In my summer pilot program at Orr Elementary School, I have the opportunity to work with a group of students with whom I have spent a lot of time across the past two years. For many, I have been their after-school teacher, their Girls on the Run coach, their RTI reading teacher, etc. Going into the summer, I felt like I knew most of them already.
However, I have gotten to know my students more deeply already this summer. With only about 15 students in our summer pilot group, we have been able to create more intimate learning experiences in small groups that number no more than four. This allows us to truly reach each student.
I’ve seen one student in particular grow immensely as a response to this more personalized setting. This student, whom I call J-Boogie, is very smart—but in much of my experience with her, she has not applied herself as a student. She has been able to hide in the crowd, and while she is by no means quiet, when it is her turn to speak in group discussions or to answer questions, she tends to give an “I don’t know” shrug or just not respond.
I noticed this in previous experiences with her, and I noticed it on the first day of our pilot. So I decided that I would make it my mission to always shine a light on her. My goal was to never give her the opportunity to hide. Now, because I already have a rapport with J-Boogie, I knew that she wouldn’t feel attacked. She would, however, feel uncomfortable.
When I pulled my small groups, I was sure that she sat close to me. When I asked questions, I made sure that she answered one of them. I made sure I never accepted an “I don’t know” from her. I gave her wait time and sentence starters if she needed them, but she was never allowed to not answer. I celebrated her success, as I did with all of the other students in my groups. When I dismissed my group, I spent 30 seconds telling her how much I enjoyed her input and answers.
As a result, J-Boogie is participating more in group discussions, taking risks by expressing her opinion about her answers, and seems to be actually engaged in the work we are doing.
I love working with students who come to school engaged and ready to learn, but what thrills me is helping the unengaged and chronically unsuccessful students to change the way they view themselves as learners. I thrive on helping them work toward being the best they can be. This is what makes teaching awesome.
My experience with J-Boogie is nothing profound, nothing extremely enlightening, nothing mind-blowing. However, it is what drives me as a teacher. My professional mission is this: I will let every student know that they are important, that I see them, and that I want the very best for them.
Kelley Jones, 2015 Education Innovation Fellow
Orr Elementary School