Last week I had the opportunity to attend the orientation for new teachers at North East Independent School District in San Antonio, Texas. After the initial introductions and welcomes, the new teachers were enlightened by the words of Amy Ferguson.
Amy is a teacher and Instructional Dean of Mathematics at Winston Churchill High School in the district and a finalist in the 2013 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST). The award recognizes seventh through twelfth grade mathematics and science teachers whose innovative methods bring teaching to life in the classroom.
After college Amy worked for major cell phone companies where she developed projects only to find her work scrapped. She decided to seek a career with a “lasting effect.”
“With teaching your contribution is passed on through each child’s life,” she said. “You are involved in the whole child’s destiny.” (Amy Ferguson)
“Why do I teach?” Amy answered this question for the new teachers. She named students whom she has taught and described ways that the lives of those students have touched her and countless others. Each story she told illustrated that the relationship Amy formed with the students was critical to her “teaching” the students.
In the presentation Amy introduced me to the work of Rita Pierson. In a TED video (Rita Pierson… Every Kid Needs a Champion ) we heard Rita illustrate that unless there is a connection between teacher, student and lesson, learning becomes tiresome to all involved. She quoted James Comer, “No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship”.
When I googled to find out more about Rita Pierson, I discovered that she tragically passed away in June 2013. Fortunately her encouraging and challenging words live on in video and text.
“I made it my business to know everything I could about my students. Where they lived and with whom, how often they changed schools, how many siblings they had, whether or not they lived in a house or an apartment, whether there was trauma or drama in the household. I went on home visits and shopped in the neighborhood stores so I could be certain to run into my students and the folks they live with.
There is an African proverb that states: “The best time to make a friend is when you don’t need one.” I was being proactive. It is advice I always give to others”
“KNOW”. That is the powerful word I was reminded of as I listened to Amy and Rita. As you look at the beginning of this school year, what plans do you have to increase “knowing”?
As a school leader- What opportunities are planned for you to know your staff and the staff to know each other? Trust is a critical element needed for staffs to function as a team and knowing increases risk taking and the building of trust. How do you make yourself known to your staff and the staff known to you and each other?
As a teacher- What is planned for students knowing you, you knowing them, and them knowing each other? (Several years ago I worked with a middle school that built 12 hours of advisory into the first three days of school for this purpose.) Increasingly, teachers share with me that they are convinced that learning is a social activity, yet they are uncomfortable taking the time to build that social network with their students.