Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Slice 25 of 31- Relationships Matter

For the month of March, I am participating in the Slice of Life Challenge, hosted by the community of writers at Two Writing Teachers. Many of my slices are at my personal blog, Just Write, Melanie, but ones that deal specifically with education appear here. All are welcome to join the slicing party by reading and commenting. People write amazing posts.

I spent time this morning speaking to my daughters' guidance counselor. Earlier this month, I wrote a slice about how Clare is thinking about quitting cello because it brings down her GPA and the assessments are so stressful. In the hope of enlisting her orchestra teacher to have a conversation with Clare about the important role she plays in the orchestra, I reached out to her guidance counselor. Sometimes a back door approach works best, especially when suggestions that aren't in line with already-made-decisions come from someone other that one of my daughters' parents. (That might be another post...)
One good element of the conversation led to another good element of the conversation and we got to talking about the importance of relationships. My daughters' high school has been dealing with significant change and consequent stress this year. Moving in the direction of mastery-based grading, teachers and administrators have run into serious opposition from stakeholders--parents, students, and even many teachers do not understand the philosophy and rationale for mastery-based grading. The disagreements have led to negativity and divisiveness. Even though a core belief is that relationships matter, relationships haven't mattered this year, at least not as much as they could or should. During times of stress, sometimes we lose focus of what matters most.
Chris Lehman's words have resonated with me since his beautiful presentation during a Wonderopolis breakfast at NCTE14. "Help all the children learn what they really need to know," he began by saying. He then challenged us to think of a child who is in our heart right now.
He asked if we knew the answers to these questions:

  • Who does that child live with?
  • What does where they live look like?
  • What does his family care about right now?
  • When people talk about that child, what are they most proud of?

His point was that most of the time, we don't know the answers to these questions.

Re-reading and reflecting on my notes from Chris's presentation, combined with my thoughts about my daughters and my conversation with their guidance counselor, I'm asking myself some questions, thinking about some of the students I work with when I am in classrooms.
  • When was the last time that I asked a student what s/he did over the weekend and listened to the answer?
  • Do I know what the quietest student I've been working with does after school?
  • Aside from academics, have I paid any attention to what these students' goals are and what they are doing to achieve those goals? I'm not talking about the students who are loud and proud about their achievements...I'm talking about the quieter ones. 

Tonight, my answers to these questions don't make me proud. Tomorrow, I will work on it. 
I know that instruction matters. And assessments matter. Results matter, too. But, at the heart--at the core where it matters most--students will remember how we made them feel. They will remember that we asked questions that weren't on the tests, and we listened to the answers. And we cared. Their favorite teachers will be the ones who talked to them. Really talked to them.

Relationships matter. 
Happy Slicing,


  1. Thanks for sharing Chris's words. They are words to take and hold into our hearts. I don't work with kids, but I do work with teachers and I know relationships matter there too. Some seem surprised when I inquire about something they may have mentioned earlier in the year.

  2. Loved this post. And it's very true.. your favorite teachers are always the ones you feel comfortable around because you know that they know you.

    2 days :)

  3. We're always working on this. I loved Chris' words, too - he has a way of saying what's important - and it gives me something to reach for, every day.

  4. It's often those quiet, go with the flow, students who need us, & need us to know them. Thanks for the good reminder. Sorry about the stress at school. Sounds very challenging.

  5. So true. Now, what I need to know is what was the decision with the cello??? My daughter plays the violin and wants to quit because she misses class for orchestra. I am having her stick with it for a few more years. I feel like she is learning so much, even though there are no grades or assessments involved.

    1. Ha! Still working on that. I think that she's rethinking her decision to quit. Fingers are crossed. Try to keep your daughter in it!

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