Christine Bernstein: Meaningful Connections To Students Key To Student Success 

Christine Bernstein/Courtesy photo

Candidate For School Board District 3

A few weeks ago, at a Friday summer concert, I recognized a social studies teacher from the high school I used to work with, Jonathan Lathrop.

I always remember something he did years ago at a staff meeting. At this meeting, he had written the name of every student on a piece of paper and each piece of paper was taped to a table. This activity was inspired by one of the  40 developmental assets a framework of preventative measures, positive experiences, and qualities that young people need to grow up healthy, caring, and responsible. 

At this staff meeting, Jon asked all the teachers to walk around and jot down what they knew about or how they connected with each student. I have talked about this activity with colleagues in different schools but I have never replicated it. I often think of this activity and wonder about what data he collected. So, here I was at this outdoor concert and, running into him, I finally had a chance to ask him about the results. 

Jon told me about how, after that meeting, he looked through all the pages staff had submitted and made several observations.  He told me about one student in particular: one who had no connections with faculty and who later died while still in high school. After this student died, Jon wrote the name of this student on a piece of paper and taped it to his podium to remind him to make a connection every day to one student in his class.  He would connect in a variety of ways–a touch on the shoulder, a greeting, asking them how they are doing anything to show a student that he was there for them.

I often write about connection and the importance of this in the classroom, and it is more important now than ever.  Look around at the youth you see out there in the world. What are they looking at? What is their posture like? How much eye contact are they making?  I have found in my own classroom how important is it to connect to each student. Mr. Lathrop discovered this years ago. He gathered data and made a decision to connect with every student. Every day. 

How many of us do this?  How many teachers make a conscious effort to connect with students each and every day? How come this is not the most important thing we learn in teacher education programs?  And why is this not a key part of every teacher evaluation?

I loved hearing Jon Lathrop’s story.  This is teaching. This is what we do. Thank you, Mr. Lathrop, for this conversation. You should be telling everyone about what you do. The school board should be supporting teachers as they form meaningful connections with students because that is the key to student success.