You may have read or heard about Greg Mortensen’s book Three Cups of Tea, about his work building schools in rural Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The title comes from the idea that the first time
two share a cup of tea they are strangers, at the second cup of tea they
are friends, and at the third cup of tea they are family.
I have often thought of this philosophy as I attempt to build positive relationships with students. I have altered the philosophy only slightly, and I call mine “Three Slices of Mediocre Pizza.”
There aren’t many times built into our day to have effective one-to-one meetings with students. Too
often, these conferences come out of necessity after the relationship
has already suffered or soured. So as the year begins, I map out a plan to have lunch with students regularly in my classroom. I begin by inviting the students whom I have been warned about as having potentially challenging behaviors.
Just as I want to have my first phone call with a parent to be
positive, I want my initial intimate interaction with a student to be
positive as well.
The main goal of the first lunch is to simply get to know the student on a more personal level.
A simple give-and-take conversation is all that is required, though I
might spice things up by playing games, listening to music, or bringing
in a treat. All of those bells and whistles assure the student that this is not a negative meeting. It takes time away from my planning or checking my e-mail, but it is pretty fun and usually pays off as the beginning of a relationship with the student, something we both can benefit from.
Once that first slice of “mediocre pizza” has been devoured (in truth, I usually just stick with my sandwich and yogurt), the second meeting can be used as a social conference where we address a specific issue that the student or I am concerned about. And the third meeting is when we may begin to dig deeper
into a more serious problem, though not necessarily. The key is that
the groundwork has been set and a lunch is rarely awkwardly silent.
To preserve some time, if students don’t seem to require a one-to-one meeting, I may meet with a group of two or three students.
The trouble is that there are usually students who LOVE this (it gets
them away from the cafeteria) and ask to do it again and again. This
year I have been a bit of a pushover and am lunching with certain
students repeatedly, while more needy (but less pushy) students have not
gotten enough attention. I need to work on that.
If your schedule permits, dedicating a few lunch periods to student
meetings is a beneficial use of time. Whether you actually eat the pizza
is entirely up to you!
Eric Charlesworth is a sixth-grade mathematics teacher and
advisor at Paul Cuffee Charter School in Providence, Rhode Island.
Recently, he obtained principal certification. He has practiced the Developmental Designs approach in middle school for eight years.
Posted January 2014