Teaching high school English and creatively approaching curriculum has always been a passion, and I am a task-oriented person; as I reflect on my position, now, as a Learning Specialist, however, I am seeing that my priority is my relationship with each of my students. When my focus is on achievement, the daily activities spur me on and provide a sense of accomplishment, but in truth, “the desire to achieve and to see ourselves mirrored in achievement” does not fulfill at the end of the day (Tompkins, 1996, p.199). Sonia Nieto (2003) quotes Karen Gelzinis who writes, “the older I get, the less it is about me feeling good about what I do” and then Karen concludes that the students are the most important (p.114). “Mindfulness” is the buzzword of the season, and yes, this must be my focus; “being in, being for, and being with” my students (Kottler, et al, 2005, p. 49).
My renewed mission for next year, as I reflect this summer, is to develop my understanding of my students, collectively as learners and individually as gifts in my life; to prepare my students for life, showing them how to establish their own values and modeling respect and integrity; and finally and most importantly, to nurture relationships with my students that will grow out of my commitment to them as learners and contributors to my life. My specific goals, as I focus on this mission, will be to provide a safe environment for students; to establish personal relationships with each student; to establish personal relationships with their parents, to the fullest extent possible; to provide additional resources to my school’s students and parents, via web site, email and mailings; to learn more about student-motivation and learning so that I can more effectively affirm students in meeting academic responsibilities and in becoming independent learners.
My first goal is to provide a safe environment for students to come during their hectic day, to study, get homework help, and to work with peers. My classroom is actually designated the “Academic Success Center”. The Academic Success Center provides students with a place to study individually and with peers, in an informal environment. Students use the room as a student lounge throughout the day. I strive for comfort in the room set-up; I group tables, offer cushioned swivel chairs, and keep a never-ending supply of Hershey’s Kisses and the makings for hot cocoa available. As the students spend open periods and lunch periods in my room, I hope to develop relationships of trust and respect with them, that they will feel safe and see me as a “teacher who went beyond academics and became a mentor, confidant, and positive model for personal identification” (Vitto, 2003, p.4). In addition, I want students to build safe relationships with each other as they collaboratively study or meet with peer tutors. I plan to set up a board for sharing “Secrets to Success” on which students can write study strategies that they have found helpful and that they want to share with their peers. If students eagerly add their advice, then we have established a non-threatening environment and relationships that encourage learning together. I want all students who enter the Academic Success Center to believe they are successful and can contribute to the success of others.
I meet with students individually. As my second goal, I resolve to celebrate students’ successes and to “assist them in coping with failure” (Kottler, et al, 2005, p. 41). The Academic Success Program provides academic support to individual students who struggle with executive functioning. Within the program, my role of Learning Specialist includes providing individual instruction, encouragement, and accountability over the period of a full semester to a year, depending on the individual student’s needs. As I meet with a student, I want to listen more than talk, and ask more than answer. In the same way that I am learning about my teaching through reflection, I want my students to understand how they learn by reflecting on their actions as learners. All students have the capacity for success, given that they exhibit curiosity, demonstrate potential to learn, experiment with new ideas, ask questions, and examine ideas. Not all students succeed, however, due to attention issues, poor or ill-timed questions, lack of organization, inability to complete tasks, inappropriate participation or lack of participation in discussion, lack of discernment as to what information is important. I hope to ask questions that prompt each student to “be aware of the state of one’s own mind and the degree of one’s own understanding. The good student may be one who often says that he does not understand, simply because he keeps a constant check on his understanding” (Dembo, 2000, p. 23). I talk daily with students who believe they cannot learn, that they are unintelligent. These students have repeatedly struggled in school due to the issues mentioned earlier in this paragraph. My goal is to develop a relationship of trust with each student so that when I affirm that the student is capable and gifted and will succeed, he or she will know it is true. It has been noted that “some students believe that ability or intelligence is fixed. That is, people are born with a certain amount of ability and there is not much that can be done about it” (Dembo, 2000, p. 7). My mission is to change that misperception and to advocate for, encourage, and celebrate each success. With that in mind, I will have each student compile a “Success Portfolio” to share with their parents at the end of the semester. Each student will share how they have developed their learning skills, and the parents and I will cheer and applaud.
Nurturing this team-spirit and including students’ parents is vital and is my third goal. Currently, I email each parent weekly after meeting with their son or daughter. My emails are chatty in nature, sharing the progress of the student and indicating areas we will work on that week. I need parental support, but I’m finding that my weekly encouragement is valued by the parents. When a child struggles with “doing school,” the whole family is affected. Every dinner conversation is punctuated with “why didn’t you do that assignment” or “you forgot that paper at home again” or “how could you not know about the test today.” Students who struggle with school struggle with life; and that is what truly frightens their parents and prompts the angry reactions to the child’s mistakes. A student who struggles in math can get help and will improve in comprehension. A student who struggles to remember to do assignments and then where he put them and when to turn them in lives life like a pinball, batted from one mistake to the next. These are the students with whom I work. Their parents are the ones I understand because I am one also. My goal is to decrease the number of angry or painful conversations at home while I help students develop strategies for handling school. I hope to serve as a facilitator / negotiator during conferences between students and parents. I promise to offer empathy when frustrations build and to “appreciate rather than to evaluate families’ successes and struggles with their children” (Kottler, et al, 2005, p. 77).
Relationships are the means and the end. Soren Kierkegaard was noted as saying, “The irony of life is that it is lived forward but understood backward” (Loughran, 2002). So reflecting and then looking forward, I set this mission before me to know more about my students collectively and individually, to support students and parents as I model my belief in my students’ ability to succeed and to continually nurture these relationships in my life.
Dembo, M (2000). Motivation and learning strategies for college success: A self-management approach . Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
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Loughran, J (2002). Effective reflective practice: In search of meaning in learning about teaching. Journal of Teacher Education, 53, Retrieved from http://www.questia.com/read/5000686594
Nieto, S. (2003). What keeps teachers going? New York: Teachers College Press.
Ritchhart, R (2002). Intellectual character: what it is, why it matters, and how to get it . San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Tompkins, J (1996). A life in school: What the teacher learned . Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
Vitto, J (2003). Relationship-driven classroom management: Strategies that promote student motivation. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.