It’s 9:00 on a chilly Thursday morning and students are assembled in a circle on the floor for their morning meeting. This is how Ms. Konrad’s 5th grade class at Glenn Stephens Elementary begins each day.
At the start of the school year 12 weeks ago, Ms. Konrad chose the sharing topic for the morning meeting. Now, students get to choose. This particular day, a student asked to share “something you really want to do in your lifetime.”
As students share, a fish is tossed around — when you’re holding the fish, you’re telling your story. If you don’t have the fish, you’re listening.
After everyone shares, including the adults, Ms. Konrad begins a mindfulness activity. Each student chooses a stone and “studies” the stone. Once everyone becomes familiar with their stone, all stones are put into a pile in the center of the circle.
Minutes later, students begin to look for their stone in the pile. When everyone has their stone, Ms. Konrad explains what they’re for.
Cultivating community and relationships
You can feel the connections Ms. Konrad’s class makes in their morning meeting. “I feel like the morning meeting time is a really good way of building community in the classroom, getting the kids to know each other a little bit better, feeling more comfortable,” she says. “When they are in front of the whole group doing their presentation or having to do some type of risk-taking activity, they’ve had success in small settings or in settings where it’s not academic where they can just be themselves.”
Ms. Konrad sees that community as family. “At the beginning of the year we also talked a lot about family and what a family looks like and we talked about having our classroom be a family,” Konrad says.
Building alliances and community with her students doesn’t just happen inside school walls. It’s not unusual for Ms. Konrad to go to a student’s athletic game and then share it with the class or tie it into learning.
For La Follette English and AVID teacher Lindsay Simonson, developing authentic relationships with her students is something she starts from the beginning. “I’m really intentional at the start of the year with all students building community and then building those one-on-one relationships,” Simonson says. She says she tries to know as much about her students and family life outside of school and support them in that way.
Real, a student in Ms. Simonson’s class agrees. Real says having genuine rapport with teachers gives her more people to rely on and connect with, not only in school, but outside of school. “It builds on how to create relationships with people that you don’t know so well right off the bat,” she says. “It helps you open yourself up more and get to know people better.”
Ms. Simonson has Real as an AVID student, so the two have spent the last four years strengthening their relationship. Simonson says that relationship includes Real’s family. “I know Real’s mom well and we communicate regularly about positive things that are happening in Real’s life. If she’s having obstacles, her mom is really comfortable shooting me an email letting me know that this came up at home, is there something you can do at school to help her with this? We established the communication at home early.”
Partnering in learning
There’s no doubt that trusting bonds between students and teachers have a positive effect on a student’s life. They impact the way in which students and teachers truly work together in learning.
Ms. Simonson partners in learning with her students by teaching them to advocate for themselves. “I really think it’s important that students know how to navigate challenges and ask for help or ask questions when they need it,” she says.
For Ms. Konrad, it’s important to teach her students real-life skills. Her students have jobs they do each week and they earn “money” for turning in homework, being responsible and following school rules. Students can spend their money on snacks or at the classroom auction held at the end of the month. They also have to pay “rent” to Ms. Konrad. “It gets them to learn how to balance a checkbook, incorporates money and responsibility. They really like it and they’re pretty independent,” she says.
Grateful for each other
When students, families and teachers foster relationships and partner in learning, wonderful things happen. Real says not only does Ms. Simonson check to make sure she’s finishing work and turning it in on time, she says they’ve started sharing recipes. Real says she’s grateful to have teachers that make an effort to know her as more than just a student — as a person overall. “Not only that but try to make you more well-rounded individual, like with working with people, understanding people, working with challenges.”
Ms. Simonson is grateful for her students’ persistence and their ability to dig in when they need to and get their work done. “It’s not that they’re without obstacles or challenges in their life, so I really respect that perseverance and that persistence to never give up.” She says it’s that persistence and perseverance that fuels her. “If I wasn’t in this profession, there would be a missing part.”
Ms. Konrad says she’s most grateful for her students’ creativity and having the opportunity to work with many different kids from different backgrounds, with different abilities.
“I love working with kids that have so many gifts to share in so many different ways.”
We are grateful to have such dedicated staff who work hard every day to support our students and families. And we’re grateful to our students and families for partnering with us as we continue to forge strong and trusting relationships. They are an important foundation in our students’ education.