The two biggest differences a teacher can make in September

Dear Teachers,

The buzz word of the day is personalized, and I follow the debates carefully. In August, McKinsey and Company wrote about how to scale personalized learning; this week, One Schoolhouse claimed to be the “first independent school with personalized student courses.” We all use the word, and at the very least, we all seem to agree that however you define it, you should articulate your vision for teaching and learning, and then you should live it. (Our updated CAIS Accreditation Guidelines includes this requirement: Through an ongoing consultative process, the school has published a definition of excellence in teaching and learning that encompasses current research.)

I am also excited by the way technology can enhance personalized learning. This week alone, I have had seven meetings with my colleague Claudia Daggett, President of ISACS, as well as NEASC/CIE Heads from around the world. A conference call is one thing, but meeting by Zoom allows us to see each other and thus create a deeper connection. This summer, when I had the chance to explore the work of the Global Online Academy’s Teacher Institute, I was inspired by their intentional focus on how to build community with students in an online environment.

But here’s the thing – while I care about research, technology, resources, and course content, and I care that you have learned about the latest in teaching and learning, including your definition of personalized learning, I mostly care about one thing and one thing only.

I care about my children and I care that you know, and I mean really know, my children. So as I think about personalized learning and what really matters to me, whether it is face-to-face or virtual, I think about two of the most important things you can do this month.

Number One: Get to know your students.

When I visited TCS last month, I was impressed that they asked all new students to share a one minute video about themselves. The faculty watched them in their opening meetings and the students will also get to see them. This is such a demonstration of a commitment to knowing students, and I was inspired by their intentionality. I know that TCS, like all CAIS schools, will continue to be intentional about knowing their students. To me, this means challenging and supporting them, sharing stories, and laughing together, in a way that you can only do when you know each other. Deep learning follows from there. It is the connection between teachers and students that is the most important differentiator between good and great schools.

Number Two: Connect with your students’ parents.

When I dropped off Jacob at LCS this week, I was struck by one thing. Hugging. Jacob hugged his friends, but also his housemaster, teachers and staff members. And so did I. The LCS community, like all of our CAIS schools, is so good about reaching out to parents. I didn’t hug the new residence don, Elliott, because I just met him, but I loved that as I pulled out, he yelled across the road: “Bye Anne-Marie and nice to meet you!” If he is the hugging type, I will hug him next time I see him.

My hope? Connect with me. It doesn’t have to be a long letter or phone call, but please
know that I want to be part of my child’s day-to-img_6754day, because all he gives me is a “good”. For example, I was sent a photo of Jacob as he was leaving for his four-day trip to Algonquin Park; I know this is a trendy marketing strategy, but I also know it made my day.

I appreciate that you have a zillion things to think about and do in September, and I thank you in advance for considering my request. Believe me when I say, it will make a huge difference.

Thank you, and have a great year.

5 thoughts on “The two biggest differences a teacher can make in September

  1. Hi Anne-Marie,

    I agree that asking students to make introduction video’s is a great idea. One of my favorite tools that I ask my students to use at the beginning of a new year or semester is Animoto. I start the class by sharing the video I made for them, and then provide them with some suggestions and guidelines. I then ask them to make a 1 to 2 minute video of themselves for me. I only see my students once a week, so having these videos, helps me to get to know my students a lot more quickly in such a short amount of time.

    Thanks for your article,
    Alex Lianne Carter

    • Wow… I love this idea! When I taught English, I used to write a letter to my students and then they would write back to me. You have the present-day version of that get to know you assignment! Where can I see one of these?

      Thanks for writing.

    • Anne-Marie,
      I really like this message. All the latest developments in helping young people to improve and enhance learning are wonderful to consider and ideally implement, but nothing can replace the importance of relationships in schools. You can imagine that at our school where we welcome an entirely new student body every year, developing those relationships early, right from the start, is critical and essential to the success students will enjoy during the year. We work hard at that. This is why we take them on an Orientation trip to begin the year before we even start formal classes. I connect with them via a Facebook group before they even arrive. I like the TCS idea of a one minute video as well – I may ‘borrow’ that idea for next year. Thanks for sharing your message, Bill

      • Bill

        Great point about the role of trips! There’s nothing better than heading off campus for intense travel or wilderness adventures. I love that so many of our schools begin with that kind of group bonding….So healthy for students AND staff! When they build strong relationships with their classmates and teachers, the learning community is established and individuals will thrive. Contrast this with what I heard from a public school student this week – “my teacher said he wouldn’t k ow our names until Christmas. “

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