|Knowing and Caring
About Your Students to Improve Student Achievement
One of the most valuable ways to improve student learning is to know
your students well. And yet this can seem a daunting task during your
first years of teaching when you are trying to manage lively groups
of students, learn how the educational system works, and develop lesson
plans from scratch. However, the time you take to know your students
well will give you many rewards. Sometimes even those problems you
find most difficult nearly disappear when you reach out to a student
and discover what is underlying the behavior.
Over the years, I have had students who were identified "emotionally
and behaviorally disturbed" in my regular classes and have discovered
that the key to helping them be successful involved developing a personal
relationship with each of them. Many children with behavior problems
feel unloved by their parents and/or by their peers. They get attention
any way they can and what they have discovered is that negative behavior
draws attention. Even children without overt behavior problems are
more likely to thrive in an environment where they are understood
Therefore, my simple plan to improve student achievement and behavior
has two parts:
- Get to know the students well and
- Reinforce positive behavior wherever possible.
As a high school teacher, I usually have 120-130 students so it
is difficult to know each of my students well. I have developed
some techniques that help me with this goal. I usually target first
the students who appear to need me the most and then I move on to
To get to know my students, I ask the following questions:
- What are their unique learning needs?
- What is going on with them out of school?
- What are their interests?
- What are their emotional needs?
And to find out this information I have many sources.
I start with a simple questionnaire on the first day of school.
As well as the typical information (parent names and addresses,
course schedule, etc.), I ask questions such as:
- How many siblings do you have? Ages? Names?
- Do you have any pets? Kinds? Names?
- What do you want to be doing in 5 years? 10 years?
- Do you play sports? An instrument?
- What is your favorite music? Book? Movie?
- What do you like to do in your spare time?
You could add many other questions!
During the first days of school, I take a few minutes at the beginning
of each period to pull out the completed questionnaires and highlight
various students. They really seem to enjoy this.
Then as the year progresses, I try to find out more about them.
I engage students in conversation every opportunity I get - before
school in the commons, at lunch in the cafeteria, after school at
various events. I try to attend their plays, musical events, and
sports events. This is sometimes hard but even going once is really
important to them.
There are other sources of information that can prove valuable for
- Counselors and support personnel such as social workers
and assistant principals. Many time these experts are willing to
discuss things that they are reluctant to put on paper.
- Other teachers
I have found that it is very valuable to discuss a student with
other teachers. Many times we can share what we know about that
student and be much more helpful in class.
- The student's family
I have found parents, grandparents, and other family members to
be very eager to share information with a well-meaning teacher.
A parent can often be a rich source of information about the student
you are trying to work with.
- Observations (absences, affect, etc.) I keep my eyes, ears,
and intuition open to each of my students. I watch for sad faces,
sudden quiet behavior, and/or unusual hyperactivity. A child's
behavior is a great clue to what they are feeling. I am very direct.
If I see an unusually quiet student, I will just say, "You seem
down today. Did something happen?" Invariably, the student will
open up and then I just listen, learn, and try to help.
Many small town newspapers will highlight sporting events, music
performances, etc. I save all of these articles and post them
in my classroom so that we can all celebrate the accomplishments
of some other student.
There are many rewards for the teacher who goes to the effort to
know her students well. Students come back for many years to talk
and to let you know what you have meant to them. There is nothing
more satisfying than knowing that you have helped a child reach
his or her potential and helped them through a difficult time. This
is when my "soul sings!" May your time with students be full of
rich satisfaction, also.
There are probably many other great ways to try and get to know
students. Please share you ideas with me via e-mail.