Knowing Students: The Full-View Perspective

Dr. Terrance Kwame-Ross

by Dr. Terrance Kwame-Ross

For Middle Level

I am interested in knowing all my students. I'm interested in their wellness and their ideas, their living situations and interests, because all of this influences their readiness to do good work in school. I plan and organize the classroom environment and content to make sure students have choices in their learning, hands-on, engaging experiences, and time to reflect and make adjustments to their learning. I bring my all to my teaching.

Rule-breaking behavior in my middle-grades classroom was minimized by my use of the Developmental Designs practices. Students co-created classroom rules, practiced and rehearsed social and academic routines, and played social and academic games to reinforce their learning. From the outside looking in, it was smooth sailing.

But our class caused anxiety for Sean, one of the fourteen-year-olds. Sean was a bright young man who studied hard but produced very little work; he did just enough to get by. Sean let his dislike for my class be known through subtle, consistent, and sometimes hurtful ways. Sean had great timing for making sarcastic comments about content, answers to questions, or mistakes I made. He turned in work late even though he had completed it on time. He blurted out hurtful comments and then quickly apologized. He took direction and redirection with little pushback, but just below the surface, I could see that Sean didn't endorse my actions. Unfortunately, I started to take it personally. Sean was getting under my skin.

As a problem-solving strategy to help me get to know my students better, I turned to the Developmental Designs Student Profile exercise.

The exercise asked me to consider Sean's physical, social, emotional, and intellectual developmental profile, his cultural and personal profiles, and his assets and needs profiles. This exercise helped me return to a growth mindset concerning my ability to help Sean. I filled out the profiles fairly quickly, except for the personal profile. I knew Sean in several of ways, but I wasn't aware of major events in his personal life. I had work to do!

I made a big effort to fill in my gaps in knowing Sean. I asked him for a lunch date, made time during class to talk to him about his interests outside of class, and observed him and took lots of notes.

The most powerful information-gathering tool of all was having dinner with Sean and his dad. Sean set up the meeting, choosing to get together over pizza. We had a great time! The conversation with Sean and his dad was lively, harmonious, playful, and informative. I watched Sean interact with us in edgy, smart, responsible, and respectful ways. I discovered what he and his dad did on the weekends and learned about their dreams. It was fun getting to know Sean outside of the classroom. I realized that Sean was provocative and pushed back with his dad, too. I watched Sean's dad skillfully use humor to redirect and connect with Sean.

I needed small, significant, quick ways to connect with Sean. I revisited the personal section of the Student Profile worksheet, and I jotted down a few ideas: a quick wink or nod, a pat on the shoulder, a quick joke, an acknowledgment note waiting for him at his desk. Sean's anxiety and snide remarks in class began diminishing, and eventually they were no longer an issue. Sean responded positively to my efforts to improve our connection.   

The full-view perspective that I gained from the Student Profile process allowed me to get to know my students in important, consistent, and on-going ways...including Sean!

Dr. Terrance Kwame-Ross is the former Executive Director for The Origins Program. He teaches at the University of Minnesota and previously taught in the St. Paul Public Schools. He co-founded and served as principal for four years at New City Charter School in Minneapolis, Minnesota. 

Posted January 2014

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