Over my 10-year career as an educator, there have been a number of times of uncertainty in education. These are the times that drive us to reflect on why we became educators: to have an impact. There have been some great posts within this platform with fantastic tips on how to thrive during these times. For this piece, I’m thinking about relationships.
We all know that at the forefront of education is the power that comes from building meaningful relationships, both with our students and colleagues. It’s was fuels the work that we do and empowers us to see the impact that we can have, are having and will have. It’s through relationships that we keep the lines of communication open when parents and students who don’t always know what the impacts may be a school community.
When I think about relationships I think about creating spaces that are:
- Open to dialogue
- Safe to try, fail and try again
Open to Dialogue
Ever been in a quiet classroom or one where the main voice was that of the teacher? How did it feel? On the other hand, have you ever been in a classroom that was loud and slightly chaotic with meaningful dialogue happening amongst students? How did that feel? I’m sure that both spaces feel very different.
I believe that “the rules” we have in the classroom, set the tone for the way in which our students converse with each other. When students feel free to be able to bring their experiences, thoughts and ideas into the classroom, there’s a sense of freedom that comes from being who you are with people who care. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve been in buildings where administrators wondered about the noise happening in my classroom but when they can come in, spoke to students and saw that it was purposeful, some of the questioning dissipated. Many would also drop in for our times when we were connecting on things that were meaningful to students and had an impact both in within the classroom and the world around us.
I believe that classrooms should be spaces for students and educators to have open dialogue about what is being learned within the classroom which should also include real connections to what is happening in the world. These are sometimes courageous conversations that need to be met with students having the opportunity to share their concerns and having a non-judgemental adult being there to help guide with facts and information. We want students to be asking rich and meaningful questions of each other and understanding that communication is a skill that they can work to develop with each other. That means that they don’t necessarily have to agree with the thoughts and ideas of another but they understand that they have to respect that diversity of thought exists.
Safe Spaces to Try, Fail and Try Again
Growing up, I always felt that at school, I had to be perfect and show what I knew. Failure wasn’t embraced and there was a culture around making sure that what was shared was the right answer for that was most important. The stress that this puts on students when they should be in a space where learning and the progression of skills and knowledge is embraced is unbelievable. As such, I tried to create spaces where students could present themselves as is and we could work towards helping them to improve where needed.
Now I can’t say that this is an easy task but imagine if students felt safe failing and viewed it as an opportunity to get back up and grow. A place where talking about what they believed to be correct and working to identify misconceptions and helping students to consider what other options might be correct. Or better yet, having their peers work towards helping to change misconceptions. What if we offered students the freedom to fail and then the opportunity to try again after providing feedback and clarification for them? This takes work, time and effort but how might the climate in our classrooms change and how might they help to deepen connections made with each other? What outcome could this provide for students in the long term?
People naturally gravitate to those who are real and genuine. Colleagues are genuinely navigating uncomfortable spaces at the moment and it’s important to be able to have at least one critical friend with whom we can share our concerns but who will also empower us to continue with the goal that we know is most important, our students and their success. Have you found a critical friend? One with whom you can be real and know will help to encourage you on those tough days?
While we are uncertain of what the outcome of the changes in education may be, we do know that through relationships, we can stay true to what we believe to be the most valuable part of our role: having an impact in education.