Why It’s Important to Know Every Student as a Learner.

My wife is an incredible cook, but I do recall her first attempt at one of my all-time favorite meals; roast beef with mashed potatoes and Yorkshire pudding. It was very early in our marriage, and she had asked what I’d like for my birthday supper. I had always enjoyed my mom’s Yorkshire pudding, so I thought I’d order that up. The beef was cooked to perfection, tender and juicy. The potatoes were light and fluffy and the gravy was spot on. But the Yorkshire pudding, the one thing I was looking forward to the most was, well, not that great. It is a risk to share this story, after all, she might read this! I share it though because there is a happy ending to all of this. She didn’t quit making Yorkshire pudding after this flop. After a few more attempts, I must admit that her version of this side dish is easily the best I’ve had, and that includes restaurant versions.

This cycle of my wife’s curiosity followed by failure then subsequently followed by repeated attempts until mastery occurred reminds me A LOT of some of the amazing teaching I get to see in Waldheim School every day. Our goal, the same goal we’ve had for years, is simple:

Every adult at Waldheim School will have a deep and thorough understanding of every student they work with.

This goal is our foundation, it’s the rich soil out of which our literacy, numeracy, and engagement goals bloom. When I listen to teachers and EAs I hear how we are achieving our goal. I hear evidence.

Like the story I heard in the staff room two weeks ago. I was speaking with an elementary teacher about the writing process and we were talking about how to work beside our students as they learn. She quickly reminded me that not every student needs us at the exact same time. She has come to know her students so well that she knows Student A will likely need her at the start of a task while Students B and C will likely need her near the fine tuning of their product. She indicated that she’s come to know her students well enough that she’s able to move about the room in a timely and efficient way. It was not like this at the start of the year, she needed to learn about her learners. Like a dancer mastering the steps in a performance, she now floats about the room with a hidden understanding of her students guiding her.

Or the conversation I had with a grade nine teacher today. I popped into her class during final period and her students were hard at work balancing equations using multi-colored paper clips to help them better understand the process. One student seemed to be a little less engaged in this lesson than he usually is. She moved from group to group watching, listening, nudging, all the while learning about her learners. After school she made her way to my office to talk about the lesson and the student that wasn’t particularly engaged. She knew that this student was dealing with some other non-school related issues and was just a little ‘off’ today. What caught my eye was how well she knows her learners and how responsive she was to ALL of their needs. What caught my heart is that this student could have been anywhere today, but the student chose her science class. Wow!

My wife would have never had known how much I love Yorkshire pudding had she not asked. Likewise, she’d never have mastered the dish had she not persisted. It’s what our great teachers and EAs do. We learn about our kids. We learn about what they need, about their strengths, their interests, their lives. We take all of that information and then we teach them.

Do we create masterpieces every time? Nope. Do we keep adjusting and trying again and again and again? Yup! And that’s the beauty of what we get to do every day.

What do you think:

  • How are you getting to know your students?
  • What are some of those ‘a-ha’ moments where you know you’ve had a breakthrough?
  • Which students seem the most elusive? Are there other teachers or EAs that have reached them? What can your colleagues tell you?

 128 total views,  1 views today