Invisible Children

Are there invisible children at your school? A recent series of comments on the Responsive Classroom Facebook page got me thinking again about how many children go through their school days feeling unnoticed and unseen, and about how important it is for all children to feel significant in school.

We asked Responsive Classroom Facebook fans about teachers they would like to thank, and I was struck by how many recalled teachers who, for the first time, “saw” them. They said that before those teachers, they had felt “invisible” at school. But, ten, twenty or even thirty years later, they remembered vividly the teachers who noticed them, made them feel special and valued, and recognized them as worthy people who could contribute to the world.

Then, a chance encounter at the Dallas airport showed me how easily one person can help another overcome feelings of invisibility. I was having one of those days. I’d missed my connection and had seven and a half hours to wait. I had finished the only book I had brought, had already done a few hours of work, and had called everyone I could think of. I was feeling invisible, anonymous, and frustrated in a huge airport, in a huge city, 1,000 miles or so from my home.

I searched for another book at an airport bookstore, but could not find anything that seemed to fit. Then, a friendly store clerk started asking me about my day and dilemma. She asked about the last three books I had read and made some recommendations. The first three were books I had already read. Although I didn’t want them, her selections let me know she had heard what I said and understood my reading taste. We ended up finding a “just right” book for me, and I was on my way back to my ordinarily optimistic, happy self. I think the encounter took about ten minutes of her time, but it made me feel better and not quite so alone.

In “Knowing All Our Students,” Caltha Crowe talked eloquently about the importance of knowing students and gave some great ideas for getting to know them at the beginning of the school year. My airport encounter made me think about how important it is to do this all year long and how much of a difference even very small gestures can make.

Small gestures from teachers can make a similar difference for students. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Recommend a book. One easy place to start is right where the airport clerk helped me. When you come across a book you think a certain student might like, leave it on his or her desk with a little note about why you thought of it for him/her.
  • Make friendly comments or ask questions. Telling a child that you heard he scored a goal in soccer or that you saw her mom in the grocery store takes less than five seconds but immediately makes the child feel known. Asking questions—like “How was your brother’s birthday?” to a student who had shared about that or “Did you see that dog roaming around outside?” to a dog lover—makes students feel that we have paid attention to them and remember things they have said or shared with us.
  • Leave a sticky note or send home a note. Write notes to students on a regular, rotating basis. They don’t need to be long—just a quick noticing or reinforcement of something you’ve seen. “Manuel, I read your story while you were at lunch! Wow, it has a lot of action, and that picture you drew of the main character holding onto the cliff made everything seem so exciting.”
  • Journal with your students. I used to use tiny 3 × 5 spiral notebooks as “conversation journals” with my second graders. (The tiny size fit their developmental desire to write small and kept me from writing too much!) I would write them a brief message, and they would write me back. A typical exchange might look like this—”Dear Ali, Did you get to go the park with Emma the way you wanted? If so, what did you do?” She might write back, “I did get to go the park! We hid on the climbing structure and pretended we were spies.” These journals helped me stay in touch with my students even on days when I didn’t have a chance for much of a personal conversation.
  • Give nonverbal recognition. Smile or wink at a student who is on the right track with an assignment, who has helped a friend, or simply looks up when you do. A quick pat on the back as you walk around or just making friendly eye contact can say, “I see you, and I am glad you are here.”

So, what do you think? Are there students in your room who might not know how much you know about them? How are you going to show them they are not invisible?

Margaret Berry Wilson is the author of several books, including: The Language of Learning, Doing Science in Morning Meeting (co-authored with Lara Webb), Interactive Modeling, and Teasing, Tattling, Defiance & More.


Tags: Building Classroom Community, Encouragement