Relationships. Connections. Trust. Resilience. Risk.
As I reflect back on my recent posts, these seem to be the reoccurring themes. It strikes me that in many ways I have been trying to write my way into understanding. I have been striving to make the intangible, tangible. And so what I have I discovered? That the most essential, impactful elements of a thriving school community are also those elements that in many instances are the most difficult to articulate. And so I thought I would share an experience that is "evidence" of what I believe is the most essential of these intangible elements.
Several years ago "Discovery Time" was implemented at Sullivan Heights. The primary goal was to provide the essential time that is needed for teachers to establish and build trusting, impactful relationships with students. The original intent was that teachers would retain the same group of students over the course of several years. Once a week teachers would meet with students for 20 minutes. As part of this initiative, there was a conscious effort to keep this time free from the administrative tasks that are commonly associated with a more traditional homeroom model. Teachers were also given the autonomy to determine how they wanted to structure their time with their group of students.
I was fortunate enough to be paired with a group of grade 8 students. I love grade 8s. I was able to explore a wide range of topics with this amazingly energetic and diverse group of students. Some weeks consisted of more structured mini lessons, while other weeks we simply sat and talked, typically as we munched on a selection of Timbits. I watched these students grow and transform over the course of the school year, with all of the various growing pains that are commonly associated with the first year of high school. I kept track of their marks, their report card comments, took note of changing hair and fashion styles and relationship status'. We had our share of laughs, of conflicts and even the occasional tears. My once timid and uncertain "little" grade 8s evolved into more confident, even slightly cocky grade 9s.
The following year, however, as a result of various unforeseen circumstances, our school transitioned back into a more traditional homeroom model. While I retained the same group of students, I saw them less frequently, perhaps a total of five or six times throughout the school year, to hand out report cards and letters home. However, the relationships that we formed as a result of our weekly sessions during the previous year continued to thrive. My "Discovery kids" would often drop by to visit, and I continued to check in on "my kids" periodically throughout the year. I would stop and chat with them in the hallways, comment on a new hair cut or a growth spurt, and kept up the supply of Timbits.
This year, due to the demands of an increasingly challenging time table, I wasn't able to retain the same group of students. My homeroom is now my period 3 class. As such, it became more of a challenge to maintain the relationships with my now grade 10, "Discovery kids". In a school of over 1400 students the likelihood of running into any of my original students is significantly decreased. It made me a little sad. I was concerned that the foundational relationships that I had established with these students would weaken and dissipate. And yet...
...Last week as I was walking through the office, I noticed one of "my kids" sitting in the conference room. At my school, that is the universal symbol for "I've gotten myself into a spot of trouble". And so as I often do in similar circumstances, I took the opportunity to wander in to have a little chat. It was pretty obvious that he was embarrassed that I had come across him in the midst of what was clearly a disciplinary issue. And it was also obvious to me that he was desperate to talk. After a minute or so of general chit chat, I asked him, "Are you feeling like you want to share with me why you're here?" His response was "Yes." and he proceeded to do so. In great detail. And not without an element of shame. He knew that what he had done was wrong, and he was worried that I would be disappointed in him. But to be honest, in that moment, I couldn't really care less what series of events had brought him to that point in time. Well, of course I cared, but what mattered more to me was that this boy, this young man, who I hadn't seen more than a handful of times in the past year and a half, still trusted me. He still saw me as someone who cared and who would listen.