Tagged: relationships

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TEACHER VOICES: Heidi Guibord, #1

Building Community Through Snacks, Art, and Conversation

Heidi GuibordEd. note: Heidi Guibord teaches Art at Island High School in Alameda. This is her first post for TEACHER VOICES. Heidi has practiced the visual arts for more than 30 years. Please check out Heidi’s website, which includes galleries of her art works. Indeed, Heidi understands art, teaching, and young people.

favicon The common denominator for young people who attend continuation schools is that they have been unable to navigate their power successfully in other schools. The more specific reasons are complex, layered, and unique to each student.  Most do not want to attend and would rather be back at their old school.  They have had difficult relationships with teachers and administrators, and as I have learned, are reluctant to trust adults.

My first month teaching was rough: new location, new art teacher, new students, new system for me to learn. Former colleague Jessica Gammell once told me that in order for students to respect teachers, there must be trust. In order to build that trust, teachers need to hold high standards and be as consistent as possible. Although I was trying to get basic classroom routines set while trying to figure out school behavioral and academic norms, I needed to build better classroom culture. I also needed to get to know students better, and 55-minute periods don’t always serve that.

At the beginning of October, I started an after-school class that meets 1-2 times a week. Initially designed to serve as an option for credit recovery, the after-school art class has also served to be the place where community has blossomed. I bring in snacks, since students are hungry at the end of the school day. We work on class projects or try new materials.

Just as important, we have conversations. I have listened while my students have shared why they are at a continuation school, what they are frustrated with, and what their plans are after high school. We have discussed whether ouija boards really work, if Lil Wayne is, indeed, attractive, and what the best breakfast cereal is. We’ve also created paintings that will be shown in a holiday presentation through a local business.Those who attend come to my regular class a little more bought into the idea that I care about their education.

So far, 15 students have attended, with seven students earning credits toward graduation as a result of consistent attendance. This is a good start. In looking at the data, I have realized that six of these students are close to graduation. Starting next year, I plan to reach out more to students who are not as close and figure out what projects would get them to attend.

I need to find organizations to help donate snacks, as that seems to be a crucial component. In terms of the power I have as a teacher, I also want to listen with more intention to students and respond with support and opportunities for them to feel empowered in their high school years — and beyond. favicon

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TEACHER VOICES: Trevor Gardner, #2

Teaching as Stalking

TrevorGardnerEd. note: Trevor Gardner teaches English and social studies at Envision Academy in Oakland. He also serves as an instructional coach and is a member of the school’s leadership team. Trevor has written for a number of educational journals, including the esteemed Phi Delta Kappan, in which his piece on restorative justice, “Make Students Part of the Solution, Not the Problem,” appears in the October 2014 edition. This is his second post for TEACHER VOICES.

favicon Over the past four years at Envision Academy, I have had the unique opportunity to follow, or “loop,” with my current students through every grade level, ninth through 12th.

Facilitated in part by coincidence (I have both English and social studies credentials and have been willing to teach whichever course the school has needed) and in part by design (after looping with them for three years, I requested the position as their 12th grade World Literature teacher), I have grown with them for their entire high school careers.

One of their favorite jokes usually comes after I make a reference to something from the olden days of ninth or 10th grade, and it goes something like, “Trevor, I can’t believe you have been our teacher for all four years. Why are you stalking us? Are you going to follow us when we go away to college?”

Though their words arrive in jest, they reveal a connection that has been built over multiple years of learning together, a connection that could only have been built over several years, through struggle and triumph and more struggle. Over time.

I have been teaching high school in the Bay for sixteen years now. I have been privileged to develop deep and lasting relationships with my students; have laughed and cried and gritted my teeth with them; have backpacked along the Point Reyes coast with them; have farmed at co-ops in Venezuela with them; have co-presented workshops on restorative justice at educational conferences with them; have analyzed The Kite Runner using the feminist, Marxist, and psychoanalytic lenses with them.

The last time I taught 12th graders, I nearly pulled an all-nighter with several of them as they were preparing for their final Graduation Portfolio Defenses. But my current class of 12th grade youngStars is by far the group with whom I feel the deepest connection – and of whom I hold the greatest knowledge.

The reason is simple: time. One hour per day, five days per week, 36 weeks in a school year, three and one-third school years has taught me worlds about my incredible students (not to mention about myself – but that is another piece entirely).

I know that Raymond leans on his charisma and charm and will just get by unless he is held to high expectations and cajoled to push himself to do his best work.

I know that Dominique works harder and studies more than any student in the schools and sometimes still struggles to earn Bs and Cs.

I know that Jose’s creativity and imagination can take you on incredible journeys when in conversation with him but his pen falls silent when sitting in front of a blank page.

I know that when I pay attention to Gianni for his intelligence and knowledge of history and politics, he never uses negative behavior to seek that attention.

I know that Anthony works two jobs on the weekend and almost always still finds a way to complete his projects and essays on time – and that when he does not, he nearly kills himself trying.

I could keep going and make a list of similar comments for each of the 72 students in the class or 2015. The point is this: relationships are paramount. Trust, care, and commitment are the foundation for strong teaching and learning.

It was largely chance and circumstance that gave me the opportunity to loop with my students for the past for years, but now that I have, I would advocate for this kind of “stalking” to become a model and best practice for schools everywhere.

The only downfall is the mountain of recommendation letters I am about to sit down and start writing. favicon

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Bridging the gap of expectations

favicon There’s a lot of talk in education about the achievement gap.

Before we deal with the achievement gap, however, we need to deal with the expectations gap. In short, teachers and students need to agree on what’s possible and what’s essential.

A few anecdotes from today:

  • A student is not silent during a warm-up activity. In our private conversation afterward, the student says she understands my expectation. But she also says (1) she wasn’t speaking loudly, (2) she wasn’t hurting anyone, (3) she didn’t agree with my expectation.
  • A student tells my colleague that it’s “impossible” to write three short paragraphs in 15 minutes.
  • A student, in serious danger of not graduating in June, doesn’t believe me when I tell her she must attend an activity that would offer her credit. “It won’t hurt me,” she says. “I can make it up.”

In all these stories, the student disagreed with the teacher on expectations, about what’s necessary to achieve — and about what’s good enough.

Before learning can happen, everybody has to be on the same page.

In my experience, a huge part of teaching is about building trust and relationship so that students believe me. After all, too many students — especially students of color —  have had too many negative experiences with teachers — especially white teachers.

One of my biggest challenges is convincing students that I’m on their side. I might believe I’m on their side, and I might say it, and I might act on it. But my students must feel it.

They must feel that meeting my standard is possible and that it’s valuable — that it’s worth it. favicon

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How to talk to teachers / How to talk to students

 I have four students not passing my AP English class right now. It’s not too bad, actually: They will all pass at the semester (unless they miss a major assignment).

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about why they’re not passing. Yes, their reading and writing skills need improvement. Yes, they sometimes miss assignments because of poor time management or because they feel overwhelmed with their academic and personal lives.

But one thing in particular that I’m noticing is that all of them have trouble talking to me in complete sentences.

They might be unwilling. They might feel uncomfortable. They may not trust me. Whatever it is, it’s a major problem. After all, if I don’t have a free-flowing dialogue with my students, there’s a barrier there. There’s no chance for an academic breakthrough. Plus, I can’t support them effectively.

The good news is, I’ve made a lot of good progress with one of the students. And you know what? She’s doing much better now. She knows I’m on her side. We talk about our different tastes in music and about her favorite songs. She asks for my help. She comes to office hours. I help her with technology. We’ve exchanged texts, emails, letters. We know that we’re in this together.

I wouldn’t say I have a horrible relationship with the other three. We’re cordial, but we’re distant. In fact, when I’m talking with the students, I feel an extremely awkward distance between us. I’m sure they’re feeling the same thing, that they’re talking to an impossibly old man. I ask questions, and I get mumbling back. Sometimes, when I say hello, there isn’t even a response.

In the next few weeks, I’m going to make it a point to try to change up our script. Instead of trying really hard to communicate and instead of feeling weird when things go awry, I’m first going to be direct. I’m going to tell the students that I want to improve our communication. Then I’m going to keep things lighthearted, positive — and as natural as I can.

What do you think I should do? 

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It takes time to build relationships

 When I was in high school, there wasn’t the expectation that teachers and students would build relationships. As a student, I went to class, did my work, and got my grade. It was the teacher’s job to teach.

That’s not the case anymore, particularly at my school.

Sure, some students do well in their classes regardless of their teacher. But for many of my students, the teacher in the room matters more than anything else.

Like and respect the teacher = I will work hard and will succeed.
Don’t like or don’t respect the teacher = I won’t work hard and won’t succeed.

My experience is that it’s my job, not the student’s, to initiate and build the teacher-student relationship. This is likely because I’m a white teacher working with all students of color. At a school that purports to challenge social inequity, I represent the unjust dominant paradigm.

While I understand this dynamic, I’m not an extrovert, so establishing and deepening a relationship with my students does not come easily. It’s clear that I care about my students, but my students need to feel that care. Sometimes, that takes a long time.

The problem is, When there are only a few more months until the AP English exam, we can’t exactly waste any time. That’s why it’s imperative that I deliberately work on a daily basis to connect with my students’ heads and hearts.

I’m making good progress, but there is much to do.