Are You Willing to Be Real to Increase Equity and Access?

Take a moment and read the letter below that I received from a student this year.  

Let that sink in a little bit.  

There is a lot more in that letter than meets the eye.  At first, it seems like a kind letter that a student writes their teacher to thank them for their work this year, but there are a few pivotal points that need to be focused on before we just take it as a letter from a student.  In reality, my student took the time to write a letter to thank me for taking the time to build a meaningful, welcoming relationship.

This year, during our TRC work on equity and access, I have learned the importance of building empathy in the classroom.  Our team developed a research plan to investigate and discover ways that we can, as teachers, increase equity and access in our classrooms while using the CPM curriculum.  The main insight I have discovered is that by being real with my students I can help them learn compassion towards others. By “being real”, I mean that we must be willing to put ourselves out there as people and show them it is okay to be yourself.  Through inquiry, I have learned that I cannot expect my students to have empathy towards other students without teaching them the skills, just as we teach them the math skills!

As I was about to leave over the long Thanksgiving break, I received this letter on my desk.  I had just recently shared a challenging personal story with my students about the “life” that I live outside of the classroom. This letter helps me believe that sharing my story impacted many students.  I received more hugs from students in the last week than I ever had in my life. I had students ask me questions about my life and give me suggestions on how to handle it. If this isn’t teaching compassion and empathy towards others, I’m not sure what is.

I plan on using this as information to help improve the relationships in my class.  I realized how important it is to be real with my students and to help them understand how to treat others.  If students don’t learn how to do it, or how it can be done, we can’t expect it to just magically happen.

Our research team is about increasing equity and access for teamwork, but I really feel one of the biggest components with this is to be real with the students and help them with compassion towards others.   We need to help students develop empathy if we want all students to access the learning and buy into the classroom. They must feel psychologically safe to do this.

The pieces of that letter that are critical:

  1. You make this class feel like home and you make me feel comfortable in this class.
  2. You don’t treat me as a student, you treat me as a person.
  3. Thank you so much for teaching me to be kind, always.

Our students are coming to us with a story… a story that we must get to know and try to understand as we help them along their math journey.  

“Students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

Be real.  Be you.

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