How to Personalize a Classroom

All attendees at a conference of The National Association of Secondary Principals (NASSP) received the update of “Breaking Ranks (with the status quo) II: Strategies for Leading High School Reform”—the association’s landmark publication. In addition, thanks to a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the publication has been sent to every high school principal in the U.S.A.

The original publication of “Breaking Ranks: Changing An American Institution” included “reducing anonymity” as one of six essential requirements to improve American high schools. Breaking Ranks II reduces essential categories to three touchstones but continues to list the importance of relationships and their importance to learning under “Personalization.”

Here is an easy way to implement personalization—to reduce anonymity—in any grade level and in any subject area: Interview every one of your students.

Even on the secondary level where a teacher may have 150 students per day, 3 minutes can be planned to interview one student each day.

An explicit message in these personal communications is one of recognition—that the teacher wants to know the student. An interview also carries the implicit message that the teacher cares about the student. This simple strategy implements the old adage that the student doesn’t care what the teacher knows until the student knows that the teacher cares.

After making a note on a worksheet, (such as Microsoft’s Excel), you can start categories listing names of students interested  in
and then subgroups to limit the number in each category.

Set the stage by first telling students something about yourself.

Periodically, have students interview one other student whom you suggest based upon some common factor, such as one of the above categories.

Such activities will greatly enhance the possibility that every student will have at least one friend in each classroom.