Recently I had the opportunity to attend a Most Influential Educators dinner. Fifteen high school senior students from Brookfield East, with the highest grade point averages, were invited to honor their most influential educator. Each student gave a speech about the impact their chosen teacher made on their learning, focusing specifically on the attributes that educator possesses that makes him or her stand out amongst the other great teachers in the district.
Some of these students are gifted-creatively or intellectually or in their leadership. Some might not be gifted but are clearly focused, hard-working students. Each speech was amazingly unique but one common strand tied each student’s speech to the next as if on purpose. One obvious string you didn’t have to dig for. It visibly stood out--RELATIONSHIPS. Each student shared how the chosen teacher’s actions and words lived the message, “I believe in you”.
From my years of work with students who are gifted I could tell a few of the students I was listening to would, accidently or on purpose, make the best teachers work hard and think differently. If you are a parent or educator of a gifted out-of-the box thinker or student who is honestly trying to learn by asking questions or pushing the limits to “see what would happen” then you know what I’m talking about. These teachers had clearing impacted the students because of the RELATIONSHIPS they nurtured.
Educational research is strong around the impact of RELATIONSHIPS. When the words and actions of a teacher provide safety to learn a student can grow by leaps and bounds. Immense learning happens when a student can make a mistake—and think, “Well, that didn’t work.” Research is also clear—when a student has at least one adult within the wall of a school, who the student feels he or she has a connection with, the student is more likely to find success. RELATIONSHIPS matter.
Some of our most gifted students are our most fragile learners. They think differently, they ask hard questions and sometimes it looks or feels like they are pushing adults’ buttons. They may not always fit with their peer group. But they want to belong. They want to fit. They crave RELATIONSHIPS that help them feel safe and valued.
Listening to the students’ speeches helped me reflect on the work I do. I’ve learned to listen and look for the deeper message in a student question. I’ve learned what incredible things can happen when we say, “Go ahead and try, let’s see what will happen.” The quirky, tricky, doesn’t quite fit in the mold students, I love them. Being a WOW teacher isn’t as hard as you’d think. It’s about RELATIONSHIPS.