How to Meet Students Where They’re At
Every new school year is an opportunity for educators to reflect on their roles in the classroom and assess the responsibilities they have to their students. This is particularly important this fall after a year and a half of educational disruptions due to the pandemic. Students have been experiencing these interruptions in unique ways, which has contributed to learning gaps, mental health decline, and negative feelings about returning to school. More than ever, teachers need to find a way to meet their students where they are at. But, what does this mean and how do we do it?
Who are your students?
To meet students where they are at, you need to understand who they are when they enter the learning space at the start of the school year. While the first few weeks of school can be incredibly hectic as you set expectations, build community, and create a classroom routine, getting to know your students must be made a priority to fully know what they need to be successful. This can be done by:
- Recognizing and honouring your students' individual strengths and encouraging them to share these gifts with others.
- Understanding where your students are at in terms of their learning. Where could they use more guidance and support?
- Getting to know who your students are outside of school. What are their hobbies and interests? What are their family dynamics and support systems?
Integrating the cultural and personal self
A huge part of understanding your students is acknowledging and appreciating their cultural and personal selves. Integrating who they are into the learning process helps students feel connected to the curriculum and to each other while also creating a respectful and trusting classroom community. Goulet & Goulet (2014) assert, “Including elements of the students’ culture in the curriculum showed them that their people were present, respected, and valued, and facilitated the students’ connection to the educational material” (p. 166). Some examples of how to do this are:
- Including texts and media that represent the cultural identities of your students.
- Inviting individuals from the community into your classroom to share their life experiences and knowledge.
- Taking your students outside of the classroom to learn from the community.
Students at the centre of the process
When you effectively meet students where they are at, you are placing them in the centre of the learning process. This means that students' voices, knowledge, and lived experiences have been actively considered in how and why the learning is taking place. This ensures that the content is relevant to their interests as well as their personal and educational needs. Some examples of how to ensure that students are at the centre of the learning include:
- Making sure learning instruction is relevant to the real world.
- Offering several assessment options and allowing students to pick the one that they feel most confident in completing.
- Providing many opportunities for student-led activities. This gives students the chance to share their interests and gifts with each other!
Why is all of this important?
Meeting students where they are at right from the start is important because it shows students that you respect who they are and where they come from, and that you also value their unique perspectives and life experiences. It also helps to build trust within the learning space because you are showing them that they are important. This helps with relationship building, mental health, and overall well-being. It is important to remember that your students want to be seen and heard, and that compassion and caring will go a long way in helping them feel comfortable and supported when returning to school.
Guest Writer: Samantha Murdoch-Rock, B.A., Embodied Learnings Director and Indigenous Education Lead. Want to know more about her work? Read here!
Goulet, K, & Goulet, L. M. (2014). Teaching Each Other. Nehinuw Concepts and Indigenous Pedagogies. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press.