Imagine you’re a librarian at an elementary school. You have the unique opportunity of getting to interact with EVERY student in your school community and hopefully instill in them a lifelong love of reading. Cool, right? Here’s the catch: unlike a classroom educator, your time with students is limited and spread out. So, how do you develop those deeper relationships that support students to engage in learning?
The challenge of not enough time
The Specialist staff at Terminal Park Elementary in Auburn, Washington were feeling this struggle of not having enough time to get through their content while also getting to know their students as individuals. Because of this disconnection, some Specialists were noticing more behavior issues in their class and were tired of a relationship based solely on prompting and redirection. To creatively address this problem, the admin support staff worked alongside the Specialists to adjust their daily schedules to dedicate specific time for them to connect with students outside of class.
Focusing on connections
With the support of Sound Discipline facilitators, the librarian, music, PE, and technology teachers at Terminal Park reflected on which of their relationships with students stood out to them as “strong”, “still-developing”, or “not-connected”. They then chose two to four students to connect with after school for 20 minutes, a few times a week, for one month. The goal is to spend quality time with the students that doesn’t involve trying to teach them something or correcting their behavior – just connect. Some of the hangouts have included having students help with small projects like stamping books or organizing instruments and chatting, others have involved playing games or going on walks.
Though the project just began, these educators are already noticing big shifts in their classroom communities.
Strengthening bonds and getting to know students better
Librarian Chris Williams shared, “The specialist SEL time we implemented this fall has been wonderful. I chose 3 boys and 3 girls to work with, some who have had some behavior issues and some who seemed like invisible kids who could use some recognition. All are loving it and I think they feel important and seen. I certainly enjoy my time with them and have gotten to know them better as individuals. There is a new connection between us during their library time and they always wave at me in the hallway.”
Gary Greer, the PE coach, said, “I feel like I’m building a bond and a trust that I can’t normally do during regular class time.”
The Specialist’s unique role in the community
It takes courage to see relationship building as a solution. The way Terminal Park Specialist staff are creatively using their time and unique roles to build connections not only strengthens their class communities, but the entire Terminal Park family. And that is pretty special.
Reid Kuennen and Roshaé Lowe are Sound Discipline Facilitators.