The following post was written by my Assistant Principal, Cyndi Felton. I am happy to share her story of the importance of relationships and making every child feel loved.
“No significant learning can occur without a significant relationship.” I’ve heard James Comer’s words so many times and each time I nod my head in agreement. But I had an experience this summer that brought these nine words to life for me. I had the opportunity to serve as the administrator of a summer school program for 115 third graders that were all enrolled because they were unable to demonstrate proficiency on the state reading assessment. On my first day with the students I was struck by the fact that very few seemed upset about being in summer school. Although the grade level material was a struggle for them, most were on-task and putting forth the needed effort. However, I also had a handful of students who were regularly tardy and often fell asleep during class, as well as students who were sitting outside the school an hour before the doors opened because their parents left for work and no one was home.
One particular student, we’ll call him Kenny, arrived late each day and frequently remained at the school well after pick up time. I bonded with Kenny on my second day at the school. I would walk him to class when he arrived late, spending time with him at lunch in the cafeteria, and talking with him while waiting for someone to pick him up. We called the house multiple times to express concern and asked his mom to get him to school on time and have him picked up on time. He began trying to get to school earlier and would ask me each day how many minutes late he was. I believe he was doing all he could to improve his punctuality in an effort to please me. One day Kenny shared he had already been retained in first grade. However, he constantly tried to deflect away from the fact he had great difficulty reading and low self-esteem. Kenny was loud, always making jokes, and putting on a show for all. I noticed that there was always someone on him regarding his behavior and/or lack of attentiveness, including teachers, cafeteria staff, office staff, and other school personnel. It seemed that when he was told to be quiet, “zip your mouth” or even “shut it,” he only talked more, with a smile on his face. Kenny was desperately looking for attention and any attention would do.
I was only at the summer site for a couple weeks before I needed to return to my home school in preparation for the coming year. On my last day, I spent time saying goodbye to students, praising their hard work, and letting them know just how much I would miss them. Kenny let me know he wasn’t happy about me going and asked me where my school was. I explained it was about a 25-30 minute drive from his school. Kenny proceeded to tell me he didn’t care, he was still going to go there next year. Grinning, I asked “Oh really? You want to come to my school?” and he answered, “Yeah, I’ve never been someone’s favorite before”. Stunned, I just hugged him and tried not to cry.
How can a child who has been in school for five years feel this way? Shouldn’t every child believe they are the teacher’s favorite? The difficult students are often the children who already lack relationships with caring, attentive, engaged adults. Student-teacher relationships can truly affect both their academic and social development. Research tells us that a student who feels a strong personal connection to their teacher, one with genuine interest and concern, is more likely to demonstrate increased engagement, higher levels of academic achievement, and improved behavior in class. But academics and classroom behavior aside, kids deserve to feel valued everyday. If that isn’t our highest priority, are we really in the right field?