As this school year got underway, I was once again struck by the relationships we build at my small high school. The kids come back and we already know them. Sure they may have grown an inch or so, or their hair is shorter, or they have a new piercing, but we still know them….right?
Our knowledge of our students is primarily informed by the experiences we have had with them in prior years. We share this knowledge with the new teachers: “he’ll drop the ball on big assignments”, “she is really smart”, “he struggles with authority”, “she is not very motivated”, and so on. On one hand, the relationships we build with students in our schools are, in many cases, the single most powerful thing we do. But the so-called knowledge that we gain about students can also be powerfully detrimental. When we are so sure about what we know, and we pass that knowledge on to other teachers, we limit growth. It’s our job to create more opportunity for growth, not less.
Kids change. We all do. I saw a whale jump out of the ocean this summer and was forever changed. Each experience we have adds a new layer to who we are and what we have the capacity for. And the folks that think they know us need to constantly examine what it is they think they know about us. As educators, we have to practice doing this for each of the kids we think we know.
They come back year after year. They are taller, or have new hair, but those do not define the limits of how much they may have changed. Instead of priding ourselves in how well we know our students, we might instead practice asking them questions. If we commit to deep inquiry rather than fixed knowledge, our students will know that they can keep evolving and that we will bare witness to their incredible changes. As if grading and planning and management were not enough, this, too, is our job. What an honor.
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