Posted in Connections, Conversation

The Power of Conversation

In the words of my greatest mentors, “Sometimes, all you need to do is listen.”  Wow, were they ever right.  To fix difficult situations, help students, ease nerves, solve problems, bring about peace, and so much more, all you need to do is listen.  This idea became brightly evident to me in the classroom today.

After three weeks of vacation, classes resumed this morning.  Many of the boys were tired and seemed a bit out of it.  Homesickness already started to permeate the campus campus before classes even started.  In Humanities class today, we wanted to ease the boys back into the swing of academia.  So, Reader’s Workshop filled our time together this morning.  The students love to read and so we figured, what better way to get them hooked back into class than to give them what they love.  Our focus for student conferences today was goal setting for the spring term.  We wanted the students to set a reading goal for themselves as we head into the final nine weeks of school.  Not an overly lofty agenda, but we still wanted to accomplish something.

I like to use this conference time as a chance to catch up with the students and converse with them for a bit about non-reading, life stuff.  So today I asked each of the seven students I met with, “What was a highlight from your Spring Break?”  A simple question that allowed for the students to share what they wanted to.  Many of the students talked about all the fun things they did over break.  Some of the students had gone on trips to places with much warmer temperatures than NH.  They shared their stories before we got into the meat of the conference.  This helped to set the stage for productive conversations.  The students seemed much more open to brainstorming specific and SMART goals.  Was this because they had a chance to talk about what was really on their mind?  Did they feel more comfortable and at ease?  Perhaps, or maybe they have just gotten so good at goal setting over the course of the year that creating new goals is second nature.  Whatever the reasons, things went smoothly in the sixth grade classroom today.

Coming back from a break presents a vital opportunity to reconnect with our students.  By asking them questions about their vacation, they feel respected and cared for.  After classes today, two students lingered behind before heading to lunch.  So, I asked those two students, who I hadn’t conferenced with today, about their March Break.  One of them shared about his trip to Arizona and the Grand Canyon.  This then lead into the other student talking about a similar trip he had gone on a few years back.  Connections were made between the students.  Plus, it seemed to really help lift their spirits.  They seemed happier as they walked to lunch conversing about their trips.

Asking questions and creating an open dialogue with students is so important in building relationships.  We need to make numerous deposits in our relationship banks with students so that they trust us and feel safe and cared for.  Maslow’s hierarchy of needs tells us that in order for learning and thinking to happen, the basic needs of our students must be met.  Conversations are an easy and quick way to foster care and engagement.  We need our students to feel supported and safe in our classroom so that learning and growth can happen.

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Author:

I teach sixth grade at Cardigan Mountain School in Canaan, NH. I'm currently ensconced in my fourteenth year at this small, independent boys' school. I love engaging students in relevant and hands-on learning. I was nominated for the NH Teacher of the Year Award in 2016 by a parent. While I love education and guiding students, my first passion is my family. I have a wonderful son, Jeffrey, and a beautiful and intelligent wife, Kim. I couldn't be happier. Every day is the best day of my life.

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