Fostering Student Growth by Making Connections

What a difference a person makes

I’m not sure what I find more tantalizing- the delicious chocolate croissants served at the Butterhorn Bakery in Frisco, CO or is Sally the real reason that Brian and I continue to return to our favorite restaurant weekly? For the past three years, Brian and I look forward to our brunch dates at the rustic log cabin that expectedly has a line out the door. Before we have a chance to grab our seat, we are greeted with a huge smile and hug. Brian and I exchange knowing glances, yes, we like the food, but we came to see Sally.

You may be asking yourself, what does Sally have to do with education? Each week, Sally serves as a reminder, to me, the power that each individual possesses to create an impact. In this era of massive educational overhaul and the implementation of standards based grading, kids- no matter their age- are being tested to a pulp.

What’s best for kids?

Administrators, educators and parents spend endless hours in educational diatribes: smaller classes make a difference, smaller classes don’t make a difference, summer break inhibits learning, summer break develops new learning opportunities, etc. But one variable remains constant- students perform better when they make a personal connection. That’s why an individual tutor, teacher or coach can make a difference in a child’s life.

It’s the difference between being greeted with a smile in the morning or a clorox wipe. It’s the excitement  a student experiences when a mentor can put her own problems on the shelf to be present for a moment and look into a child’s eyes to show how much she cares. The compassion of a person that cares provides a child with a sense of self-worth and importance. The positive experience of that single interaction makes that child far more likely to pass on a simple act of kindness to another person.

Challenges in the classroom with making connections

As a classroom teacher I often struggled when I realized that I was not making connections with my students. I often had to remind myself of the simple life lesson that many of us have told our children: students don’t get to choose their teachers and teachers don’t choose their students. Therefore, as a teacher and a student, it was unrealistic to expect to make that special connection with every kid each time I stepped into the classroom. Despite this realization, I still felt disappointed that I wasn’t the inspiring teacher featured on so many Lifetime movies.Often the demands of  thirty kids amid discipline problems and administrative checklists left me overwhelmed. This feeling of trying to keep my head above water often didn’t give me the chance to be completely effective. My motivation to educate (from Zimbabwe to Summit County) has always been to make a difference. I wanted to inspire, change mindsets, not have kids checking their Facebook accounts during my lessons.

Making Connections- customized learning

That’s why I have found my career shift from the classroom to Sage Tutoring incredibly fulfilling. As a tutor I have time: time to ask questions, time to learn about a child’s likes and dislikes, time to get to know each child. I have the opportunity to generate fun lessons on an individual basis driven by a student’s personal interests.

If your child is struggling in the classroom, my best advice to you is to find somebody, whether it is a coach, tutor, or mentor, that connects with your child.  One-on-one attention is invaluable. I know my money is well spent each time I see Eliza’s face light up for her piano lessons with Carla. The fact Eliza emphatically watches clips from the Sound of Music and draws pictures of deer (doe a deer) for Ms. Carla remind me that learning to play the piano is secondary to the connection that has been made.

Even if your child is not struggling, I cannot emphasize the importance of finding an outlet for your child that inspires and fosters a passion. Chances are, your child will meet a mentor who shares the same interests. Together they can explore the endless opportunities presented by their new connection.

Back to the Butterhorn:

To escape the sideways wind in the midst of another Summit County blizzard, Brian and I take the kids to the Butterhorn for the warmth of a smile. With open arms Sally runs toward Eliza and Owen.  Owen hides behind my legs as Eliza timidly returns Sally’s hug. Despite the crowds and other waiting tables, Sally engages us in conversation. Curiously Eliza steps back to inspect Sally’s long black hair and small brown eyes, boldly asking, “Where are you from?”

Smiling, Sally replies, “Hong Kong.” Eliza shares, “I love you.” Connections can be made anywhere, at anytime. That’s the beauty of the life experience.

Making Connections- Programs Summit County has to Offer:

Sage Tutoring– Robotics classes, creative writing courses, piano lessons

Breckenridge and Silverthorne Recreation Centers: Nordic skiing, ice hockey,

Summit School of Dance:

Dillon Theater Group: