Teaching is Not Testing
by Donald Graves
"There is something sacred about a story. When we attend to children's stories, we establish probably the best foundation for their own future as learners. We therefore have to ask ourselves if stories are an essential element in our curriculum. When we exchange and honor stories, we give one another a place to stand in our own small community. Everyone has a story to tell. Will they tell you? Will they tell me?"
I think this quote is important because it speaks to two points inherent to successful teaching: establishing a strong relationship between teacher and child, and working to help a child feel both "seen" and heard.
When approaching the first day of school in the fall, I look forward to seeing all the new students perusing the halls, eager for a fresh start and a new year. I know that relationship building starts then, the moment new teacher/student meet. Donald Graves refers to it as, "loving attentiveness." This deliberate action of stopping to look at a child, listening to what they say, and responding warmly, is everything. All the growth and learning that occurs in the classroom will depend upon that very interaction and all those that follow. If a child feels truly accepted, and seen and heard by their teacher, they have been given a gift. This gift will allow them to soar, to take risks with their learning and to reap the rewards. When a child feels seen by their teacher, they inherently know that their teacher is rooting for them, that their teacher will stand beside them, as their partner in learning. With this understanding, the learner will have the confidence to take risks, try their hardest, and ask for help when needed. This supportive relationship is the basic building block of successful learning for each student.
Every student has a story to tell. Following the initial meeting between the new teacher and student, the teacher has a great opportunity/responsibility to see, hear, and get to know each child individually. What are their mornings like? How do they respond to their home life? Where do they come from? What do they like to do? How do they communicate their needs? What do they need most when they walk through the door each morning? By greeting our students with, "loving attentiveness," we let them know we care. We let them know that we see them, and that we value their experience in this world. Furthermore, through this interaction, we let them know that we will continue to see them and support them. "Seeing" them meets a basic human need. And when that need is met, the student is free to learn and grow. The student that is "seen" and heard, is a student that will share their story, and will allow their teacher to build off of it.