Wednesday, June 28, 2017

This I Believe

I was recently asked to compose my own This I Believe essay relating to Educational Leadership. This I Believe is an international organization engaging people in writing and sharing essays describing their core values that guide their daily lives. ( What good is a This I Believe essay if it can’t be shared? Enjoy. :)

Thirteen years after teaching my first class of fourth-grade students, one of my former students, now an adult with a teaching degree, asked if I would meet her at a local Starbucks to discuss tips for landing her first teaching job. While waiting to place our coffee orders, we noticed a familiar face as we approached the register at the front of the line. What a coincidence when we realized that the young man taking coffee orders was also a member of that very same fourth-grade class! Immediately, an impromptu reunion commenced as we joyfully reminisced about that year of fourth grade and many of our experiences together.

Moments later, as I sipped my cappuccino and shared advice with my former student, I happened to notice a small group of teenage girls seated at the other side of the coffee shop. As my eyes caught theirs, a few of them waved and smiled at me. Based on their age and their reaction to seeing me, I quickly realized that these girls were former students of mine from my brief stint teaching 6th-grade language arts at one of the district middle schools just a few years ago. Waving back at them, I wracked my brain for their names, but nothing came to me.

Thirteen years had passed, yet memories of students from my first 4th-grade class ran deep as I easily recalled details about my students’ lives, their families, and their classmates. Middle school students that I taught far more recently left only an ephemeral impression due to the small amount of time that we spent together each day. Why must our older students spend their school days drifting from teacher to teacher rather than have fewer teachers with whom they spend more time and get to know far better?

As an educational leader, I believe that strong relationships between students and teachers are critical for student success. Resources, technology, and funding are inconsequential without meaningful and lasting relationships between our students and their teachers. To further develop the teacher-student relationship, we must rethink how we use time in our schools. Rather than maintaining traditional school schedules where students scramble from classroom to classroom to account for the mandated hours of seat time in each core discipline, why can’t education look different? I believe that if we provide more contact hours between teachers and students, we increase the likelihood for more substantial relationships that impact student success. I believe that if we integrate courses together, teachers will find more opportunities to develop students’ skills rather than solely focus on content knowledge. I also believe that if teachers can view themselves as teachers of children rather than as teachers of a particular grade level or subject area, our students will all receive a personalized experience with the proper conditions for academic/social-emotional success.

Education is profoundly impacted by the experiences we have with our teachers. Insufficient time with a teacher will result in a missed opportunity to build a relationship that could make a significant impact on a student's life. It's time for more educational leaders to challenge status quo, rethinking how we use our time in schools to aid in the development of stronger student-teacher relationships that will impact learners for years to come.

My First 4th Grade Class, May 2004

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