I spend a lot of time in classrooms these days. Part of my work is “coaching,” which is edubabble for watching teachers teach, thinking about what they’re doing and how it relates to Critical Skills or Differentiated Instruction or whatever, and then asking questions designed to help deepen their understanding of what they’re trying to do. The goal is to improve classroom practice, (which it does) but I’m always struck by how much I learn when I’m not trying to do something and I allow myself to just sit there.
Today, I’m struck by the simple, elegant power of a name. When I sat down, the student next to me introduced himself (His name is Max, by the way) and asked me my name. The teacher I’m observing is using kids’ names over and over and over. It’s not so much about whether or not he knows them (which of course he does) but that he uses them. From the moment kids started walking into this room, he’s called them each by name in tones of voice ranging from teasing to commanding to correcting.
Names are obviously a big deal here.
It makes sense though, when you think of it. What we most want, all of us, is to be known and recognized. We want to know that, should we fail to appear one day, someone will come to look for us- will call for us until we emerge. What greater gift can we give to our students, in this day of digital over-disclosure and false intimacy, than to look into their faces and use their names, letting them know that we see them, that we know them, that we’d miss them should they not arrive.
This is the essence of community building, isn’t it? It all begins with knowledge, with knowing one another well, as the foundation for shared academic risk-taking. And that, my friends, begins with just one thing: Remembering the names.