I admit it. I have not been very consistent with building relationships with my students. As a matter of fact, I have had a particularly difficult time this year connecting with one class in particular. This class has many students with challenging behaviors and I know that handled it poorly, but at the end of this school year, with about seven weeks left, I have come to see what I should have done to create those relationships earlier.
One student, in particular, has been quite a prickly pear. I have had trouble with him staying on task and being disruptive, but by pure accident, I think I have figured him out! I am starting Literature Circles with my classes. So far, I have done everything by the book: student choice in reading material, explaining the roles each person must take on each time a group meets, providing resources to make the meetings run smoothly, etc.
This one student chose a book that after finding out who the group members were, decided he wanted to be in the other group. I couldn’t make that happen. The other group was full. He said he wasn’t going to participate, and I explained to him that this is a project that will last a couple of weeks and that he couldn’t afford to not participate. I let him think about it for a while, and then he moved to the group. I think he was really interested in the book enough to make it work.
Here is the part that just amazed me: This student, knowing that other members of his group have lower abilities than he does, took the lead position as Discussion Leader. But the truly amazing part is that he worked gently and patiently to get the other group members secured in their roles, establish a reading schedule, and take care of the other “housekeeping” activities. As I watched him do this, it finally struck me. This kid is a leader, and one that can do it in the right way. How have I missed this?
If only…love (hate) those words. If only I had introduced Literature Circles at the beginning of school like I wanted to; if only I had tried more collaborative learning groups with this class; if only, if only, if only. I could have seen this leadership in him early on and used that for good (not evil). We could have developed a better relationship and I would have had a better year personally. Dang it!
Well, I can’t linger on the if only’s. I am going to take what I now know about this kid and run with it! Starting today. He completed his Discussion Leader organizer after he let me explain the different levels of questioning to him, and my expectations, which is something he has never done. He actually let me show him something. After that, he wrote his questions out. I asked for the questions to see if they were okay. I let him get to his desk and sit down before I read the questions. They were awesome! The complexity of the questions gave me goose bumps. So, I looked up at him and pointed at him and told him to come back. I was making my disapproving teacher face and he walked up ready to hear me be discouraging and asking him to redo the questions. What he heard from me for the (I hate to say it) first time was: “You have done an awesome job writing these questions!” And then, I asked for a high-five, and I got it!
Now, to contact his parents with this good news!
Note to self: find out what makes each student tick early in the school year. I know this. Teachers know they should build positive relationships with their students. Sometimes, we forget. But there is no excuse.