Like to get to know you well

Posted: August 26, 2017 in The Networked Educator
Tags: , , ,

It’s the start of the year, with new routines, rosters and rotas. With the new term comes new students fresh from Primary School and raring to get into the Art room at the end of a busy day of listening, learning and hopefully a lot of laughter. I want my room to be a refuge, a rare oasis of calm and happiness and above all a place they feel safe. I want to get to know them, all 247 of them, especially the ones I have taught before yet never truly got to know well. How does one get to really know another?

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The first week meeting my students is also tainted with some sadness as I say a tearful goodbye to my eldest son, who departs for University back in the UK. It is with heavy hearts that, as parents, we have to finally let go and allow them to fly with their own wings, when really we just want to hold on to them for a little (or a lot) while longer. Do I know him well enough to know he will be happy, healthy and ready to embark on a new adventure 1000s of miles away?

Do we know anyone truly?

I first watched The Lab: Decoy last year and was intrigued by the concept. One man, 6 photographers, 6 perspectives.

It is fascinating to see, not only the skill and sensitivity of each photographer but how much the story influenced their portrayal.

“What would you like the photograph to say about you?”

Art expresses the heart and the none better than the medium of photography to capture more than just what someone looks like. Each photograph reveals some of the characters of a person through pose, position or emotion. Each photographer puts some of their own feelings and beliefs into their final chosen composition. My favourite part of the fascinating video is by far the grand reveal and the comment by the actor, “it almost looks like 6 different people”. How do people see you? How would you wish to be photographed? What story would you tell to help someone get to know you better?


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still from The Lab: Decoy


How do you portray someone through photography? As we embark on a digital photography project with Grade 7, their first task was to capture their partner and design a poster if they were running for student council. As they got underway, I overheard similar conversations to the video as students checked in with their partner as to how they felt they should be portrayed. Perhaps this is my first glimpse of them, not just as a person, but as a photographer.

“I want to bring out something of who you are”

How do we do that? How can art or photography capture the real person?

“A photograph is shaped more by the person behind the camera than by what is infront of it”


Grade 7 poster campaign

Getting to know you

Think about when you have met someone for the first time. How often do we judge someone by their name, looks or first impressions? Do first impressions really count? If this were true, some initial impressions of me might be that I am too quietly spoken, therefore shy or unconfident. They might notice that I am a good listener, so I am interested in them. But how much do we give away on a first meeting? When do you reveal your true identity, warts and all? When do I reveal that I am a tech geek, chocoholic, football widow and an introvert with wannabe extrovert tendencies? When do I share that I love being around people but also need peaceful time alone?


Photo Credit: Nguyen Vu Hung (vuhung) Flickr via Compfight cc

Introverts are perhaps the least well-known individuals and there will be introverts in your class – some obvious to you, some not. How do you sense them, how can you engage them, and how can you support them?

There are many articles, books and videos guiding us about introverts but here are 3 recommendations:

  1. Watch Susan Cain’s Ted talk The Power of Introverts
  2. then read her book, Quiet: the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking
  3. finally, scan the list of 14 real life examples of extroverted introverts


Stop demanding group work
Go to the wilderness and unplug
Solitude is often a crucial ingredient for creativity
Own your intro/extroversion but delve into both

As I scan my 11 classes online, searching for any clues as to their inner personalities, one click takes me to their medical information, learning issues, contacts, siblings and previous attendance. But I don’t see what excites them, scares them, what their favourite sport, TV show or food is. I can’t access what their dreams for the future are or how many pets they have. I can’t tell if they love my subject or loathe the very thought of putting paint on a paper or drawing a plant. I can only guess their story.

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On the first day, Middle School teachers we were asked to write a short blurb, an introduction about ourselves, for students to gather together a picture of their teachers for their parents in the initial weeks of term – but what about their blurb, their story?

I wish I had asked them to write to me about what they would like me to know about them, much as a Primary teacher might ask students to send a postcard introducing themselves during their holiday. I wish I had the time to chat with each and every one about their likes/dislikes, life at home and away and to see where we cross paths and interests.

In the meantime, I have asked Grade 7 to make a Top Trumps card as an initial door into who they are as a person and an artist in my class. It’s a bit of fun but a starting point for discussions into their strengths, passions and Achilles heels! (If you don’t know what a Top Trumps card is, google it!)

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Will I judge them by their first artistic creation, or by their ability to complete the homework creatively and on time? What will I learn about them from their questions, their answers or their silence?

Could blogging allow their voices and their idiosyncrasies to unfold?

I have only one lesson a week with all these individuals – how can I use the time wisely to get to know them better?

How will you be getting to know your students better this year?

Postscript: Like to get to know you well was a hit back in 1985 from the fabulous Howard Jones, who is still creating, performing and sharing his passion today. I dearly loved his words, sentiments and hair, and I continue to follow his changing style and endless innovation in music and technology today.

  1. Hey Nicki… I really enjoyed reading your post! I think it helps having met you that I could see and hear your voice within. So meaningful and caring and fun… that’s what I felt anyways…

    The video TheLab: Decoy, was such a great dive into your post as it really help to realize how our first impressions, stereotypes and judgements of people, or more specifically our students, can be misleading.

    Your hopes to get to know all of your students better this year, despite time restrictions, is admirable! I too find this to be very difficult as I work with over 600 students as a digital learning coach. Sometimes I forget a students name repeatedly and I can’t help but wonder how that makes the student feel and their impressions about how well I actually know them. Perhaps in my role, I can focus on the teachers I work with and make efforts to truly get to know them better? Maybe I could spin your post slightly so that it works for me and consider the teachers I work and the investment in our coaching relationship as attempts to get to know them better?

    Anyways Nicki…great read once again…and all the best as you see your son off to University!

    • Ah, thanks Sean, you’re so kind! I agree, getting to know your Teachers is a great idea (and more achievable!) I love to hear all about them, where they’re from, what their style is and to learn more about who they are as a teacher- it builds rapport and mutual respect. I’m set to leave Edinburgh and my son tomorrow and my heart is already breaking. One day you’re leaving them at nursery, the next university 1000s of miles from home, geez! He’ll be fine but I’m not sure about me! Thanks for taking the time and hope to see you in Shanghai L2 so I can get to know you better too!

  2. Hi Nicki! Like most teachers at the beginning of the year, I can really relate to your post. This year I only have about 40 new students in my classes, but around the school there is a sea of new faces, and like you, I would love to get to know as many of their stories as possible. This year I asked my Grade 11 Geography students to write their first blog post about a place or places which have had a significant impact on them. Their responses varied in detail, but some of them were fascinating and helped me to connect with them just that little bit more quickly.
    With my FIB class, for the last couple of years I have used an idea from Martin Schmidt to introduce our Humanities course through an expose of the cocoa trade.

    By starting with something many of us have in common, a love of chocolate, the conversation starts flowing pretty quickly and I find that students are willing to share their ideas and experiences more quickly.

    I love your idea of making top trump cards, and am already thinking about how I can adapt that for my Grade 9 and FIB students and what the categories might be.

  3. Joel Bevans says:

    Hi Nicki,
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts about the start of the year.I think what you are saying certainly rings true for nearly every teacher on the planet!
    It can be such a crazy time of year for everyone but all teachers need to try to slow down and get to know their students. We must find out about their interests, their family, what makes them tick. Taking the time at the beginning of the year is necessary as we are going to be learning with and from each other throughout the year. It reminds me of this article from Edutopia about the importance of relationships in schools.
    I love the idea of top trumps of a way of getting to know your students. If I taught slightly older children I would be all over it! Instead, as a class ( K2 students) we are getting to know each other and building our relationships by creating a short all about me video using Adobe Spark. The children have to create between 4-6 pages talking about themselves. My name is… I am from…. I like… I dislike… In my family I have….Each video will be made into a QR code so that students can look at the videos in the coming weeks or months.
    We are now in the process of creating a map of the world, which will then be stuck to the wall, and we will then add the QR codes around the map (with a string pointing to their nationality). This interactive display should helpfully be one feature of our class getting to know each other..
    I can also relate to how it is being a specialist and having 1 lesson a week and trying to get build those relationships. Infact your post has me thinking about asking our specialist teachers the opportunity to make one of these videos. To create that sense of TEAM amongst all the teachers who teach the class. Thanks for the provocation.
    All the best for the new school year.

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