Friday, February 18, 2011

It All Comes Down to Building Relationships

I went to training this week about transformative learning in the classroom, which, from what I could gather over the course of the day, is an approach to teaching that gets students to trust the teacher and eventually leads to critical thinking. Please don’t ask me to explain how getting to know and care about a student leads to critical thinking. The trainer never quite connected those dots for me, but it got me thinking about how important relationship building is with my students.

For some reason, relationships have been strengthened by food with my current and former students. Chips, cookies, candy, gum; you name it and I’ve bought it in for my students at one time or another. It started out as a reward thing, but then I just gave it to the students because they needed it for one reason or another.

Sometimes, kids would come to me because they hadn’t eaten breakfast and a bag of chips would hold them over until lunch. Those empty calories helped them in class and kept them from freaking out at a math or history teacher. Other times, students would come to my room looking for candy so they could see me and tell me about something that happened last night.

I guess this was one of the ways I learned each student’s name in the building. I made it a point to get to know everyone’s name because it’s important for a kid to know that someone made an effort to get to know them. These were some of the little things I did to build relationships.

Somehow, this relationship building stuff is way more important than teaching some days. There were times when I had to stop class and basically hold a group session because a student was so emotionally frustrated by what was going on in his or her life. I don’t know that this is the best approach to teaching, but it’s one that worked with some of the most volatile students that I had.

I continue to foster relationships with my students. I went to the hospital today to visit a female student who went into premature labor. I didn’t know it until I got there that she was delivering the baby. So, I met her cousin and dropped off some magazines and snacks for her. I’m worried about her and the baby because the baby’s about two months early. Now she knows I really care and when she gets back to school our relationship will still be solid.

There’s nothing quite as powerful as a visit from a teacher to a student outside of school. I’ve found that I’m able to teach better when I know my students, and not make excuses for them, but help them overcome the barriers they have to education. I guess I just try to make a difference, some way, somehow.

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