It’s All About Connection
A good amount of education-related social media in the past few months has focused in being a connected educator. The context of these discussions is about the educator being connected to other educators via social networks and developing their personal learning networks.
But the primary, most important aspect of a connected educator is one who connects deeply and authentically with each and every student in his/her class. As Rita Pierson notes in her powerful Ted Talk, Every Child Needs a Champion:
Kids don’t learn from people they don’t like. Teachers should leave legacies of relationships that can’t disappear.
Sir Ken Robinson also discusses the importance of the student-teacher relationship in Why We Need to Reform Education Now.
To improve our schools, we have to humanize them and make education personal to every student and teacher in the system. Education is always about relationships. Great teachers are not just instructors and test administrators. They are mentors, coaches, motivators, and lifelong sources of inspiration to their students.
All young people have unique talents and interests. In his moving poem, Malcolm London argues that education has to connect with the real lives of young people and not stifle their hopes and dreams.
To do so, teachers need to become a type of ethnographer of their students, which I discuss in more detail in Teaching as a Human – Humane Process.
As teachers know, every class they teach is different, every student in each of these classes is different and unique. Good teaching entails seeing (really seeing) every student in the classroom, getting to know each of them as the individuals they really are and deserve to be. (Disclaimer: I know this is difficult, if not impossible, for educator who work with hundreds of students at any given time.)
The teacher as an ethnography gets to know individual students as individuals, being able to assess what the student needs when. Teaching as a human-humane process translates to knowing when to push, when to pull back, when to ignore, when to encourage, when to praise, when to critique, when to challenge, when to nurture, when to cheer, when to show love.
Being fair with students is not about providing all students with equal treatment at all times. This actually leads to unfair treatment of students as they are individuals and are not like widgets – equal in all respects. It also acknowledges and honors that individual students differ from day to day, sometimes minute to minute as they continue to learn, grasp concepts, change moods, change relationships, and to grow. This translates into continually assessing individual learner needs and offering them what you think they need to grow and learn at any given moment.
The result are those light bulb moments, when a learner “gets it” – understands something that s/he has struggled to understand, when his or her self-efficacy rises, when a learner realizes s/he is smarter than previously believed – it is these moments that are the most meaningful for me as an educator.