This post was co-written between myself and Todd Nesloney.
Sometimes even the smallest moments can make the biggest impact.
During the first week of school in 2014, I (Brent) passed one of my students between classes and simply said, “Hey, Kyle**.” He had been in my class for a few days so I didn’t have to dig deep to find a name. All I did was say “hey.” No effort required, right? Within 24 hours, I had the following email from his mom in my inbox:
Every day when we walk into the four walls of our schools we’re surrounded by others. By other students, parents, colleagues, and more. Many people look at education and feel that the sole purpose of it is to educate children. Those of us who are in this profession, however, know that our job is so much more. One of the most important aspects of an educator is that ability to connect. To build those relationships. To remind another student (or colleague) of their worth, genius, and potential.
As educators, even we sometimes lose sight. We get bogged down by the expectations and check-lists of things we have to complete. Testing season stresses us out. Parent conversations don’t always go as we hoped. Our students behave in ways unexpected. Other educators (or administrators) say or do things that make us feel inferior.
We get beaten down. And we forget. We forget that our words change lives. Our impact isn’t momentary, rather it can be felt for years to come.
Our students come to us with experiences that many times we have no knowledge of. Drugs, physical/emotional/sexual abuse, abandonment, poverty, extreme expectations, and more. Yet they show up every day and are expected to put forth 100% into their education. As educators, our jobs as academic instructors are a waste of our time if we don’t also focus on the emotional side of our kiddos.
That simple act of greeting your students at the door by name and giving them a high-five, fist bump, or hand shake can help us connect to them. The quick walk through the hallways visiting with students between classes. The five minute visit to lunch when we know we have work to do. The ten seconds it takes to see a student in the hall and tell them “good morning, ______.” The ability to act like a child sometimes and play with them at recess or get on the floor and work.
There are even moments when a child, on occasion, acts out, and we have to take the time to realize that we don’t necessarily have to jump straight to consequences. Sometimes, all it takes is simple conversation about how much we care about them and then giving them the resources they may lack in understanding how to deal with the situation.
Now, let’s take this idea of knowing our students and flip it. It’s crucial that we not only know and acknowledge our students, but that we allow them to know us as well. We need to open our world to them. Talk about family. Share stories about things we enjoy doing.
I (Brent) place a lot of value on frequenting the businesses and restaurants that my students and their families do. Seeing students and their families outside of school gives me another connecting point for a short convo when I see them at school. “Hey! How was your Lupe Tortilla last night?” Because we Houstonians all know that Lupe Tortilla is where it’s at when it comes to Tex-Mex (even though Todd will argue that Chuy’s is still the best Tex-Mex)
I (Todd) have always tried to attend their extracurricular activities. It makes a world of difference to a kiddo when you show up at something of theirs outside of school hours. Plus it proves that you don’t actually spend every waking moment at the school.
The bottom line is this: children can tell immediately when you care about them. When you genuinely care. When we take time to know our students and allow ourselves to be known, we build healthy, authentic, meaningful relationships that can revolutionize our campus.
It only takes a single moment. That instant that will stick with someone for the rest of their life. We all leave a mark on our students. Sometimes good, sometimes not as great as we would have hoped. What mark are you leaving?
**The name in the story was changed for the purpose of protecting the identity of the student.
In my classroom I desire, more than anything, for my students to walk out the door a better person than when they walked in. Not just to FEEL better about themselves; but to truly BE a better person. This requires a lot of extra "work" but it's absolutely worth it. I have been in education for seven years and I think of this role in my students' lives often. Whether we like it or not (and for the record, I do) we have an opportunity to have a significant influence on who they become. That being said, there is much more to our job as educators than teaching the curriculum. Yes, teaching the TEKS (these are what guide education in TX for any "outsiders" who may read this) is what we are hired to do but that's only part of our responsibility.
The way we treat them.
The way we respect them.
The way we carry ourselves.
The manner in which we greet them at the door.
Do we ask them questions about their lives?
Do we allow them into ours?
Do we follow through?
Do we go that extra mile to attend their events and let them know we really do care...or is it all just hot air?
All of these things affect how our influence plays out in our students' lives. They are, oftentimes, more perceptive than we give them credit for. They know who the fakers are and they desire transparency/authenticity in everything, especially from those they trust.
This fact has caused me to reflect recently on the level of influence I have on my students. I think it boils down to this:
The best educators don't just know their students. They allow themselves to be known.
By allowing ourselves to be known, we're building trust. Our students see that we're real people. We have successes. We also have failures. We experience victories. We also experience struggles. We make good decisions. We also make poor ones. Through this authenticity, we are earning the right to influence. If we really want our students to learn from us and be influenced by us, we need to build trust. Here are a few ways that I've learned (mostly from educators better than me) to do that:
Attend their extracurricular events.
Share your life.
Talk about your family.
Hold them to high standards.
Do what you say you're going to do.
Give SPECIFIC praise (generic praise is as good as false praise).
How are you earning the right to influence? I'd love to learn from you! Follow and tweet me at @bclarksontx. Until next time...
Brent Clarkson, M.Ed.