Reach Out

Back in the day, before cell phones made us nearly always message-able if not totally  reachable, the answering machine was a big deal. It was a little disconcerting at first as many people talked to the machine's voice before realizing they had to wait for the tone to leave a message. I remember my Dad's first few messages went something like this, "What? Hello? Oh, Audrey, they have one of those message machines! What aim I supposed to do?" An audible sigh is heard before Mum would reply, "Leave a message,  Lloyd."  As I think about working with students, I sometimes feel a bit like my Dad, not sure what to do when the the message doesn't seem to be hitting a live, or rather lively, audience. That is why I am really interested in working on strategies to help enhance student engagement though the use of inquiry and new technologies, hoping that they pick up in person or later on!

Now, that is all great but there is more to this message sending and receiving thing. A long while back now, in the late 70s and early 80s, AT&T and Bell had ads out that urged people to make a long distance call in order to "Reach out and touch someone!" They were fun ads and the jingle still sticks in my mind. As a teacher, one is in the reaching out business. I get that. But here is something else that I have been thinking about. It is based on something I saw about Blue Jay star Josh Donaldson. His high school coach was interviewed and given credit for getting a somewhat head strong player who wasn't always ready to accept coaching on the right track. The coach said  something like this, " Oh sure, I helped, I reached out to him all right. I do that for all the players. The big thing was that he was ready to reach back, that made all the difference." In my work, I am trying to keep that in mind. I am going to do my best to learn, grown, and build my craft. I am going to prepare lessons and tasks that have lots of options and handholds for different learners. I am going to try to reach out to them as people and learners. I am also going to try to understand and accept that they may or may not reach back today, tomorrow, or to me at all. That is the humbling path that I see myself travelling in this work. I think trying my best and understanding the results before pushing on will make all the difference.

6 thoughts on “Reach Out

  1. I love the answering machine analogy! Indeed, we are only able to offer as many opportunities as we can, and students must actively take advantage of them in order to move forward in their own learning. Managing student motivation and affect is the majority of what I spend my time and energy on in the classroom. I think some of this is reproducible in any class, but some of it is is completely unique to your personality.

    What has worked for you in the past? I look forward to hearing about how this develops for you throughout the year this year.

    1. Post author

      Hi Ruth!

      Thanks for your response. I agree with you about doing what we can. One of the things I like to do is to try to express my love for what I teach and honesty when I know we are in a bit that might be a slog. We know that there is a fair amount of valley between the mountaintops. Or, as someone once put it in a talk I heard, there is a fair amount of chicken necks and grapefruit rinds, necessary for the construction but not very nourishing! At these points, I guess I try to be a cheerleader and encourager while pointing out the importance and sometimes the elegance of these types of "construction materials." As well, like everyone else, my teaching partners and I always try to create "mountaintop" projects that we work toward and refer to as we travel the "valleys."

  2. Nicole Davies

    Hi Dan,
    I think that you raise an important point that we all struggle with at times, particularly with certain students who feel more challenging to reach and who seem less willing to reach back. There is no doubt that when a child meets us half way, our job as educators is more enjoyable and productive. It also often means that we are working with a more motivated student who is open to learning. The question becomes, how do we get each child to reach back? I think the answer is complex but includes our vision of truly mastering and leading for differentiation. I recently re-read Carol Ann Tomlinson’s Little Prince analogy regarding reaching students one child at a time. Each time I read her work I find a bit more clarity in this area.

    “What is essential is invisible to the eye.” ~The Little Prince
    “Your become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.” ~ The Fox

    http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/sept16/vol74/num01/Fox-Taming-and-Teaching.aspx

    1. Post author

      Hi Nicole!

      Thanks for your message and ideas! I often think about the talk that you gave about "taming" and try to keep it in mind when our reach does not make contact. I am going to follow up on that article to read it more closely too. I think back on my Grade 6 homeroom days when I taught Language Arts, Math, Socials Studies, and Gym and wonder if it was easier to connect to more of my students because there were fewer of them and I saw more of them - poor things! In my current 6-8 Science and 8 Social Studies role in the heavier rotary timetable, the contact points are much briefer and spread out. It takes a while to settle in but over two and even three years with some of the students, we get there. Same destination, different routes? I will say this... Homeroom time is heavily worked for reaching out purposes!

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