Teacher Kyle Schwartz knows about the vitality of the teacher-learner connection. Back in 2015, she conducted a social media experiment that has since gone viral. Her goal was to get to know her students better. She wanted to know them not just academically, but also emotionally.
She gave them this prompt: “I wish my teacher knew …” Their assignment was to finish the sentence openly and honestly. They were to share something that they felt they couldn’t share publicly. The responses she got ranged from simple to complex. A few were even heartbreaking. They all put a focus on different perspectives of the students’ lives.
It’s a now-famous and popular read on Twitter. Many teachers have weighed in with their thoughts and created a real community around her initial question. The majority of the students’ concerns simply could go without further discussion. She received others that were refreshingly humorous (“I wish my teacher knew how to do a backflip.”) Still others left teachers grappling with how to respond.
The next obvious concern of the teacher is “How can I help the child solve his or her problem?” This is a big part of the teacher-learner connection. It’s also prime real estate for incorporating the 6Ds of Solution Fluency.
This poster below was created by Stacy Bonino and featured on Busy Teacher. It shows us just how much more a teacher is than just a teacher. Problem-solving comes naturally to this profession. Pay close attention to the ways the teacher-learner connection is already happening here.
The 6Ds For Teacher-Student Connection
Now we’ll walk through the 6D process in fostering the teacher-learner connection. This owes much to the work of Dr. Ross Greene, and a history of work in the counseling field. This example deals with the concept of conflict. Granted, the teacher-learner connection isn’t always about solving a crisis. For our purposes here, though, it will hopefully create an effective example for fostering communication.
Above all, our learners must know that they are safe. This means the ability to think and speak without fear, and as who they are.
The teacher-learner connection starts with understanding and transparency. First, we need to define the problem. This is exactly what Kyle Schwartz did with the question, “I wish my teacher knew…”
It’s the simple yet powerful conversation starters that can change everything. They may not necessarily uncover a “problem” that needs intervention from a grown-up. Nevertheless, the initial question uncovers something of value. It does this by fostering deep thinking, encouraging self-awareness in a safe place, and nurturing honesty.
The Define step may take several go-throughs as you discover more information. You may need to refine, revise, and restate the student’s initial concern.
Discover different angles and all aspects of the concern. Answer the question, “Is this a problem that might need an adult to intervene?” When you answer ‘yes,’ that would be the time to speak to the child directly. This is best done apart from the other students.
It’s important to assume a nonthreatening, nonjudgmental position. This part of learner communication is more about empathy than problem-solving. Use reflective listening, and employ clarifying questions. Wait for a response, sometimes as long as 30 seconds, without offering answers of your own. If there is still no response, you can say:
- Do you need more time to think about my question?
- I wonder if you understood my last question. Should I ask it a different way?
- Is there anything more you want to tell me?
- Is there anything that I’m missing?
Once you’ve probed for information, review internally. With what I know now, does this child’s concern affect them or others? Does it do so in a way that needs an adult to intervene? Restate the problem to them in clear and simple language so that you know the child has communicated fully.
Imagine what it looks like to have this problem solved for all concerned parties. Does this problem affect the child’s well-being? Does it affect the other students’ well-being? What are your concerns as the teacher?
Now you can say:
- My concern (as the teacher who cares about you and the other students) is that …
- Let’s brainstorm some solutions together
Letting the child come up with some solutions is the key to teaching them how to solve their own problems. As much as you can, try to let them come up with something on their own.
Get down, in writing, some solution that all parties can agree upon. The solution must have a reasonable chance of success. It must be respectful to all parties’ concerns. Do not look for something that is unattainable or that does not address everyone’s concerns. This involves asking questions like:
- What would you like to have happen?
- What do we know for sure we can do right now?
- What would make you feel better that would help everyone?
- What’s the best-case scenario for this situation?
- How can we work on this together?
Try to move the student towards thinking positively. A good example is a conflict situation with another student. It doesn’t do anyone any good for one student to wish harm and suffering on another as a solution. Guide the student towards visualizing an outcome that benefits everyone.
Above all, let this process be collaborative. It’s never an imposition of your own will over theirs. In any crisis, it’s vital that any child realizes they are never alone. The assurance that you will be there no matter what can be very empowering. It is a knowing that can break down many unnecessary barriers to progress.
All parties then agree to implement the plan. Designed within the plan should be the chance to revise as needed. Try it out. Some things may look good on paper, but not work well in real life.
After some time, review how things have changed, if at all. Be prepared to revisit the previous steps if something is not working. More conversations might need to be scheduled.
The Teacher-Learner Connection Matters
Keep in mind this is a simple overview and only a starting point. Remember to take into consideration counseling policies at your school. Always seek help if you feel the situation needs it. In the end, realize that you’re an empathetic listener and a caring ear. You can make a huge difference in the life of someone who might think you’re the only one they can turn to.