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This summer, I once again took on the role as coordinator for Camp Power and Camp CLIMB. In this role, I get to oversee multiple sites, and work with both instructors and students: programming and planning with a special emphasis on literacy and math. While I love all aspects of this position, I probably enjoy my time in the classroom the most. It was some classroom experiences which inspired this post.

We Know That Self-Reg Starts With Relationships, But What Do Those Look Like?

Earlier in the summer, I went into one summer camp classroom. Students were writing at the time. I recognized some of the campers from last year, and I started to chat with them as they wrote. I asked one student, “How is the writing going?” Her reply to me was, “Not very well. My writing isn’t very neat.” I responded with, “Writing is about so much more than just printing. It’s about getting ideas down. Do you have ideas to share?” She said, “Yes, but I have dyslexia, so I’m not good at spelling.” I thought for a moment, and asked, “Have you ever used the microphone on the iPad to record your ideas. We could get you an iPad if you want.” She said, “I don’t like using iPads.” I offered up the idea of working in the pod between the classrooms, so she would have a quiet space, but she didn’t want this iPad option. Okay. I remembered something else about this student: she loves to draw, and she is a very gifted artist. I said, “I remember how talented you are at drawing. Have you ever tried sketch noting before? What if you wrote through sketch notes?” She beamed! “I can do that!,” and she started getting her ideas down.

This happened to be a student who was a very reluctant learner last summer. Even just entering the classroom space was hard for her. Relationships got her through the doorway. This learner could, and in the past would, have shut down. Remembering what worked for her and giving her an alternative way to express herself, relieved some of her cognitive stress. The next day, she was actively writing instead of just looking at her notebook.

Relationships Do Not Only Need To Be With Us.

This summer, I spent some time chatting with one of the instructors. He was teaching a class of older students at the camp, and he had wonderful attendance throughout the summer. Students came to camp happily every day and participated in the learning throughout the day. What made the difference? He said that it was the friendships that really helped. This instructor worked hard at creating a positive classroom environment, where every student felt welcomed and included others in both learning opportunities and conversations. None of these students went to school with each other. Every friendship in here was a new one, but prioritizing these relationships, made a big difference socially and academically!

Small Things. Big Impact.

This summer, I also thought about relationships and inclusion. One of the camp groups did some writing and planning around making solar ovens. All of the students happily did the writing as part of the planning process.

Then the instructor shared this news …

A few students spoke about times in the past that they could not participate in cooking or baking activities because of the use of marshmallows that were not Halal. These past experiences, brought at least one student to tears. Imagine the stress at play for this child, and how much stress was reduced when hearing that the marshmallows for this S’mores activity could be enjoyed by everyone.

What Now?

In a couple of weeks, we are heading back to school. We will all have classrooms with new students, new strengths, and new opportunities for growth. These summertime experiences remind me of just how important relationship building will be in the early days of school. It could change a trajectory for a child. What are some ways that you help build relationships with kids and allow students to build relationships with each other? What impact have these choices had on classroom practice and student achievement? This summer I was reminded of how even a small moment can make a big difference.

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