Trading in homework for relationships
Ugh.😕 For me the belief that I “HAVE TO” get them to engage was actually causing me to push my kiddos farther away. I read research and went to conferences that challenged me to let go of this mindset.
There was a lot to letting go to a “Have to” mindset both for myself and my students. Believing in "have to" sucked me in to adopting all of the responsibility that my students refused to pick up. One of my favorite analogies is “dragging someone down the street.” What happens when you drag someone down the street and you let go?
They just lay there!
None of my extra work in the form of dragging made my students more willing to get up and walk.
This goes along with the work of Dr. Stembridge in his book Culturally responsive education, which I just had the privilege to facilitate for The Center for Strengthening the Teaching Profession. He states,
I know many students who have learned to minimize the risk in their cognitive engagement by relying on their teachers to over-manage the emotional investment for the students.
It was time to stop dragging and allow people to lay in the street if they wanted to. Maybe that's exactly where they needed to be for this moment in time. It took my most defiant students to help me realize this and I am SO grateful for their determination to be themselves on their terms regardless of the social conditioning that had me believing a lot of "have to's" for them as well. They refused to share my made up worries and forced me to see what was truly important; 💕 RELATIONSHIPS.
I decided to lean into the research and, quit dragging students down the street of learning. I decided as long as they weren’t willing to do any work, we may as well focus on building our relationships. Since they were blowing off the test or work, I would find a way to let go as well! Yep, I threw my hands up and let it go. I realize that’s unheard of for a teacher, and that there are plenty out there who will and have judged me for it but innovation doesn't come from living safely inside status quo.
I knew I was going to have to get WAY outside of the 📦 which is uncomfortable and scary but worth it to find a solution rather than keep slogging along the same old path or beating my head against the same wall till I completely burn out.
This transformation was amazing because, in the end, my STUDENTS were the ones to come around and start believing in their potential and education. They told ME where they needed to go to make the most growth. They helped decide what the learning could look like for it to be more engaging. I liked my job so much better because rather than focusing on school work and freaking out about standards, I was now focusing on kids; their hopes, dreams, struggles, insecurities, celebrations, and families.
Relationship matters more than anything and when I put that first, I gained 3 months academic growth in math and reading without teaching anything additional! I knew this had to do with the idea that, "emotion and reason are threads of the same fabric; to remove one compromises the integrity of the other." Stembridge 2020 By ignoring the emotional needs of my students to connect first, I was compromising the integrity of their ability to learn.
My most powerful relationship builder was walking home with every one of my students each year. Building a meaningful bridge between families and my classroom did more to create a safe space for my students to come be vulnerable and learn than ANY CURRICULUM OR TRAINING I had tried.
Home visits aren’t always the safest (read the Salty Nuts chapter in my book) and aren’t always possible but I do recommend trading out meetings and grading an overabundance of tests for them. I shortened my classroom tests because I don’t need 20 examples to know if a student understands a concept but I do need more time to connect in a way that will engage my students.
Instead of grading piles of papers after school (this meant not assigning so many in the first place), I chose to…
- Chat with family members about POSITIVE things only,
- Take a moment with a student,
- Leave some special notes for your students in their journals,
- Find a way to celebrate the humans we are interacting with.