It’s All About the Love
Chanmi asked Michelle and Jennifer to share the best gifts they ever received from students. What teacher doesn’t love a heartfelt thank you note? And, those always seem to pop up when we’re feeling our lowest. Jennifer’s reply was heartwarming and full of inspiration. Read on to learn her story and how simple acts of kindness can carry a child forever.
Jennifer: I actually got the best gift a teacher could ever get the other day. It was an email from a former student. I was in tears by the end of it. I got a letter from one of my former first-grade students. She’s now graduating from medical school.
The letter was quite long, but throughout the letter, she had mentioned some things that happened to her as a student and one of the things she said was she had described herself as being very shy and obedient. She felt overlooked by many of her teachers.
I just want to read you this one excerpt here that she has in the letter. She wrote,
“Now that I’m an adult, I know how difficult it is dealing with seven-year-olds all day. The ones who come into the hospital are almost always cranky and dislike me right away when they see my white coat. It would be easy for me to just do my job quickly and leave it to the parents to deal with their upset kid, but then I remembered how much your smile and acknowledgment meant to me as a child, so I put in extra effort and time with my little patients, hoping to leave the same impression on them as you did on me.”
Michelle: You definitely made that child feel loved and it stuck with her entire life.
Jennifer: It’s all about the love. Here’s our big question, big ideas for today. Why is it so important to establish strong trusting relationships with students, and how do you teachers build those relationships with students to get that established, that trust? Why is it so important?
The research says that the most important factor in determining the quality of the education that a child receives is the quality of the teacher. In studies over and over again, something that comes up every time among many characteristics is this idea that great teachers form strong relationships with their students and they show them that they really care about them as people.
That’s what we want to address today. Why is this so important to build these strong relationships?
Michelle: Everyone wants to feel loved. You know, there’s a saying that some students come to school to learn, and some students come to school to be loved, and maybe some students come to school for both but you can’t ever go wrong with loving somebody. That’s always going to win.
Chanmi: Right. We teach real people. We teacher readers and writers and thinkers and problem solvers. It’s those real people, those little humans that we love and we show up for every day. That’s why we do what we do.
Jennifer: That’s right. People have relationships. They connect, they collaborate, they communicate. That’s what people do.
Michelle: When people feel loved, a child or adult but especially children, when they feel loved and they’re happy. Because you’ve created a positive environment, then they’re motivated, so then the students that are motivated to learn. The students want to do things to make you happy and to contribute to that positive environment. There are only good things can come out of showing love and kindness to other people.
Jennifer: Right. I think a lot of it has to do with their identities too, is that these kids come to school and they have lives outside so it’s really important for us to be responsive to those identities. When we’re planning, you know, any lesson, taking into consideration the students’ identity, their culture, their gender, their religion, their ethnicity, their language, any kind of background that they’ve had is just building that relationship and you’re really leveraging what they’ve brought with them.
Michelle: By doing that, you’re showing that you care about them and they feel that love. Jennifer: Right, and it’s just building this positive community as you said. I mean, that’s how it happens.
Chanmi: Students are going to feel motivated if you’re invested in knowing who they are and making their learning relevant because it’s about them and giving them that sense of personalization. That’s what’s going to make them want to learn, too.
Michelle: I know we’ve talked a lot about what to do, you know? You should be responsive to whatever is going on with the students, but how do you do that because there’s a lot of pressure on teachers and we have a lot going on? That child who remembered you so many years later, what do you think was happening at the time that made her feel such love?
Jennifer: I think probably the first thing on my list would be to just talk with the students. Talk with them like they’re people because they are, just like we said. Listen to them, talk to them, answer their questions, listen to their stories, tell them your stories. They’re people. If you really, really talk and listen to them, you’re going to learn some stuff.
Michelle: Talking to the students is a big one. I spend a lot of time talking to my students and I know that I try to plan learning experiences where the students get to talk and collaborate with each other and so I learn a lot through that and then they learn a lot from each other as well. That also contributes to building that loving, positive community within the classroom.
Chanmi: What they learned and how they learn has to be authentic. We need to make sure that it bridges to real life and human experiences, so there’s a purpose to why they’re learning what they’re learning.
Michelle: Yes, it’s deliberate. Another thing that I like to do is provide the students choice, so I try to design activities that allow students these choices based on their experiences and their needs, their strengths and their values. Then the other thing is to make the learning joyful. I know I’ve seen a lot of giggling, a lot of laughing this in both of your classrooms. I never could pull off that whole, “no smiling until Christmas” thing.
Jennifer: I can’t either. Life is too fun.
Chanmi: Just learning to laugh with each other and having that inside classroom community joke, you know, is just really fun. It just builds that community even more.
Jennifer: The lesson here is its human nature to connect with others and feel valued and respected by the people in our lives.
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