We've had a great start to the school year here in the Avery Coonley French department. I came back from the summer feeling energized and inspired by many takeaways from the NNELL Summer Institute. It was an amazing PD experience for early language teachers—two days of great presentations and stimulating conversations. If you have a chance to attend, please do!
In the keynote address, Julie Speno of Mundo de Pepito talked of the difficult places many of our young students are coming from, and how we really need to support them. She encouraged us to be the “SAFE classroom, the KIND classroom, the CALM classroom, the WONDROUS classroom, and the classroom of HIGH EXPECTATIONS.” I thought these were great goals, and it made me reflect on what kind of space my classroom is—are students experiencing all of these things? Later, we heard from Caleb Howard (senorhoward.com), and he shared this very touching video with us, which was a reminder of the inherent worth of each child.
(I was also very inspired by going to see “Won’t you be my Neighbor?”, a wonderful documentary about Fred Rogers, and it was yet another reminder of how special and important each child is. Please see this film if you haven’t already!)
These encouraging and important messages stayed with me, especially the idea of being the KIND classroom, and I was thinking a lot about how to make each student feel seen and heard and special. We are committed to teaching all of my classes in the target language, and sometimes it has been a bit of a cop-out for me to accept having a more superficial relationship. After all, we are limited by how we can connect because of the “language barrier.” I know we sacrifice some depth in our relationships in refraining from speaking English, but a lot can be communicated nonetheless—especially the message that I care about each child. That kind of communication is usually non-verbal, after all. We can show these students that they are special without speaking at all.
One thing that I have been really intentional about this year is meeting my students at the door, making eye contact with each one, and greeting them individually in French. I wait in the door way as they leave and make sure I say goodbye to each one as well. This may seem like a small thing, and I certainly did it sometimes in the past, but it really sets the tone for connection with the students and it is a good discipline for me.
Another thing we did at the beginning of the year was make laminated name cards for all of our classes. They have been awesome for helping learn kids’ names and use them regularly (especially their French names in middle school!), and it’s helping us be intentional about including every student. (As a side note, they have been great for classroom management, see this post for more ideas on how to use them.) Denise says she often goes through all of the cards at the beginning of class, asking each student how they are doing in French. She makes sure that everyone in the class is listening, modeling that respect for each student. This way, she is making sure that she has at least one interaction with every student during every class.
What do you do to make each student feel special?