teachers we get so caught up in the information we must teach our students that
we forget to spend time connecting with them and building relationships.
I've always been the teacher who ate lunch with my students, played
with them at recess and spent time getting to know them. But a recent
classroom activity really solidified in my mind the importance of connecting
with your students on a deeper level.
My fifth grade classroom is involved with a program
called Classroom Champions, which connects classrooms around
the United States and Canada with Olympic and Paralympic athletes. Students are
able to interact with and learn from these inspiring
This year my students have learned about goal setting, community
and fair play from athlete Joshua Sweeney, a member of the U.S. Paralympic men's
sled hockey team. However, the most moving lesson so far has been on
You see, Josh fought in the Afghanistan war, where he stepped on an
IED (improvised explosive device) and lost both of his legs. He spoke to my kids
about how, at that point, he faced a choice: Give up or figure out a way to work
within his new life. It was powerful, to say the
That night for homework I instructed my kids to interview an adult
about something they had to persevere through. I didn't really think much would
come of this assignment. Boy was I wrong.
The next day in class I had to fight from holding back
tears. I heard stories of parents losing children, becoming homeless,
working four jobs to make it through college, joining the army because they saw no other way out, and so much more. One student broke down while sharing his mother's story about giving up her career to raise him. That moment
reminded me of the value of getting to know people deeply and discovering where
they come from.
That day I connected with my students on such a deep level. Even
more important, my students connected with their own family members in a new way. These connections we've built can't be taken
Did I lose a day of class time to focus on a lesson that had
nothing to do with the subject I teach? Yes I did. But you know what? When
you take the time to get to know your students, hear their stories and build
those relationships, you create an environment in your
classroom that is unlike any other —
an environment where kids work even harder because they know they're trusted,
respected and loved.
So I challenge you today: Get to know your students. Spend
some extra time learning about them and listening to their stories. You'll be
surprised at how much it changes everything about your