had 149 students. It was so hard to connect with them all, but a team could help get that done. This year I only have 30 and am trying very hard to have a special connection with them all. It is so much easier with only 30!

  2. Love his idea…it is metrics. However, no matter the number we teach this may be a good practice as there are always children who fly under the radar!! Thank you for sharing!!

  3. I was a kid who no one connected with. I not only had no teacher who connected but no peers who connected. I was in a troubled home and I needed someone, anyone, and really and truly there was no one. Never underestimate the value of reaching out to a child, even if, in their fear they seem to reject it, they will carry it in their hearts just as I carry it in mine that no one was there.

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