Tuesday, 6 March 2018

The impact of connection with your students

I start chapter 4 of Connections-based Learning by sharing my experience with one of my students, Amanda Todd. In that opening vignette, I reflect on both her life and her death. I tell of the challenges we had in the class. I tell of her heartbreaking story of online bullying and harassment, widely covered in the media. And I share my own reflections: what our connection taught me. Death is a tragedy on its own, but her story causes us pause as educators. I have had students pass away before. But not like this. A tragedy like this leads those around to shine the spotlight on themselves.

I truly believe I connected with Amanda as her grade 7 teacher. Sure, she would often give me the "you're not going to make me do that work. It is just not going to happen" look. But she did it with a smile. Really, she did. We had a lot of laughs. And in the challenges she had with her work, her message to me was basically "you know this is not the way I learn. I am social. I learn while interacting with people. You should know that." And so we worked at it, as a team: parent, principal, learning specialist, youth worker, teacher, and student.

As I reflected on my experience years later, a personal lesson reflected back. When we look out over our classes while teaching the formula of a circle's circumference or ohm's law, we have no idea the inner turmoil that some students are facing. We can't help but consider: does our influence as educators help the core of our students? In the words we whisper to our students daily through our actions and our interactions, are we whispering words of encouragement? Support? Inspiration? And do our students have someone in whom they can confide when things go sideways.

Connection is worth it.

The CBL Community question for this week is: how have instances of deep connection with your students affected you? Another thing I learned from my interaction with Amanda was how important it is to have students be part of the lesson creation. When a student is saying "you are not going to make me do that work", they have a point. When we #CoConstructGoals with our students, we include them in the planning. It is not "the teacher's work" that they are completing, it is their own.

I feel like I can open the doors wide for my students now. What do they want? Do they want to connect with a stem cell researcher? We can do that. Do they want to connect with an online gamer? We can do that. Do they want to represent their learning with a video, a play, a song, a cake? We can do that to.

You guessed it. A plant cell cake from one of my grade 9's!
Our students hold a wealth of possibilities for our own growth as educators. How have the connections you have had with your students affected you?

Visit AmandaToddLegacy.org for resources regarding awareness and prevention of bullying and cyber abuse. plus materials on mental wellness and healthy living. One resource that caught my eye was the: Global List of Helplines. In this globally connected world, we need to start thinking bigger. I love how Carol and the Amanda Todd Legacy folk are doing just that as they direct teens around the world to helpful resources.

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