Thursday, June 2, 2016

"Name Matters"

If you know me, you know I am a fan of Oprah Winfrey. I used to watch The Oprah Winfrey Show daily-ish. What I love is her personal story of resilience, her passion for education and that most of the time she discussed topics that made me think, whether I agreed with her opinion or not.
 My all time favorite discussion was one she had with book club members and the author Toni Morrison. Below is a clip of the discussion that was, as Oprah calls it, an "A-ha" moment for me and something that I've always tried to keep in mind as a school counselor. 

"Does your face light up when a child enters the room?" 
Our students want and need to know that they matter. They want to feel appreciated and validated. When we get into our super busy hectic days at school it can be so easy to respond with short answers not even looking up at who is speaking to us or call out to a student that you'll talk later as you rush away from them down the hall. I often remind myself that it is okay to tell a student we will have to talk later but it's important to stop, look them in the eye and give them those moments where you are focused on them..... 
And to call them by their name!

At my school our faculty reads and discusses the book, Top 20 Teachers written by Paul Bernabei, Tom Cody, Willow Sweeney, Mary Cole and Michael Cole. (Our students also learn and discuss lessons from Top 20 Teens in our advisement program).  One of the biggest and most simple lessons from Top 20 Teachers is "Name Matters." Knowing and using students' names is a simple yet powerful way to make that initial connection with them. It let's them know that they matter. Teachers often do this by using "Four at the door."

Below are a few links about Top 20:
Top 20 Training Page - Top 20 Training
Top 20 Blog: "Showing Students they Matter, matters" - Top 20 Training Blog

I have to confess, as a school counselor, knowing all my students' names is one of those things that I wish was a strength of mine. I know faces but I can struggle with names sometimes.
My first year in middle school, however, knowing one student's name turned out to be a magical moment. That school counseling magic wand of mine is usually out of  power but a name charged it right up that day! 
I had heard this student's name from teachers, administrators and others. In fact, I had heard his name a lot!! And of course, if a student is the topic of conversation that much, it usually is not a positive conversation. I had yet to meet this student as he was not necessarily on my "caseload," but I operate under the notion that they're all my students! 
So... one day in the chaos of afternoon dismissal, I noticed the student in the hallway and he noticed me. With a stern look on his face he gave me a head nod and a "sup?" I simply smiled and said "Hi, C." That simple sentence was like magical fairy dust.  His eyes widened and a beautiful bright smile crossed his face. He put his hand over his heart and so sincerely questioned, "You know my name?" "Of course, I do," I said. 
That moment of knowing his name, making him feel like he matters, and showing him that his presence made someone light up and notice him was that necessary initial connection needed to build a strong relationship with this student. (The fact that his hand covered his heart as he responded to me is not accident. Many times a simple smile and hello is all it takes to touch our students' hearts when they are so in need of love and attention).  Because I noticed him, he we were able to build a relationship where he trusted me and I could help him re-frame negative situations, calm down when angry and explore future opportunities. He often referred to me as his "school auntie," which still makes me smile today.

Because of this I work hard to know my students' names. In those moments where another educator brings up a student's name and I don't know who they are talking about or I see a student in the hall and get stumped on their name, it becomes my 'homework' and I practice using that student's name until I get it!

When I was an elementary school counselor, I used another name strategy when I first met with a student. (I've used it a couple of times in middle school too, when it felt right to use). As school counselors, sometimes the first conversation we have with a student has to be a serious and/or sensitive conversation and we need to build rapport quickly! 
Most students feel more comfortable talking when they are doing something else which is why I have various fidgets and drawing supplies in my office. Most of my elementary schoolers loved to draw when we would meet. So if they drew, I drew. During those first difficult one on one conversations, I would always draw.... their name!  The students would notice their name begin to appear in bubble letters across a blank piece of paper filled with various designs and colors. I often could see their sweet little smiles out of the corner of my eye when they realized it was their name on that paper. As our conversation progressed they would become more comfortable and more open to talk. It made them feel like they mattered; that they were important and a quick initial connection was made all around a name. And for those kiddos with unique names, the fact that you know how to spell their name is a huge bonus!
I always gave them their name pictures as they returned to class and our follow up conversations were more open and in depth as we built on that name connection. 

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