Coaches' Corner: I Will Learn From You!

For Middle Level

Dear Coach Linda,
I have a diverse group of students in my homeroom, and I'd like to help them connect to one other. So far they seem like a collection of cliques, and many of them feel no strong connection to school. How can our advisory time help them connect with each other and get more out of school?

Coach Linda says,
You're off to a good start by asking the question. Many teachers find that without intentionally building relationships across cliques they cannot establish the context of safety and trust crucial for students to connect with students different from them and take the risk of really trying to learn. Many social and academic learning experiences involve failures along the way, and most adolescents will not risk the embarrassment of mistakes if they don't experience knowing and being known in a friendly environment.

When we systematically put in place structures that facilitate connectedness, that build relationships across differences of age, culture, color, class, education, and skills, we create classrooms in which adolescents are willing to learn from us and each other.

A well-structured advisory at the beginning of each day helps build a community of trust that fosters learning. When advisory meetings include opportunities to build understanding among students, and differences become topics to explore and share about in safety, teachers can become trusted guides. Following is a sample advisory meeting that can open up the issue of understanding across cultures. This kind of meeting is best done in a circle, and takes approximately 20 minutes. Before you talk about differences, do some fun community-building meetings to build relationships, inclusiveness, and safety.

Before the meeting, write a message on a chart or board:

Greetings, Friends!

Most of us have had moments when we felt like the odd person, the one who was different. People often want to hang out with others who are like them, but the ability to socialize and work with people who are different from us is important. How good are you at hanging out with people who are different from you? Indicate which category fits you best by putting a check mark after it.

I avoid mixed groups.

I get along with most people.

I enjoy variety in the people I associate with.

Greeting: Huddle Up
Leader gives a "Huddle up" direction such as "Huddle up if you like to swim." Students who like to swim go to the middle of the circle and greet each other. Those who don't like to swim remain seated. Other categories might concern food, music, sports, daily activities, etc. Make sure that everyone has been greeted at least once.

Sharing: Think, Pair, Share
Give this direction, and allow a minute for students to come up with a response: Think about a time when you felt you were the only one in a group who was different in some way (e.g., you were new, older or younger, the only person of your gender, color, or culture, the only person dressed a certain way, etc.). Pair up students, and tell them: Share with your partner about a time when you felt different. After the paired share, volunteers may share out with the whole group.

Activity: Something's Different
The group looks carefully at the person who volunteers to be It. It steps into the hall for a minute and changes one thing about his/her appearance (e.g., switches a ring to a different finger or opens a button on a shirt). When It returns, the group has a couple of minutes to look carefully and name what is different. You can play more rounds if time permits.

Finally, read the greeting message and discuss the responses people made to the poll, noting the largely unconscious preference to stay close to our comfort zones with people who look and act very much as we do.

This is an example of the sorts of meetings that build connections across student differences. There are many sample CPR meetings designed to build connections across differences in The Advisory Book.

Linda Crawford is the co-founder of Origins and the Developmental Designs approach.

Related Topics: 
Advisory, Building Relationship