Close Opportunity Gaps by Getting to Know Your Students

As schools focus increased attention on student achievement, they often look at aggregate numbers. What percentages of students are reading at the appropriate grade level? How do our students measure up in STEM course achievement? Often, we will break these measures down into specific gender or ethnic groups. Still, each type of aggregate measure leaves the strong possibility for individuals to fall through an opportunity gap.

How can you help alleviate this problem in a building walk? First, and perhaps foremost, you and your teachers must know students not as some part of a larger whole, but as individuals. You can’t tend to opportunity gaps if you don’t understand your children as individuals.

Here are some questions that may help you get to know the students in your school. You can share them with your teachers and fellow administrators or use them yourself.

  • What is the student’s first name? Recognition of students by their first name is the first step in recognizing them as individuals.
  • What is the student’s individual aspirations, hopes, likes, and dislikes? Hint: Asking about favorite places or things to do is a good icebreaker.
  • Is the student prompt to school and regular in attendance?
  • How does the student get to school?
  • Does the student regularly complete homework?
  • Who does the student hang out with at recess or in the lunchroom?
  • What is the student’s favorite subject? Least favorite subject?
  • Have you tried placing the student in a position of responsibility? How did it go?
  • How well does the student read? How well did he or she perform on recent standardized scores? Were those scores an accurate reflection of the student’s ability?
  • What is the student’s family status and background? For example, are his or her parents married or divorced? Blue collar or professional? Incarcerated? Overseas in the military?
  • Do the student’s parents or guardians attend school social functions?
  • How many of the student’s siblings are in your school?
  • Are other extended family members staying in the student’s home?
  • What is the primary language and immigration status of the individuals in the home?
  • What sort of enrichment activities does the student enjoy at home?
  • What sort of technology environment does the student have at home?

Note that each question is focused on an individual. Too often our understanding of students is based on looking at the student body as a whole or a few outstanding achievers. There are a great many students who pass through our schools with little notice. Therein lies the possibility for the opportunity gap to slip by unnoticed.

See more at NorthStar for Principals.

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