Most teachers make an effort to get to know their students, and regularly distribute surveys at the start of each year are part of it to speed up that process. But is this a fair view to people? Our students bring so much more to the table.
For at least a decade now, the driving force behind education reform has been data. We talk about collecting data, analyzing data, and making data-driven decisions. All of this data can certainly be useful, helping us notice patterns we might not have seen without aggregating our numbers in some way, looking for gaps and dips and spikes, allowing us to figure out where we are strong and where we need help. In terms of certain academic behaviors, we can quantify student learning to some extent and improve our practice as a result.
And yet, we know this is not enough. We know our students bring with them so many other kinds of data. So many other factors contribute to academic success: the atmosphere in their homes, the demands of their out-of-school schedule, the physical concerns that distract them, the passions and obsessions that consume them. These things are much harder to measure. But do we even try? Most teachers emphasis on the things we can convert to numbers. But getting to know your students on out-of-school data will contribute to learning, interaction and the professional relationship. Teacher and student will benefit from it.
This are some suggestions to start with:
• Passions: What is the student really into? Keep an interest in things like hobbies, collections, and other hard-to categorize obsessions will help you connect with your students.
• Talents: Our students bring with them talents and skills we may not even be aware of if we don’t ask. So make time to find these things out. Not only will knowing about these talents and skills further develop your knowledge of the student, it also is an ignition for learning. It may also comes in handy when you need help or information about an area where you lack expertise.
• Activities: This will help you better understand what outside activities fill up a student’s schedule when they are not in school. Are they on a sports team? Do they have a part-time job? Will they be busier on certain days of the week or at certain times of the year? Not only will this information give you a more complete picture of who your students are, it will build your awareness of the other demands placed on their time.
• Family: The home environment plays a major role in how well a student performs academically. This category can include information about whether a student lives at home, lives in a students-home or travels between the homes of two parents. It can also include other family-related facts, like whether anyone at home is dealing with an illness, has special needs, travels frequently, or has a noteworthy profession or skill set.
Teachers can and should collect whatever information is most relevant to them, information that will help you connect to your students as whole people and build strong relationships with them to create the best learning experience.
Start a course with the question: I wish my teacher knew….., and give them time to write you a letter and you will be amazed.