On behalf of New Teacher Center (NTC) and The Education Trust (Ed Trust), we hope you are enjoying the learnings from the (R)evolution campaign. As we continue working to revolutionize the learning environment for students and educators, we are now turning our attention to relationships. As all educators consider the ways in which we embark on a remarkably different school year, there is an opportunity to do things differently, and better than before.
Begin With the Community That You Serve
(R)evolutionizing relationships begins with investing time in getting to know the community you serve. As you think about this unique school year, be sure to elevate student voices. Before putting out a plan that declares, “this is what we’ve decided to do for kids during this unprecedented time,” remember to not only ask families what they need for their children, but ask students themselves what they need. Healthy educator-student relationships thrive when students’ voices are authentically engaged in the educational process. Make a commitment to co-create that plan—a plan that speaks to the unique needs of your students and their new learning environments.
Genuinely Welcome Students
If you’re returning to the physical school space—look around your campus and take an audit of the welcome messages you are sending to students. Do students enter your doors through metal detectors? Are there structured lines painted on the floor? Is quiet-recess a thing? Come to terms with where your school is, and decide if the goal is to control, or to empower students? …because empowering them starts with safe, welcoming spaces. Empowering them starts from the premise that every student’s intellect matters and their voice deserves to be heard.
Within virtual learning, students’ families and homes have entered the classroom too, so take time to consider personal biases you might be bringing into this shared learning space. Learn about and build respect for the cultures of the families you serve, and practice perspective taking before making an assumption. Examine communication norms and how they can better serve your students and families. For example, explore whether parents and caregivers have access to email and, if not, find alternative ways of making communication work for their needs. Co-create new norms for your virtual learning environment with your students. Be willing to explore the feelings that will come up when things do not go as planned and commit to responding in a way that supports each student’s uniqueness, not punishes or diminishes it.
Share Your Whole Self
We ask our kids to share a lot about themselves in the name of community building and social emotional learning. For example, circle-time sharing can reveal personal truths and challenging realities our students are experiencing. Given how much kids are frequently asked to reveal about themselves, ask yourself, how much am I sharing in return, or rather, by example? In what ways am I being vulnerable, and how am a living example for students that encourages them that their selfhood matters and it’s safe to bring that to school each day?
Avoid SEL Pitfalls
While common SEL practices can have the best intentions, some of those practices are reinforcing inequities. As Dena Simmons has asked, “What’s the point of teaching children about conflict resolution skills…if we’re not talking about the conflicts that exist because of racism?” Without that, she warns, SEL risks turning into “White supremacy with a hug.” There is an inextricable link between social, emotional, and academic development. Relationships and rigor must be intertwined—are you setting a pace and expectations that are too comfortable, or is the pace academically challenging, relevant, and engaging? For the sake of your students, commit to the latter. It starts with the belief that every student matters and can excel.
See Through a Trauma-Sensitive Lens
Given the nation’s last five months, it will be key to be aware of the toxic stress and trauma some students have faced and may be facing including fear, anxiety, depression, illness, and grief from the death of loved ones. Child stress responses may be activated upon returning to school. We cannot underscore enough that the research on mitigating toxic stress and Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) points to a key finding—the single most important factor in buffering such toxic stress, is having at least one stable relationship with a caring and trusted adult. Imagine if every teacher saw themselves as “that” adult!
As we continue to explore these complexities and seize the current opportunities to (r)evolutionize education— we welcome you to listen to our webinar session where we heard from students, a teacher, and Ed Trust and NTC staff on “(R)evolutionizing Relationships,” August 12 at 12pm PST / 3pm EST; you can listen here.
About the Author: Michaelle (Mickey) Valbrun-Pope is a Senior Advisor and Whole Child Developer at New Teacher Center. Prior to NTC, she devoted over 30 years to Broward County Public Schools. Pope, whose family immigrated from Haiti when she was a child, began her career with the district in 1988 as an elementary school teacher. By 1999 she was named principal of North Side Elementary, making history as the district’s first Haitian-born principal. From there, she grew to be a top administrator; as the Chief of Student Support Initiatives and Recovery—she oversaw the district’s outreach to diverse student groups, as well as recovery efforts after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas tragedy.