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Many of us have been working with the same groups of students for months. We may feel as though we know them well, can anticipate their behavior when they’re challenged, can predict their reactions to dilemmas, as well as predict the commitment they’ll make to learning. We also know their growth and maturity hasn’t been static. Our students today aren’t the same individuals who joined us at the beginning of the year. One of the exciting dimensions of working with young people is that they’re constantly growing and changing.

It’s important to be fully present for our students, especially now. We can’t allow our history with them to undermine our relationship with them nor underestimate their current learning potential. We need to set aside our assumptions and let go of what we’ve come to expect. Students can become trapped in past behavior and unable to break out of old patterns if we rely on past interactions to interpret what we’re seeing now.

As our students grow and mature, we need to adjust to them. We must give them new opportunities to show who they’re becoming and explore the best ways we can support them. In short, we need to see our students through “new eyes.” Relying on history and assumptions exposes us and our students to several significant risks.

We may miss the full implications of questions students ask.

We may think that we know what students mean and respond in the context of what’s been. Yet, the questions we hear today likely reflect more knowledge and understanding than their similar questions conveyed earlier in the year. There may be more depth than we assume. In fact, if we assume greater depth and desire to understand, we’ll naturally nudge and coach students to ask questions that feature more depth and nuance.

We can overlook fresh insights and novel observations students offer.

When we hear some students’ voices, we may reflexively assume that we know what they’ll say and even tune them out. Yet, new interests and growing experiences may be shifting their thinking and opening opportunities for new growth. Our recognition of what students are becoming can offer welcome support for and build new confidence in students’ thinking.

We may miss the full richness and creativity of student humor.

We may be familiar with their sense of humor, but listening and appreciating what students have to offer is an important sign of respect. Further, our full-throated appreciation in response to humor can be a great way to wash away past conflicts and repair our relationship.

Our expectations regarding the capability of students can be lowered and limited based on past behaviors and previous performance.

We may think that we know the potential of our students, but what we really know is what they’ve done in the past. And the past isn’t necessarily predictive of the future or what’s possible. Our willingness to encourage, take a new look, and shift our approach may be what’s needed to help students break out of old habits, take more pride in their work, and deepen their learning commitment.

Try this:

After a calendar break or when students return from a weekend, make a conscious effort to see students through new eyes. What do we see and what might we anticipate if we didn’t know and have a history with our students? We might even have students introduce themselves to us as a symbol of a new start. We might ask students to respond to questions such as, “Who am I today that I wasn’t at the beginning of the year?” “How have my interests changed?” “What am I able to do that I couldn’t do at the start of the year?” “What am I even better at now than I was at the start of the year?

Of course, we might ask ourselves similar questions. How have we grown and what implications does our growth have for our students and our practice? What can students expect from us that might not have been possible early in the year? What commitments will we make to our students in the final leg of the year?

Thought for the Week

Simply pulling a strategy “off the shelf” or defaulting to the most recently read article or staff development session topic may not generate the results we seek.

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