I thought that I had come up with a really good question. I asked, How might we foster real, brave conversations between students and teachers that lead to real changes within a high-performance, high-output environment? This question sounds fancy. It sounds relevant. And it truly comes from a place of concern and care. But what does it mean?
You see, back when I interviewed my students months ago, as part of my Cohort homework, what they were telling me is that they are stressed. This isn’t anything new, but it really bothers me. Sometimes I try to grapple with the fact that I am part of a system that causes significant stress for these students. Yes, we could look at so many factors besides school that contributes to young people’s stress, including technological distractions and the realities of 21st century life, but I wanted to make a difference in my classroom nonetheless.
I should also mention that my question is partially inspired by one of the discussions we had as a Birch group in one of our face-to-face sessions. Although I don’t think it prudent to go into detail about this discussion here, I will say that I will never forget it and I am grateful to my group member for speaking up about a very real struggle.
So I have been challenged on my question. Although I see meaning in it, one could argue that it is quite vague. I want to give a shoutout to Eric Daigle for challenging me on this, and for our personal conversation during the last face-to-face. I’m going to break my question down into smaller parts.
- How might we foster real, brave conversations between students and teachers…
What is a real, brave conversation? At its core, what I want is for my students to be honest with me. I don’t need them to go into great depths about the state of their emotional health. But I do want my students to see me as a person who cares about what they have to say and what their needs are as a student. For example, a student might be struggling with an assignment and not feel they can speak to me about it honestly. I want that student to have the confidence to speak to me and be very candid about their concerns and needs.
- …that lead to real changes…
This has to make a difference in the student’s life. It could be a boost in confidence because they sought out help and got what they needed. It could just be making a connection with an adult who cares and getting something off their chest. It could be a sharpening of academic skills. Maybe it could lead to other conversations about life and learning that could have big implications for the future.
- …within a high-performance, high-output environment?
Schools are stressful. As much as we focus on wellness and the whole student, we are challenging these kids in ways that that stretch them. We also ask them to do a lot: juggle 6-8 classes, volunteer, engage in co-curriculars, pursue leadership opportunities, be away from home, be a good friend, apply to university, embrace failure, and more. They feel the pressure to perform at very high levels. They need support, and they need people to be able to talk to.
I hope this provides some clarity about what I feel and a little bit of context for my question.
*A note about blogging: As an English teacher, I find this blogging experience to be difficult! In the spirit of being real, I have to say that I feel very self-conscious here. I think we all expect our English teachers to be good writers and being put in this type of spotlight is hard! This is certainly a potential exercise in empathy as I reflect on how I ask my students to stretch themselves.