Caring for ākonga cares for their learning
Saga reflects on her teaching practice and presents five key approaches for teachers to build learning-focused relationships with students.
The success of teaching and learning is founded on the quality of the relationship built between teacher and student. The role of the teacher is to build a learning-focused relationship with every student. Te Mātaiaho | the refreshed New Zealand curriculum calls for school leaders to understand that achievement is developed through positive relationships between teachers and students. These relationships create the environment where achievement can flourish.
I reflect on my own teaching practice and how I found new ways to build learning-focused relationships with my students over the years. As I strove to know every student, I could tailor learning experiences to suit their interests and learning needs. The following five key approaches were invaluable tools for me.
1. Getting to really know your learners builds trust and loyalty
Instead of relying only on achievement data, make it a point to notice and recognise what your students can do. Catch up with them one-on-one to see what is happening in their lives, whether it be at home, at school, new friendships or old friendships that have fallen away. Remember the last sharing and follow up on any changes in their situation that may have troubled them, or things they were planning to complete. It is also an opportunity to know more about their culture and what they value.
2. Expect success
Expect success whatever that may look like and be for your students, whether they are standing in front of the classroom for the first time to present a speech or PowerPoint, or just thanking someone in the class for helping them. This also means planning to celebrate success on a daily, weekly, monthly, and termly basis.
3. Everyone in the class is a learner, leader, and family member
This applies to the teacher too – the teacher is a learner, a leader and should treat the class as if they are family. The idea of treating and seeing students as family comes from a place of service. In Samoan culture, tautua (service) is fundamental in supporting ākonga relationships. Actions of service are in leading the learning, being a learner alongside students, and honouring and respecting their ideas, culture, identity, and language. To make students feel a sense of belonging, elevate the class to see that they all have a role of responsibility to be the best version of themselves.
4. Student voice matters
Planning for learning is co-constructed with students. See them as capable people with a wealth of knowledge in their own right and an abundance of wonders to share. Creating a ‘wonder wall’ for students to add questions can help to plan learning that will be engaging and of interest to them. The ‘wonder wall’ can help students see themselves as experts, and so create spaces where students can lead learning in class and be the experts.
5. It takes a village
Make students aware that their learning space is also extended to their whānau / aiga. This means students and their family can all have input at school, whether that is sharing knowledge, culture, or traditions. The delight in the eyes of students when they see their family actively involved in their learning, and how proud they feel, makes the effort of this planning worthwhile. It creates empowerment and a shared understanding. This meaningful learning enables every student to see themselves reflected in the curriculum.
These five key approaches require the deliberate focus of the teacher and are all valuable in building learning-focused relationships.
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