I was working with a Spanish-speaking student, and I thought I was saying his name correctly. But a quick look he gave me during an activity made me pause and think, ‘Is he reacting to how I’m pronouncing his name?’ So I asked directly: ‘Is this how you say your name?’ and he shyly said, ‘No.’ He told me how to pronounce it, and from then on, his whole demeanor in the classroom changed. He became more open and engaged. He started volunteering more answers and sharing details about himself.
I know firsthand how important name pronunciation can be to a student’s experience, having had my own name mispronounced as a young child before I started attending an Arabic-speaking school, and then again when I was in college. Taking time to connect with my students not just about their names, but their identities and learning needs – recognizing moments like that one, that are opportunities for students to share something with me that will make them feel seen, heard and understood in the classroom – that’s so, so important for learning.
I could tell how happy that student was that I had taken the time to connect with him. By bringing those moments of trust and openness into our days together, I can find out more about what learning structures feel most supportive to my students, and I can give them opportunities to engage with new materials in the ways that they learn best.
Even a few months into the year, we can learn about our students, deepen our relationships and build trust that makes the environment in our schools more supportive of their learning.