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Students will tell us what we need to know - if we listen

I believe  there's more to getting advice than just listening.


After having conversations with students, it changed me. I put some of their suggestions into my practice, and I noticed I was more connected with the students. My relationships were stronger, and it made me a better educator.


I want to share some of the learning I have gained from listening to my students. I have had a lot of conversations about anxiety for students. I spoke with Nikolai Blinow, who told me a little bit more about what being highly sensitive meant, which was a new term for me. We talked a little bit about the factors that a highly sensitive person might experience, relating it to a classroom. Sound, touch, and sight are all things that impact a highly sensitive person very differently than somebody who is not highly sensitive. The trend I was noticing in some of the conversations with students about anxiety and what my expectations for a student look like versus what the student is able to meet.


I had a conversation with a former student, Kela, and that conversation still impacts me. I think of that conversation a lot as a teacher. I had Kela in my 12th year of teaching, so I had some experience, my relationship with her was based on more than just chemistry. When she and I spoke about the year she was a student of mine, her sophomore year, was really valuable to me in understanding what I and other teachers may have done to help or hinder her ability to be the best student that she could be in our classes.


She shared about what giving a hundred percent looked like for her, and her perception of what a hundred percent looked like from her teachers. It was astonishing to me that these metrics were so far from the same thing. What it made me realize is that we don't have those conversations with our students, or maybe I didn't have those conversations with students, and I wonder if I had had those conversations with Kela and all my students, would she have felt less anxiety In my classroom, or had the confidence then to have that same conversation with another teacher?


In my conversations with Ellery and Maggie, I was reminded that every kid learns differently, and while that's something we know, what does that look like in practice, in the classroom?


Do we talk about that with our students? Do we give students an opportunity to share with each other how they learn and how it's okay to learn differently? Or do we stigmatize learning differences and roll our eyes feeling like, Ugh, it's just one more thing that we have to do to help students learn in our classrooms?


There were times when I too rolled my eye about an accommodation that I needed to apply for a student, but I also knew what was good for one student was probably good for all students, or at least one other student in my classroom that didn't know they needed the accommodation.


Opening up that conversation with our students to engage in the fact that we all learn differently is never a bad thing. Do we rely on teaching the way we learn best? When our students don't learn the same ways that we learn do you find it hard or uncomfortable? If we remember that not all students learn the way we learn are they feeling that discomfort when they're in our classrooms?


No student wants to misbehave or get in trouble in a classroom. It's really important to see behaviors that students are demonstrating as a method of communication. I think I may have understood that on a surficial level, but after speaking with Kiana, Tristan's mom, true understanding came to light for me. That is another conversation that I will remember as an educator for a really long time.


It's really important for us as educators to make our classrooms a place where kids can express themselves, and their frustration in a way that allows all of us to know that it's okay to be frustrated, it's okay to struggle, and it is certainly okay to be making mistakes in our classroom. If a student is struggling and acting out, in a way that is getting them in trouble, then it's my job as an educator to figure out what's causing the student to feel that way.


It's our job, as educator, who wants our students to learn from us to understand what they need, and what the environment needs to be in order for them to be successful. And that looks different for each student. Having a classroom of 20+ students means it is a lot of work, but it's not just your job, it's the job of every student in that classroom. So encourage them to share with each other the ways they learn. Listen to them, have them listen to each other. Maybe they'll learn a new way of learning.


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