A new school year is underway throughout the country. I'm thinking of the many incredibly caring teachers, coaches, and staff members in every school district. This year, as always, I am optimistically hoping for an influx of outstanding adults to be a part of my kids' daily lives for the next 10 months. We haven't always been so lucky in past years, but this post is to highlight some of the best that we have personally experienced.
I believe that there is inherent good and incredible potential in every student. The influence that our schools can have on a child's life is astronomical. Based on entirely true stories, here is my depiction of what going to school could do for a student on any given day. This is one day that I wish on every single kid, no matter their zip code or what their family situation is like.
The Day Begins
Our student gets on the bus with a driver like one I know and love named Bob. Bob is 70 years old and a tremendous athlete and he learns the name of every student on his bus every year. He greets each kid by their name when he says "good morning," and by name again when he tells them to "have a good day." "Why don't you come up here and sit with me?" he'll say to a student that he can see in his large mirror might need a little more attention that day.
Once at school, our student heads to class with Carol (who is also real, they're all real) whose smile and her admission that she shares his love for cinnamon toast crunch earns her not only an occasional gift of the beloved cinnamon toast crunch throughout the year but also his attention when she delves into her lessons.
In Brittney's class she sits him up front because she's noticed he's easily distracted. She's nice, funny, and she lets the kids do as much talking as listening during labs. When his attention does wander during class, she simply taps on his desk with a smile to get him back on track.
His math teachers, Tyler and Dave, make music videos with their students to teach algebra concepts. When they ask who would be willing to come in on a Saturday to film a new video, our student and his classmates are excited to add math into their weekend.
During a free period he goes to see his guidance counselor Melissa. She's sweet, asks how he's doing, and sees if there are any classes he's having trouble with. She gives him a quiet space to work on homework or projects, will get extra copies of his assignments if needed, and reaches out to the parents so if there's a specific class they're worried about she can make sure to keep an eye out for them.
After school, Coach Mitch pushes him to work harder than he thought he ever could, building his confidence, making it fun to exercise with intensity, and building the inner community of a team working together and cheering one another on to accomplish individual and team goals.
Or during track, Coach Jody is telling him she knows he can keep getting better, to keep working at it. "That was awesome! Now try it again!" She never turns away the kids on the team if they're opening up to her and allowing her in. She's always available for him to come talk to her about track, what's on his mind, what's bothering him, or just lighthearted chatter to keep practice fun.
This student could be anywhere from 7 to 17. Instead of athletics, he could be in Lego Club, or involved with photography for the yearbook. She could be getting extra tutoring or ESL help or she could be taking all advanced classes. No matter the student, they're all waiting to be recognized as strong and talented individuals. They want to believe they are capable of great success and making a positive impact, but someone else will have to believe in them first…
Listening. Acknowledging. It Makes a Difference.
More than any assignment, field trip, test, or project - it's the adults in their life that most influence our students, for better or worse. Being heard and recognized for their thoughts and feelings goes a LONG way with a young person. There was a group of high school students on an episode of ABC's Shark Tank that pitched their invention and were able to get a deal from billionaire Mark Cuban for $100,000... and they weren't focused just on his fame or their new riches afterward. The first thing they said coming out of the tank was: "They actually treated us like adults and listened to our ideas."
I don't buy into the argument that students need a top-notch preschool or kindergarten education and without it they are set up for failure. Of course early education is incredibly important, but give a struggling middle school student a positive adult that really listens and believes in them and they will begin to flourish. On the flip side - for every supportive teacher that nurtures our students, if we add a teacher or coach that thinks the kid should keep their ideas to themselves and just follow directions as they're told, we're taking a step back.
Students that have LOTS of passionate and caring adult influences in their day, the kind of people who truly believe in them and will help them every step of the way, these students WILL be more successful. They WILL start achieving their potential. They might not master every math concept or turn out to be the greatest of readers, but with the motivation that comes from feeling supported, they will be amazing in a unique way of their own.
Final Note and Link:
There are many thoughtful and dedicated teachers and coaches out there. I follow a few on twitter and am inspired by what they are trying in their classrooms to create more engaged and empowered students. Here's a recent post from one very impressive educator about the relationship a teacher can establish with their students: Smile. Be genuine. Be fair. Be the light.
RanLearns are insights from Co-Founder Ran Flasterstein about 21st Century Education. Follow him on Twitter @RanLearns or contact him here.