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Breaking through the wall

August 3, 2010

As a father of two, I am witnessing all those “first moments”.  My son, two and half, was walking right at 12 months.  I will always remember that first step coupled with his expression of amazement,  my wife’s expression of excitement and my expression of pride.  Those images are embedded in my mind.

My daughter, 11 months, is about to start walking.  My wife and I are trying to motivate her to take those first steps. When she walks holding our hands we praise her work and effort.  In the end though, it is my daughter who will have to break through the wall and realize she can do it.

As a teacher, these “moments of realization” are some of the most special moments in a classroom.    I have had many students who start the year with an aura of vulnerability.  They are hesitant to commit to their work.  Why?  In many cases, they feel they cannot do it.  It is my job to motivate and praise until they realize they can.

This starts the first day of school and does not end until the last day of the year.  Building a solid foundation with your students is key to them committing to themselves and the classroom.  Once each student feels safe and comfortable in the classroom, they are more likely to break through the wall.  I can list dozens of ways to help build that relationship but I am only going to mention one: talk to them.  This might not be as intellectual as many of the strategies you read in the countless educational books on relationship building, but I have found it is the most important.  Talk to your students…get to know them and let them know that you care about what they are saying.   I know it is easy to listen to your students without really listening.  They know the difference!

If your students know that they are in a classroom where they can take risks and fail, then they are going to be successful.  They are going to break through many walls during the year.  We all have walls that need to be broken in our lives.  I am breaking through a wall right now by completing my first blog.

In three weeks, I will welcome 25 new students to my classroom.  I cannot wait to see the walls fall as we learn together and grow together.  I look forward to the challenge.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. August 3, 2010 2:25 pm

    Michael, what a great post! Talking and listening to students is probably THE key component to building those relationships that are so crucial to school success (and, I would argue for success in life .)

    Loved the comparison to watching your own children-makes that analogy of breaking through the wall so much more personal.

    Thanks for joining the blogging world–I’m looking forward to learning from your ruminations.

  2. August 3, 2010 3:13 pm

    Hi Michael,

    Your first blog was a joy to read. It is so true that listening is so important to the growth of a child even in our own growth as adults. Listening is such an important skill this is something I try so hard to instill in my students. When we stop to listen we hopefully learn something new and can formulate good questions.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  3. August 3, 2010 3:14 pm

    Michael, Have you thought about how often you’re going to blog? Might be helpful to pick a day and advertise it instead of doing what I saw today referred to on Twitter as “emotion blogging.” 🙂

  4. Pam permalink
    August 3, 2010 5:40 pm


    I love the analogy you draw to breaking through the wall as a function of learning a hard, elusive new skill-set. How often do we see four and five years come to school with all the energy, enthusiasm, curiosity, commitment, and perservance that we would desire of any lifelong learner only to find those dispositions lost in the traditions of schooling? What you describe in regards to your own children actually speaks to the difference between application of a competence and deficit model of learning. In one, we reiterate and support the belief that a young child, all young children, will learn to walk, to talk, to think, to problem-solve. In the other, we see some children in school as being capable and others as not. This “mindset” sets the stage for sorting and selecting for classes vs heterogenous communities, remediation vs prevention and intervention support, exclusive ability grouping and pull-outs vs inclusive practice, and, ultimately kids who succeed and kids who don’t. When we talk with children, listen to them, learn who they are and what they are interested in, we become genuine teachers. We will always be challenged by the strengths of some children – the strength of being a hands-on problem solver, a story-teller, an artist, a kinesthetic thinker and doer- our schools are not set up to recognize that children need to enter learning through the strengths doors that open for them. All children benefit from encouragement, feeling valued, and being successful. Some children depend upon we educators to find the strengths and capitalize on them so that they all learn to walk, run, skip, jump and dance as learners.

  5. Ann Etchison permalink
    August 3, 2010 5:49 pm

    Your post made me think about how the student-teacher relationship that develops when teachers talk to students also encourages students to see adults as approachable people. When I taught high school, the one common characteristic among students who struck me as the most confident, comfortable teenagers was that they conversed easily with peers and adults alike. At the time my children were young like yours, and while I hoped they would be successful academically, it struck me as just as important—if not more—that they grow up able to talk comfortably with people of any age.

    By valuing student-teacher conversations in your classroom, you’re developing relationships and positive classroom climate, but you’re also modeling and engaging students in an important life skill (as Paula also notes).

    Good luck to you and your fabulous third grade team in the coming year!

    • August 3, 2010 11:51 pm

      Thanks for your comments and I agree completely. I am always impressed with students who really know how to have a conversation with an adult. We usually have a couple third graders that converse like adults. It is always neat to see that and to be a part of that. We will have a good year. Anne and Karla have taught me so much! I learn from them, and all of you, everyday. Thanks again

  6. August 3, 2010 6:09 pm

    Ha! I’m one of those emotion bloggers–when the spirit moves me–but as I’ve gotten busy and don’t do it regularly, my readership has dropped off. I would suggest a minimum of twice a month, and I think it’s better if you can do it once a week.

  7. Grandma permalink
    August 5, 2010 2:52 am

    Just great, Michael! I remember years ago you wanted to write and thankful you are following through. Talking with children is a “helper” for everyone. Some are shy and/or hesitant to talk with anyone. Each child comes from a different home and some my be difficult but have faith, and you will reach them. An ambitious project but you will have glowing results!!

  8. August 6, 2010 12:40 pm


    Thanks for sharing this- what a joy to read! I love your concept of walls crumbling. You are a teacher with a servant’s heart for your students! I recently wrote about service, and you along with several other inspirational teachers were going through my mind as I wrote it. Will send it to you when the tweaking is finished. 🙂 Enjoy the beginning of the school year with your new kiddos and please keep posting your stories!!

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