Looking and seeing are two different things. (John Paul Caponigro)
Allowing someone the opportunity to be seen and noticed is a gift. When I think about how many times I have quickly glanced around the classroom to “see” that my students are present and what they are working on, I realize that much like learning, many times I have focused only on seeing my students at a literal level. Looking involves glancing, peeking, and doing a simple sweep of what surrounds you. Looking is different from seeing.
When people need glasses, they are only able to look. Truly seeing and noticing becomes incredibly challenging as everything blurs together. Individual objects are unable to be noticed.
I remember what it felt like to wear glasses for the first time. As I stood in the eye doctor’s office and put on the purple frames that I had selected, I realized what I had been missing. When I put my glasses on, I entered a magical world. Everything that blurred together now stood out. My eyesight was sharp, and I noticed everything around me. As a kid, I didn’t necessarily understand that I couldn’t see very well but I knew that something had changed. I was in second grade and needed to be moved really close to the chalkboard to be able to complete the daily work. Fortunately, I had an excellent second-grade teacher who had the idea that I might need glasses. Not only did she see me, but she also noticed me and guided me towards a solution that would change my life.
Being seen by teachers growing up always made a difference. As a rather quiet student in class, it meant a lot when a teacher wrote me a note, referenced something I had done well or encouraged me in a specific area. It was encouraging to feel noticed and recognized in a class of 30 kids. When I was in fifth grade, I remember my teacher Mrs. Avison found me a copy of a book about a gymnast and gave it to me just because. She said she had noticed my Halloween costume and everything I wrote about was related to my dream to become a gymnast. As she presented me with a book she had come across, she said, “I know how much you love gymnastics, and I thought this would be perfect for you when I saw it.” Even Though my gymnastics career had a long way to go, as I was not necessarily on the gymnasts’ plan toward high-level success in the sport, I had a dream, and someone had told me she saw and appreciated my dream.
Throughout my middle school, high school, and college years, I was fortunate to have several teachers notice me. They moved past seeing me as a student in the class who searched for a grade or credit. The best educators found a way to pause and notice who I was, appreciating where I was, using my strengths, and finding a way to guide me to the next level. I was more engaged when I felt seen by the teacher. When it felt like I stood out and was noticed, I was excited, energized, and embraced learning.
On my first day as a student teacher, Mr. Bacon, the educator I was working with, told me that one of my first responsibilities was to see each student. He shared that he had laminated a seating chart and used a dry erase marker to put a dot next to each student as he looked around the room to take attendance. He was passionate about the idea that I needed to see every student every day. I have a feeling Mr. Bacon had a double message here.
At this moment: I realized part of being a teacher was finding a way to see each student every day.
Seeing a Student Involves:
*Noticing when a student does her hair differently or someone gets a haircut.
*Noticing what he or she is interested in and could freely talk about.
*Noticing the student’s strengths and focusing on what he or she does well.
*Noticing when an opportunity to match with a student.
*Noticing when encouragement is needed.
*Noticing and then listening to a song, looking at a piece of art, asking questions about or playing a video game, reading a book he or she recommends, watching the first episode of a series that a student loves.
*Noticing when there is an opportunity to challenge a student.
*Noticing what a student needs, rather than what he or she wants.
*Noticing when a student needs to speak and, I need to listen.
*Noticing when I need to help a student navigate pieces of the school year.
This year I have worked hard to make sure that I see all of my students. While I see them logged into a Google Meet or turning in work on Google Classroom, seeing my students should be focused and intentional. Sending positive messages to students, asking follow-up questions about their writing, and sending postcards home has helped remind me that it is important to focus on every student. Recently, I have started a color code system with a basic attendance sheet. Different colors help to make me aware of who I have really seen and connected with, as well as who I am missing or doing a quick look at.
Today, I strive not only to see each student to take attendance and notice what is happening in the classroom at a literal level, but to really see my students and see the learning unfolding in the classroom. More than ever as people get lost in the virtual world and feel invisible some days, teachers have the opportunity to make them feel noticed and really seen. The benefits that come from seeing students are endless. However, it is definitely challenging and might feel almost impossible some days requiring focus and work to prioritize seeing students. But, I would say, Chase that Impossible!