In her blog last week, Patricia Gustin reminds us about the importance of building positive relationships with students, an imperative endeavor to meet TPEP criterion five, which states that a teacher should foster and manage a safe and inclusive learning environment that takes into account the physical, emotional, and intellectual well-being of students. My district uses CEL 5D to define evaluation indicators for the TPEP criteria, and the ones that relate to criterion five are:
- Arrangement of classroom
- Accessibility and use of materials
- Use of learning time
- Managing student behavior
- Student status
- Norms of learning
I argue that what we do outside the classroom can have just as much of an impact as what we do inside the classroom to foster relationships. For students to have status, adhere to classroom norms, maximize instructional time, and respect a teacher’s behavioral expectations, they must know the teacher cares, but 55 minutes (give or take) once a day is not enough to do this with every student, especially when the main focus of that precious time is on subject area content.
So, what is a teacher (who still wants to have a life) to do? Find out what students are involved in and make an effort to attend a few of the underrepresented events. Varsity athletes are familiar with stands filled with cheering fans, but what about junior varsity athletes, orchestra, and debate club?
Early in the year I have students fill out some information about themselves on a notecard. One of the questions I ask is about sports, clubs, or community groups in which they are involved. Using these responses, I seek information about events related to these involvements, usually asking leaders of these groups, like the orchestra teacher, directly. The advertised events are rarely the ones that need support. I then select a manageable amount to attend throughout the year, maybe four or so. While these events usually happen during the evenings or on weekends, the investment of time is well worth the return for helping foster relationships with students in a way that has positive impact in the classroom.
One testament to the benefit of seeking out and attending underrepresented extracurricular events comes from my attendance at the regional orchestra solo/ensemble competition this past winter for my school. From my students’ beginning of the year notecards, I knew I had quite a few in orchestra. When I asked the orchestra teacher about the events his class attends, he mentioned several, but one, the solo/ensemble competition, caught my attention. One of the athletes on the school cross-country team I coach who also plays in the orchestra had recently been lamenting the fact that no one goes to watch the solo/ensemble performances. This was the perfect opportunity.
Throughout the week leading up to the solo/ensemble competition I convinced a few other teachers to attend with me. Although this event was on a Saturday (a nice weather one at that) and required a bit of travel, twelve of my students were competing at it. Attending a single event to foster relationships with that many of my students was worth it. The cheerful greetings the other teachers and I received from our students roaming the halls between their performances exuded excitement over having an audience aside from their orchestra teacher and (for a few) their families. And they knew we were coming. Many events like this are less public than sporting events and asking permission to sit in on the performance is appropriate. Thinking of the TPEP criteria above, what gives students more status than their teachers asking permission to attend their performances?
One of the performances at the event we attended was a violin solo by a student of one of the other teachers in our group. Following the event, the teacher of this student noted increased engagement in class from this minority student who comes from a low income household and who struggles academically. Occasionally in homeroom at my school students have the opportunity to fill out “Thank a Staff Member” forms that are later delivered. The teacher of the solo violinist we watched received one a couple weeks after the competition from that very student reading, “I thank this teacher because I know she cares. She is awesome, and it makes me want to do well in class.”
Except for “arrangement of classroom” and “accessibility of materials,” this type of fostering relationships will have a positive impact on the indicators related to TPEP criterion 5. Do you have a few Saturdays or evenings each school year to support your students? What relationships can you foster with this time?
When outside of the classroom, I enjoy mtn. biking, skiing, running, and grilling good food, but don’t enjoy karaoke or green beans, mainly because I can’t sing and was afraid of the Jolly Green Giant as a kid.
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