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  • Writer's pictureKaren Caswell

Knowing Our Students

Something we pride ourselves in at our school is our focus on getting to know our students as people and as learners. We invest much time and energy into this, because we know that if we get the relationship right, the curriculum is so much easier. Our commitment to this is evident in that for the first two weeks of school, we are not pressured to cover any curriculum – we focus on building those relationships with students and families. We call this time, Know Me As A Learner. This year, we worked on strengthening this process during our PLTs when we identified one focus student, as well as creating a learner profile for every student, called a Know Me Data card, where each student’s 2021 teacher wrote a brief snapshot about their character, engagement, interests, how they worked with others, learning preference, strategies that worked well, etc., which was then passed on to their 2022 classroom teacher.

During our staff meeting where teachers received their 2022 class list and the cards for their new students, I shared the following story:

Before we go any further, I’d like to take a moment to share a story about my school experiences. Here are a few of the comments from my report cards, from Year 3 to 7. Now, I’m sharing them purely for the purpose of reflecting on the differences between the type of comments many of us received, to what we now write about our students. The most used word in all of my report card comments was conscientious – and while I won’t argue that I wasn’t (as I’m sure I could still be described as that to this day), I wonder if any of my teachers knew that one of the reasons for that was because of my underlying belief that I had to be perfect in order to be ‘good enough’, and that to me, making a mistake, not achieving top marks, or having to ask for help was a sign of failure. The other thing I’ve reflected on recently, is that I don’t really recall a teacher who connected with me like no other; who made a difference; who made me feel that I was enough; who I knew was there for me if I needed them; who I was excited to see every day at school. The only teacher that I remember is one who had a negative impact – I felt like she didn’t like me, and I’m sure you can see which comment was written by that teacher - which to me emphasises the power of our relationships with students. I also wonder what my teachers really knew about me: did they know I went camping with my cousins to the same place very year; did they know I was an only child until I was 10; did they know I was a really good swimmer or what other after school activities I participated in; did they know I hated to be absent from school because I worried about what I’d missed; did they know I loved reading? I’ve had the pleasure of reading all of the Know Me Data Cards, and many overall report card comments over the past few weeks, and I’m moved and inspired by how well we know our students. The question now is, what do we do with that knowledge?

Teachers were then given time to explore the guiding question: How can teachers knowing their students influence their actions when preparing for the new school year?

The first step was to spend time reading through the Know Me Data cards for their 2022 students, and while reading, teachers were asked to think about what they were finding helpful, are student’s passions and interests identified, and do you notice any patterns, eg. common strengths, weaknesses, concerns, etc. Having some insight into this information now gives us a head start in getting to know and connecting with the students in our class.

The next step (adapted from the work of Therapi Kaplan) was to choose three students that teachers were wondering about. They were asked to be curious about these students. To identify what they thought they already knew about them. What questions did they have for, or about them? Then to be intentional with planning how they will use these questions and other information to guide them at the start of the year, particularly during our Know Me As A Learner weeks. We know a rising tide lifts all boats (John F. Kennedy), so what we do for an individual or small group of students, benefits all students. As Trevor MacKenzie says, the investments educators make in building strong relationships have lasting impacts on our students.

To make connections and build the kinds of relationships that make a difference, we need to take time to listen to and get to know our students on a personal and consistent basis. Jimmy Casas

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