Since it’s the beginning of the school year, I can’t help but to think about how important it is to establish relationships with students. Relationships are two-way. This means I want to be connected with people who want to know and care about me AND I want to know and care about them. The better our relationship, the more I am willing to do things for those people. After all, aren’t there things that we wouldn’t do for anyone else but our beloved grandma or best friend? In schools, aren’t there students who are known to misbehave in every classroom but they would never do that in Mrs. Doe’s classroom? It’s not Mrs. Doe’s content that the student connected with that is causing the difference—it’s Mrs. Doe’s relationship with the student.
There is this great strategy called “If You Really Knew Me” that helps to build relationships. “If You Really Knew Me” is a strategy linked with the organization known as Challenge Day and there is a wealth of information out there about how to run a Challenge Day—in no small part due to the MTV series of the same name that aired in 2010 (the episodes are easily found if you’re wanting to watch any).
I can't remember when I first heard about this strategy, but I do remember seeing images of students writing in response to the sentence stem. In particularly, there was a student who either didn’t initially participate or only gave a superficial response. Then one day, the teacher found on her desk a piece of toilet paper with writing on it from the student after asking to go to the bathroom. The student’s note on the toilet paper said something like “If you really knew me, you’d know that I’m hurting because my life is really hard and I don’t feel safe talking to anyone about it.” You can only imagine what it must have taken for that child to write that and share it with the teacher. You can only imagine how that teacher must have felt to have gotten that note.
You do not have to run a Challenge Day to create a space were children and adults feel safe finishing the prompt, “If you really knew me, you would know…” In fact, here is a helpful introduction guide in how to do this. What I really like in the guide is that it says explicitly,
“Modeling is your best teaching tool. The more ‘real’ you are willing to be, the more safety you will create for your students or family members and the more ‘real’ they are likely to be in response. Be aware that not everyone is at the same level. Some people can be uncomfortable or feel ambushed. Be willing to go first and share something about yourself” (p. 3).
In the spirit of modeling, I say to you, if you really knew me, you would know…
I love dark and white chocolate but do not like milk chocolate.
I love sleeping in and napping but that getting out of bed in the morning is the worst part of my day.
I order water when I go out to eat because I’d rather eat my calories than drink them.
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday because it’s about being thankful, having a nice meal with your family, a holiday that is agnostic, and no one person is celebrated (like a birthday).
Spiders don’t bother me but insects with more than eight legs (including caterpillars) do.
These are my tip of the iceberg statements.
If you want to look deeper, you would know…
I can swear like a trucker but try my hardest not to because I feel really guilty about swearing in front of people at work or those who I don’t know well.
The reason I don’t really go swimming often is because I feel like I have to blow dry my hair and so I’m self-conscious when it air dries since it gets super frizzy.
I worry that my children do not value or appreciate what their father and I have been able to provide for them and yet I feel like I don’t know what to do about that.
I hate mail because I don’t know where it’s been and maybe someone licked it (this was even before COVID) so to me mail is forever dirty.
Though the second list reveals more about me than the first list, there are many more personal ways I could finish this prompt that I am not going to do to in such a public way. Even so, as you read these statements about me, I wonder how you felt. My guess is that there are statements that you can relate to and statements that make you want to comfort me. Maybe there are things I’ve said that make me more human and relatable (maybe made you laugh with me). I suspect that reading this creates a feeling of validation for some people who may know me well enough to have known some of these things already. I anticipate that as a result of learning these things about me, you feel more connected to me than you did before you read it. Hopefully, you would feel comfortable telling me something about you. All of these emotions were the point.
In my book, Engagement is Not a Unicorn (It's a Narwhal), I write, “changing relationships is a lot harder than building relationships” (p. 199) because if you have built a relationship of fear, distrust, or animosity with someone already, trying to demonstrate a desire to be kind, respectful, and patient now means you have to overcome negative feelings. This is why it is better to build caring relationships of trust from the start. So, I ask you these two questions. The first is, what have you done to build relationships this year with others including your students, their families, and/or your colleagues? The second is, if I really knew you, what should I know?
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