Oct 22

Building a Relationship with "Nia"

Posted by Pamela M. Jones in Fair Is Not Equal on Oct 22, 2012

JillianPart Two of an Interview with Jillian Crowther, 9th Grade Teacher

In Part Two of our interview series with Jillian Crowther, we hear her talk about how she approached relationship building with another student, Nia*.

Click here for Part One.

Pam: Could you provide me with some similar background information on Nia before we begin to delve into her case?

Jillian: Sure! "Nia" is a 10th grade student that I had in my 9th grade class last year. "Nia" lived with her sister and was highly independent and responsible for herself, similarly to "Angelique" (but much more so). She was withdrawn from most of her peers, had a low frustration threshold, and did not always come to school. When she did, she did little to no work. The only class she liked was her ELA class. However, "Nia" was an extremely talented writer. I only figured this out because of a strategy I used to build relationships with her and my other 9th grade students: dialogue journaling.

Pam: Thanks for this background information. Given "Nia's" tendency to withdraw and low frustration tolerance, what were some of your first thoughts and moves in the hopes of building a bridge to her?

Jillian: Somehow I wanted to bring her out but wasn't sure how...I also didn't want to approach her with any preconceived notions. Many teachers had told me how "notorious" she was and how she would explode in my class. I wasn't about to let those ideas into my classroom community. "Nia's" first day in my class was a few weeks after school had started.  My other students knew the routine: you came in, got your personal journal, and performed a free write for 5-10 minutes. Nia loved this. She immediately wrote her entry and then asked if she could share. I didn't make students share as I usually wrote back to them and it was more of a written exchange. But I allowed "Nia" to share. She shared a story from her life and became emotional. This was unexpected but I thanked her for being so brave to share it all with her classmates and then asked if it helped her to write. She said it did and then her other classmates decided to share some personal things from previous entries in their journals. Classroom community and relationship building sort of arose spontaneously through this one activity of journaling.

Pam: Sounds like you were already advocating for "Nia" by deciding to form your own impression of her.

Jillian: Yes, I try not to pay attention to gossip about students. I think students can sense your judgment; they're very perceptive.

Pam: How did you build on the community building efforts initiated through the free write share? What were some follow-up ideas that you acted upon to continue to build a relationship with "Nia?"

Jillian: Well, in that class that "Nia" was in, the share kind of became routine. I also responded to all of her writing and encouraged her to continue to cultivate that talent. I would also give her options such as: you can write another poem if you finish this math activity. Honestly, it didn't always work. Sometimes she would write and nothing else. She thrived on satisfaction control; I wish I had found more ways last year to encourage her to do work from her other academic classes and realize how important it was to attend school often. It's like I had that one seed of journaling, but it never grow more than a few leaves grew.

Pam: Wow, Jillian. What you've shared indicates how pivotal a role curriculum plays in engagement and behavioral support. And in terms of it now always working, that's par for the course, no? We get to know our students, try certain approaches in the hopes that they effect some positive change, and if they seem to not work or work less than optimally, we shift gears.

Jillian’s work to build relationships with her students proves how this work is both challenging but worthwhile.  It highlights the need for teachers to get to know their students well, as Jillian has done and continues to do, in order to reach our students.

What are your thoughts? Questions?  We’d love to hear from you!

Stay tuned to our blog for the final installment of this 3-part interview series with Jillian Crowther. 

(*Please Note: The name “Nia” is a pseudonym.)

tagged building relationships, community building, dialogue journaling, high school, relationships, strategies, writing
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