Monday, September 17, 2018

It's all about Relationships

Manaakitanga and Whanaungatanga
These are words that are often said around the staffroom when we have PD around getting more out of the students.
It is difficult sometimes to see a way forward so it is good to look at what we are doing now to see what works and what needs more effort.

Where do I see myself in this?
I often have chats with the year level deans about the students that I have "soft spots" for and they quite often inform me that they are with the most unlikely students. They tend to be students who are more challenging for other members of staff to get a relationship with.

Student 1
When student 1 was in Year 10, he was a challenging boy and I made the conscious decision not to worry "too" much about the actual graphics work but focus on the relationship. He really enjoyed drawing and making things so I allowed him a lot of lee way about what he drew and made an effort to sit with him and talk about his work at regular intervals and why he was interested in what he was drawing.
He then chose to do NCEA Level 1 Design and Visual Communication with me. Again, I made a decision in my mind not to "push" him too hard, but accept what work he gave me and give him feedback about it. I sat with him at least once a lesson, listened to his stories from the weekend, talked about games, music, movies etc and supported him with the skills for his drawn work. I also made sure that his portfolio site was always up to date with his ongoing work so that he did not feel left out or behind the rest of the class. (I did this for him him, although I insisted that he sat there and watched and find his work in his Google drive while I did it).
Other progress that he made was putting his work into the Google Plus community when he had finished it. We post work there for the whole class to see, share and feedback on. It takes a bit of nagging on my part to get them to do this but by the end of the year, student 2 was posting his work straight away without anyone nagging him. I would know when my phone pinged an email alert from the community that he had done this. "thank you #$%^&*" I would say across the room, like I would to all the other students when they shared their work.
He started year 11 at Level 3B reading and 3P maths.
He ended the year with 22 internal credits and 3 external credits in DVC.
He started the Level 2 course with me the next year. This was going to be more of a struggle as there is a LOT more work at Level 2 then there is at Level 1. I got him to talk about his work to me and I would write down exactly what he said so he had evidence of analysis. It was not that he could not type it himself but if I left him to it, he would slide off into gaming and it would not get done.
Although student 1 left school before the end of Year 12, he did get 12 credits in DVC for the work he had completed there.

What did I learn? 
Relationship first. The work came then.

Student 2
Student 2 is in Year 11 and again he is one of those students where other members of staff do not have a good relationship with him. I have a big soft spot for him and he tends to get away with far too much in my lesson as I think he is funny.
I have spent the best part of the year trying to get him to finish something and he has been sitting on zero credits and one of the students in the "zone" in all the staff feedback sessions.
He has not finished the first project yet and we are onto a different one now. I have been banging my head against the wall trying to get him to come back to the after school catch up sessions I run on a Wednesday for the last two terms. He has come twice but most of the time he forgets.
He has got 16 credits in total for all of his subjects at the time of writing this and 3 of those are from DVC. So it is not just my lesson that he is struggling to complete work in.
He received those credits in DVC just last week when he finished the work for the rendering internal. I was sitting with him and showing the technique needed for each part of his design and he was completing a section at a time, following my broken down demos. As he was seeing design coming towards completion, there was definite change in his attitude, He wanted to finish it. He was seeing all the other lovely completed sheets from the other students and he wanted some of that.
Now he has those credits logged, his first words to me as he walks in the room are "what am i working on today miss?"

September is better late than never eh?

What did I learn?
Seeing achievement happen and seeing that he is just as good as the others in the class has given him confidence.

Student 3
This is  a totally different situation. Student 3 is a very polite, well spoken young man who gets on with all the teachers he meets.
His record says that he has passed Level 2, but a lot of those credits were achieved on an external course last year and he has achieved very few credits actually in lessons at school this year. I have spoked with a number of his teachers and we all seem to be struggling with the same thing, getting him to complete work.
In my lesson, he is doing Level 2 DVC and he did not do Level 1 last year. This is always a bit of a struggle but doable if you put in the effort. So far, he has not completed the first two assessments, shows no interest in coming back to the after school sessions each week on a Wednesday to catch up (although I do understand the commitments that he has after school), and we are currently on the big design project. Again he was showing little or no interest in completing anything until recently. We started making his models on the laser cutter and he saw how well his design work could come out in a well made model. I saw a light come on in his eye when his client was enthusiastic about his laser cut models. He is now keen to finish.
Even though he has not been working very hard, I have kept up the conversation with him, helping him with design work, talking about movies and what they did at the weekend etc on a Monday morning. I have been trying to work on the relationship even though sometimes I want to murder him for his lack of effort.
No one was more surprised than me when I found out today that he has chosen DVC again next year.
I know that this year was a "wasn't anything else on the option line" kind of thing so to know that he actually chose it for next year is great.

What did I learn?
Relationships matter to students who have commitments and expectations after school. They appreciate the connection even if they still don't put in the effort and complete the work!

Seeing your work come out at a good quality and having your client love it is a very motivating thing.

Then I get to my junior classes as a whole, but especially the Year 9 students.
I am not shy to admit that even after all this time (23 years teaching!!!), I still have a hard time with my junior classes.
The situation is that I see them for 1 single period and 1 double period a week, for 13 week rotations, so I see 3 different groups in a year.
I personally do not enjoy the rotations as I feel that I am just getting to know a group when they have to move on and I have to start again with a new group.
Students who I have known in their intermediate classes are fine but I find it difficult to connect with the other students over this short period of time only three lessons a week.

Questions I need to ask myself :-

  • Why do I clash with some of these students when I find it easy to connect with my senior classes?
  • Why do I have a better relationship with students who I have known in juniors once they get into the senior school?
  • Is it just the rotations?
  • Do I need that connection and relationship just as much as we say the students do in order to grow?
There is no easy answer to this but I had an interesting breakthrough today.
A group of students who I have not been getting along well with recently were in the class today. I sat with them and had a talk. I asked them if I had disrespected them in some way. They needed to tell me so I could apologise as it would not have been on purpose. I needed to know what I had done to deserve them treating me like they were. And of course that was not making me treat them in a fair way either as I was dreading going to the class. We had a really good, honest talk today. I told them how I was feeling today and asked them to tell me how they were feeling. I could not go on any more they way it was so it was not a big risk.
We agreed to move forward and not look back.

What have I learned?
I really need to work harder on the relationships in the junior rotations (especially the year 9's).
Be honest with them, they appreciate it.
Treat them with respect. (of course I do this but we are all human ).


  1. What an honest and powerful reflection Karen! Building a rapport with the students in front of you is so important as this allows you to really know your learners. If you know your learners you know how to hook them in to the learning etc and lets you challenge them at the right level, giving them empowerment through increased self efficacy :)

    1. Thanks Robyn. I am slowly learning that with our kids the relationship has to come first or nothing else will work.