Wish for Every Student on Christmas

As the early morning hour approaches, I sit in my home with my trusty four-legged companion waiting for the chaos to commence. It won’t be long until the children awake with eyes of innocence and belief that “Ho-Ho” has visited us. The cookies and glass of milk will be no more and the tree’s lights won’t shine won’t compare to the twinkle in my children’s eyes.

The description above may resonate or summarize the early morning for many people with children. Smiles are plentiful all day long, but I sit in reflection and wonder about others, my students specifically.

Speaking with students and colleagues, I know not every home will have the same, positive description as mine. Instead, some will stay in bed wanting to forget Christmas has come and hope for its quick departure. Children in single-parent homes will wonder whether they will see both parents today and whether the tree will dawn gifts of joy; I know this harsh reality because it’s a vibrant memory of my own middle school days after my parents separated. Young children in foster care will ask Santa for their parents to come for them and only end the day in despair. I recently read the opioid epidemic is doubling the amount of children in foster care in some areas, wow.

Reality

I cannot fulfill the gap of a missing parent for every single child feeling hurt this Christmas season, but I can offer encouragement or support to each child I teach during the challenging holiday.

Christmas can be a very difficult holiday for students. Reach out and let them know you care about them even during the holidays.

Meet the Need

I am trying something different this year for my students. As Rick Wormeli indicated, it is not necessary to treat every student exactly the same as many of them have different needs. However, it’s imperative to do what is necessary to elevate that student to meet success. Here are a few ways I am impacting students this Christmas break:

  • write a positive note and mail it home over holiday
  • buy a Christmas gift (i.e., books are my go to)
  • home visit
  • be visual in the community
  • attend high school athletic contest

Wish/Challenge

Will you be the one who reaches out to offer encouragement to your children over the long Christmas break?

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Home Visit Challenge

Today’s family makeup is like nothing ever seen. The traditional family unit (1 mom, 1 dad, and children) no longer exists in the 21st century and is often the minority in regards to makeup of family units. In my experience, I see a lot of grandmothers and single-parents raising their children on one income.

Taking my wife and her income away and raising my two children alone is unfathomable to me personally, but to my students it’s is called reality. To provide the needs for their children, parents are sacrificing more and more time to make ends meet. Unfortunately, the effect of working late shifts and pulling double employment means parents are not always able to make it to a parent conference, school events, or visit the school house as often as they might like.

But make no mistake, they love their children unconditionally; it just looks different than someone who comes from a privileged home.

“Let’s remember that just because a parent(s) doesn’t come to school 4 events, conferences, etc. it doesn’t mean they aren’t invested in their child’s education or don’t care.” — Jimmy Casas

Building the Parent Involvement Bridge

I was blessed to have one of the most difficult classes I ever taught last year. Echoes of “just wait until this class” came months before they actually entered. A few weeks into the school year, I learned there were students from broken homes and extremely challenging personal situations. However, my Sunday School teacher always told me the Lord provides those situations to those who can handle the Lord’s work.

One day after not getting a hold of a parent after numerous attempts, my colleague and I got into the car and decided to go visit a parent at home. We identified ourselves at the door and got a strange look or two, but we were invited into the home. Sitting on the couch, we shared our vision and how talented this young man was to his grandmother and uncle and asked to encourage him to live up to that potential because his grades didn’t display his true capability.

No negative comments were shared. Our purpose was to trigger the notion we are not giving up on him. To show the child we actually visited their home, we took a selfie in their living room with the grandparent to show him privately during class later in the day.

Change

That child was great from that point forward — for about a week. He displayed he could do everything asked of him, but took ridicule for acting “white” from his peers.

We needed to change a mindset and a learned culture; that is no easy task in any situation.

Grit

We revisited that same home throughout the school year sharing positives with grandma and giving hard truths about her grandson’s non-school activities and choice of friends outside of school. She was appreciative of our persistence and wished others would have reached out earlier to her to get him on track.

Throughout that school year, we visited over 20 homes (often more than once) showing a relentless passion for their child’s success. We combatted the anxiety of a white male dressed in a shirt and tie walking into impoverished homes by listening and loving each and every child. Culture and mindsets cannot and will not change over night or even in one school year; however, it took being intentional and learning where are students came from to better meet their social and emotional needs.

Success Criteria

Hearing the phrase you controlled them when dealing with that particular group disheartens me because some look at that as their greatest success. There is still untapped talent in every child at the middle school level, especially that group. Instead, teachers must continue to seeks to understand those tough children and their situation because everyone is different. Knowing those situations offer insight and paths to meet their needs.

Here is our success story from that group:

  • Amount of time out of class decreased significantly
  • Families are believing in our school as well as school personnel
  • Students know, without a doubt, a trusted adult cares and loves them
  • Other teachers want to do home visits
  • Our school set a 100 Home Visit goal because now it is part of our culture

Here are some of the quantitive parts of that same success story:

  • Challenging group earned double digit increases on state assessment in ELA; it was their highest increase since beginning state assessments in grade 3
  • Grade-level average earned marks above the Maryland state average in ELA
  • Over 90% of those students who we made home visits for increased two or more grade levels in reading as measured by iReady
  • Numerous students improved one and two levels on the state assessment

100 Home Visit Challenge

There is no requirement to visit a child’s home in our district, but it made the difference for me personally. I did not fully grasp the level of poverty of my school community because I never took the time to look outwards enough. Now I have taken colleagues on their first home visit and offered words of encouragement to get them to take a leap of faith to spend more time in our school community.

It taught our students and families we cared for them unconditionally, but it also taught my team how to do extraordinary things for ordinary kids. These relationships were an investment as we reinvented our routines of planning times and challenged our school administration to trust we were doing the best for kids.

–Brian Cook, Ed.D.–

 

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