It turns out, developing strong teacher-student relationships in a “community of learners” takes more than a week – who knew? This is going to be a “part one of many” kind of blog. Clearly, developing quality relationships is something I have been working on since the beginning of the year and some (I have taught a number of my students before in younger grades and my Grade 11 students have been with me throughout the two year Chemistry Diploma course), but this week I took a more serious look at how things were going and decided to elicit feedback from my students. And boy am I glad I did this.
On P.31 of Learning That Transfers, you’ll find a list of student and teacher roles in a Transfer-Focused classroom. On the list for ‘Teacher Role’ one point says “detective of student thinking” – this is referring to the thinking students do in response to lessons and as teachers our job is to find ways to help students express their thinking, to get it out in a way that enables us to plan for next steps for student learning. But I also see this ‘Role’ referring to my students’ thinking about the lessons in general; what do they enjoy? What do they dislike? Do they feel they are learning? What do they want me to know about them?
I was a little over ambitious this week, I wanted to plan a concept attainment for fair vs. equal (P.35) to explore the concepts of equality and equity and promote a sense of my credibility as a teacher in the eyes of my students. I also wanted to plan a lesson around a class goal (also P.35) to promote strong class cohesion – but the week got away from me and I didn’t fit either of these in. However, instead of feeling frustrated at not meeting my personal goals for the week, I am going to check in with my thoughts in relation to my circumstance and remember that there is plenty of time to do these things in the coming weeks. If you’re not sure what I am referring to when I say ‘thoughts in relation to circumstances’, I highly recommend you consider taking the LTT course Goodbye Overwhelm created in collaboration with Kristin Dabney. It is not an understatement to say that her ‘secret sauce’ has changed the way I think about my work and my mental health, which is why I keep mentioning it.
So what did I manage to do this week?
The focus of the week was developing student-teacher relationships. I did this in a couple of ways: I sent out a feedback questionnaire on Google Forms to gather feedback on my teaching, I planned for a conversation about self-regulation and boundaries (this has been a big change between pre- and post-pandemic teaching), and I thought about two students in each of my classes that I wanted to work on my relationships with (this last one is by no means finished with).
Eye opening feedback
This is the google form I used in my classes this week: make your own copy here to adapt and use in your classroom.
I did a little research on Edutopia and the Cult of Pedagogy blog to help write the questions and understand how I can set up the survey in my class. I also took a few ideas from the survey my school sends out every other year to students to gather feedback from students that our administration team uses.
How do you find the work in Science/Chemistry? (scale of 1 (way too easy) to 5 (way too difficult)) – question from Cult of Pedagogy.
Do you understand what is expected of you in this class? (scale of 1 (I am very lost) to 5 (Yes, it’s alway clear what I need to do))
Do you feel like trying your best in this class? (scale of 1 (not at all) to 5 (yes, I put in the most effort possible))
Do you feel you are learning in this class?
What do you enjoy most about the lessons? – question from Cult of Pedagogy.
Do you feel respected in this class? Can you explain why or why not?
What do you like least about the lessons? – question from Cult of Pedagogy.
Do you feel supported by me?
What would you like me to start doing? – question from our school surveys.
What would you like me to stop doing? – question from our school surveys.
Is there anything else you would like me to know? – question from Cult of Pedagogy.
When reading my student responses, the thing that struck me most was that I had a lot to learn about what my students really felt about my classes. One class I thought was going smoothly had more students sharing they were struggling with a lack of clarity about the bigger picture of the work – knowing this means I can now plan for work on the story of my course (Chapter 5 of Learning That Transfers). Classes where I was feeling less confident about student enjoyment actually gave feedback showing the opposite was true, they can see that I make more of an effort to engage them in theoretical content (although, they would like more experiments where things explode – not really that easy when looking at the structure of the atom!) . I won’t share the details of my feedback, but my analysis approach was to organise the feedback according to class and try to make some generalisations about the responses to each question. I then wrote down one thing I can do to make an improvement. The most important aspect of conducting these surveys is acting on what the students have shared – this relates to teacher credibility. My students need to see that I value what they have said and that I will address their suggestions.
If your school is also back to in person teaching, I am wondering if you have also seen a change in student self-regulation skills and the need to address boundaries to support safe and healthy relationships? In my school I have noticed that we have some work to do, particularly for our younger students who have missed transition periods between primary and secondary school. I decided to conduct a conversation in each of my classes to reflect on the concepts of self-regulation and boundaries. What’s clear is that all students understand the importance of both of these, but they need help developing their skills. I am so glad we had these conversations, and we used them to shape our classroom expectations. My students had some wonderful ideas, they would like clear expectations and also suggested that the school spends some time on mindfulness workshops to help them manage their thoughts and feelings in relation to their experiences during the pandemic lockdowns.
Finally, I decided I would make a note of two students in a few of my classes and intentionally plan to work on my relationship with them. This is in response to the next day strategy on P. 34 of Learning That Transfers. These students have been struggling more than the others with their work and/or behaviour. This is something I am going to be working on over the next few weeks. I will make a point of checking in with them, asking questions to get to know them better and writing some positive notes to their parents/guardians. I have noticed an improvement already but I know I have a long way to go with this strategy so I will share more in the coming weeks.
Now that I have written this out, I realise I achieved a lot more than I thought I had! I love that developing relationships is an ongoing process and something I will keep going with for the entire school year. I would love to hear your experiences with any of these strategies so do get in touch if you had a go at them. Take care and see you next week.
P.S. I want to add that I just set myself a mini goal of completing and publishing this blog in an hour (I made it in an hour and 10 mins – so I’m getting there!). Some weeks I have allowed this to spread over hours and the truth is, I can create the same quality work and also have time to work on other projects or do other weekend-y things when I set a timer and commit to getting this done. Whoop : )