Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Taking a Walk with my Students

On Wednesday I decided that I needed to spend a little time one-on-one with some students. Although it was difficult for me to detach myself from all the "URGENT" tasks on my desk, I gathered student schedules and went for a walk.

They were some of the most well spent minutes of my week!

First stop: I borrowed Rosa from her computer class and we went for a walk. Rosa was so agitated in class the day before that she came without her materials, would not work or participate, and became combative with other students over minor interruptions. My statement to her was, "I was worried about you because you were so upset, and I wanted to make sure that you are okay. Is there anything I can do?"

Quickly, Emily shared concerns weighing on her, concerns that we would dismiss as "9th grade girl syndrome," but in her world, real, emotional, critical.

I didn't have any answers but I asked how I could help. Emily asked to have her seat moved. Easily done!

That day I moved Rosa. Thursday, Rosa was early to class, had her materials, completed her assignment, and participated in the class activities. She proudly showed me that she was ready for class, and I thanked her for her effort.

Second stop: Tito and I walked around a hallway while we discussed his abrasive comments to a fellow student in class the day before. I made sure that I understood he did not begin the conflict, but that he was incited by a comment I didn't hear. Then I asked if he was okay, considering that another student had insulted him. He assured me that he and the other student were "cool," they were just joking around.

Third stop: Julio was the other student involved in the harsh exchange of words. As we walked through the hall, he echoed Tito's sentiments. We discussed the potential harm of his comments, and he agreed that they were wrong. He apologized and I walked him back to class.

When Tito and Julio came to class that day, they took the time to speak with each other about everyday types of things. I think it was mostly to prove to me that their relationship was good. I was pleased and relieved.

The clock was ticking down, but I had one more student I really wanted to contact.

Fourth stop: I borrowed Lorenzo from his study hall and we went for a walk. We strolled casually around part of the school and then found a bench in the hallway where we could sit and talk. I have some suspicions: Lorenzo causes trouble because he has my class at the end of the day, because he is too tall to sit comfortably in the classroom desks, because he loves to speak and joke without thinking through what he is saying, because he is bored and not challenged enough.

Yes, he agreed each time. Then we talked about solutions.

More than anything I want him to know that I care. I want him to succeed. I like him as he is; he doesn't have to alter his personality to be likable. I believe in him. I will help him find ways to succeed.

It's okay to move to a desk separated from others so there is room to stretch; it is okay to stand up or move around a bit; it is okay to talk and joke with friends, at the right time and in the right way. Let's work out what those things look like.

When Lorenzo came to class today, we moved his seat and found moments when he could stretch and move. We implemented some other changes. Truthfully, everything isn't "perfect," but that's okay. We work on it together. Tomorrow he's coming for a detention and we're going to have a hands-on, movement and task-oriented time. I even challenged him to bring a friend with him.

So, what are my takeaways from the day?

  1. Students have stories. I can't assume that I know already, I need to listen.
  2. Walking around the school is far less intimidating than meeting at a desk or in an office. The students seem less defensive and more willing to talk.
  3. I need to guard my students' dignity and identity; they are not criminals, delinquents, or objects of my wrath. 

I need to take more walks with my students, whatever the reason. I will try to make this a regular practice!

How do you build relationships with students?
How can you address concerns with students while affirming their value and your belief in them?
What demands keep you "tied to your desk"?
Will you consider taking a walk with a student today?

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(This blog is a conversation between my good friend (and instructional coach), Mrs. Stephanie Sandrock, and myself. As is often the case, I...