Thursday, June 25, 2015

Reminders of Relationships

I’ve written a lot about the importance of relationships, the impact of letting our students truly know us. Yesterday I saw three clear examples of the impact that this simple act can have. I wanted to share them here, but I hesitated. Was it bragging to share? Maybe yes and no. I am proud of what I do in the classroom, but I do want to help others. I thought some more.

I started the week at a writing retreat with friends. Late one night my friend, Franki, was talking about digital literacy. She looked at me and said it wasn’t my most important message. I was offended, at first, but then she asked me to really think about it, what was I driven to tell others about, to help them grow in regard to. Phrased that way, it came quickly to me, and it was something I already knew. Relationships. I still believe teachers think it is fluff. That it shouldn’t matter if you build strong relationships with your students. That teaching comes first. I have to disagree. I believe your students will grow far beyond your expectations if you lay the groundwork of relationships first. Then you will see an impact that lasts a lifetime.

I had several reminders of this yesterday, and then ended up making me want to share today. My husband was laughing at me last night. Sitting in our living room after I walked with a friend, I was reading two emails to him.

One was from my student, Olivia, who had emailed after returning from vacation. She had to tell me about finishing the last book in a series – a series both she and I adore. She knows I really don’t like the end of a series. It is too final, I hate being done. She ended with saying, “HOLY CHEESE. It's stinking AMAZING! I. Am. Mind blown. 
I know you don't like endings, but WOW, you should read it!”

I laughed. First of all, holy cheese? My new favorite exclamation. Second, I loved that she remembered I didn’t like endings, but wanted to convince me to read it anyway. She also wrote a reading response to it and uploaded it to Google Drive to share with me, just as she had all school year. I suppose it doesn’t matter to her that we ended school twenty-three days ago.

I received another email from my student, Lexie, yesterday. I had her in class two years ago. She wanted to tell me about a book she was reading that she knew I hadn’t read. She wrote me this great summary and then left off with a cliffhanger and an ellipsis. She then wrote this side note, “I remembered that your favorite punctuation is (...)”

This made me smile. Two years later she still remembers that I love the punctuation of an ellipsis? That she even still wants to take the time on summer vacation to send me a long summary of a book she’s reading? My heart was full to bursting.

Chris made an offhand comment that he thought I was working some sort of spell with these kids, that he would never have written to his teacher after the year was over. I said I just treat them like our boys, share dreams, fears, and things I love. That by doing that, they know me and then I get to know them.

Yesterday Luke, my oldest, and I spent the day together. He had a doctor appointment in the morning, then basketball, then we headed to lunch, and then to the orthodontist to get his braces put on. At a few days shy of thirteen, Luke seems more like a teen than ever. However as we drove to Champaign I was struck by how mature he was. He asked me if I was still trying to write a book for teachers. I shared that I had paused on that endeavor. He looked over, worried, and said why would I hit pause if that was my dream. We had a great conversation.

When we had extra time between lunch and the orthodontist, he suggested the bookstore. When he came to the children’s section to find me, I was reading a picture book. I closed it and said that I had to buy it. Luke asked why and I simply handed it over.

I walked over to look at other books and Luke read my book. He came over as I headed towards the front and said, “You’re buying it because of the sunrise. You love sunrises and sunsets and this book understands their beauty.”

Yep, my boys get me too.

The thing is, I strongly believe relationships are important. I think without them, we will only scratch the surface of what is possible. And I am so glad to occasionally have days that remind me of the importance of this work. Yesterday was one of those days.