How We Welcome Students

My musing, a blogpost, and an Invisibilia episode have lead me to think seriously about the importance of how I welcome students and families. 

A couple weeks ago, I posted this on twitter:

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I had been thinking about a student of mine. A previous teacher had mentioned that his questions were “interesting”, which lead him to stop asking questions. I’m sure the teacher meant well by the comment, but it made our student think that he was asking the wrong questions. So he stopped.

I wonder how many times I have done that.

A few days ago, I came across this:

Rusul

Which is an excellent blogpost, by Rusul Alrubail, about how the enthusiasm that we greet students and parents with sends a strong message about their importance to the teacher. Go read it.

Then last night, I listened to Invisibilia’s, “Flip the Script” episode. You should go listen to it right now. There is a LOT happening in the episode, and I can’t possibly comment on all of it here. But I want to highlight the aspect that struck me the hardest.

The first half of the episode (well approximately 6:50-40:40) details the story of “Jamal” (not his real name). He is a Muslim living in Denmark. In high school, he participated in a debate about Islam that went horribly wrong. Prior to the debate, even though he’d experienced some racism in Denmark, he was determined to be a good student and a good son. He had made a conscious decision to be so. During the debate, though, hateful things were said about Islam by a girl in his class. Jamal reacted with shock, and began to hurl insults back at her. Which to me, is a pretty normal reaction for a teenager. The girl got scared, though, and one thing led to another, eventually ending in Jamal’s house being searched by police. It was all this horrible misunderstanding. He was cleared by police of all wrong-doing. He had done nothing wrong. He was a good kid. But the experience was so upsetting to him that he started to radicalize himself. In his eyes, Denmark has rejected him.

In listening, I kept thinking about the barely-at-all mentioned teacher leading the debate. That is TOTALLY something I can imagine myself doing. Maybe that’s because I’m an idiot. Feel free to tell me all the reasons why this debate was a horrible idea, but I would think that letting kids debate about Islam is something that could get them thinking. It’s super unfair to judge a situation from the outside, but in my head I was screaming, “Go talk to him, teacher! Why aren’t you talking to him?!” How differently all this might have been if only the teacher had gone to speak with him. Apologized for how terribly things had gone down. Asked him what he was feeling. I repeat that it’s unfair to judge other people’s decisions from afar – but man… It just killed me to not hear that.

I don’t want to summarize the whole episode, because you really, really ought to listen to it. (Seriously. Go listen to it. Here’s the link again.) I wish I could get every American to do so. You should know, though, that the end of it all is Jamal came back. He stopped radicalizing because two police officers took it upon themselves to show these young men that they were wanted. They were loved. They belonged. They were welcome. It’s incredibly powerful.

After I sent out the tweet I began this blogpost with, Christy Pettis – beautiful, beaming, wise, sunflower that she is – responded:

christys response.png

Which I will do. That is essentially Rusul Alrubail’s advice, too. Be effusive in your welcoming. Let students know they belong. Tell them that they matter.

I would love to hear any comments you have on this. I am especially interested in what things you do to welcome students. I hang a “Request a Positive Call Home” sheet in my room, and I have a box out for students to write me notes whenever they want. I respond to all of those. I try to use language that is welcoming, but I know I can do more. Let me know your ideas. Help me show students that I mean it when I say they belong.

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