The Reflection Pool

Where Everyone Knows Your Name

Way back near the beginning of my teaching career, I worked at a middle school with a teacher who was in his last few years of education.  He called every girl in his classes “Susie”, and every boy, “George”. Yup. True story. (There were some exceptions for those students who stood out, either for good or bad reasons.)Hand Names

At the time, I laughed a little about it, but I also couldn’t get over how disrespectful it was. That was not a teacher who knew his students.

Fortunately, that is not true for the vast majority of teachers out there. They learn every student’s name by the end of the first week of school. When I talk with educators, not only can I see how much they care about their students, but also how much they know about them.  Educators carry a tremendous amount of information about their students in their head. They glean it from classroom and hallway observations, conversations and student work. As a teacher, I learned to take my class lists and go through each name one by one, reflecting on what I knew about them. If I came to a name that stumped me a little, I made a mental note to talk with that student, to spend time in class with them, and to really examine their work to find out their strengths and needs. It was a great strategy that I have transferred to my current role.

Our district‘s Strategic Directions use Knowing Our Students, Knowing Our Staff and Knowing Our Parents/Community as foundational pieces for the work we do. We can only teach better, learn better and serve better when we know more about them.

It’s really important for me to know the principals and vice principals I work with. As Steven Katz would say, they are my “class”. First, if I see someone at a meeting who I don’t recognize, I like to go right up and introduce myself. It’s bold, but also a wonderful way to learn names. I also start from an asset not a deficit lens and try to listen carefully to what they say, noting both verbal and nonverbal messages. I reflect on my school visits and conversations with them. I want to celebrate their successes and support them with challenges. This is definitely a work in progress since I always have room for improvement.

How do you get to to know your students, your staff or your parents/community better? Let’s share strategies!

8 thoughts on “Where Everyone Knows Your Name

  1. Sue, your post is making me feel a little bit guilty (not intentionally, but guilty nonetheless). Please don’t get me wrong: I know my students and I’ve been dedicated to really trying to know them well. I was determined to know all of their names by the end of the first day of school, and even though my class has changed a lot in two weeks (with new kids coming and others leaving), I’ve still been able to keep these names in my head. As I work more one-on-one and in small groups with them, I know them better, and talking to their parents, I’m thankful to learn even more about them.

    But then there’s the new staff. With switching schools this year and not having a PA Day to meet with the staff made it much harder to get to know everyone. Please don’t get me wrong: I’m not making excuses. I’ve just come to realize that this is just the case. I’ll admit that I have a little trick I’ve been using lately. The staff members keep on introducing themselves to me, but out of context, I’ve been terrible at remembering all of their names. I hate having to ask again, so I’ve been figuring out the grades and class numbers, and using the school website to trigger my memory. Now only the last names are on the school website, so I have to use the email list in conjunction with this to help with the names. At the staff meeting today, I tried to keep track of who teaches what grade, and I tried to commit a few more names to memory. We’ll see how I do tomorrow.

    I’m thinking that I might need to “get brave” though, and start talking to even more people in the staffroom. I do go down there, and I do sit down and listen to lots of people, but engaging in small talk is not a strength of mine. Your post is making me believe that I’m going to have to get a bit uncomfortable and give this a try. Let’s see how it goes! Thanks for giving me a little push — even if you didn’t realize it! 🙂


    1. Never my intention to make you feel guilty, Aviva! Once again, thank you for taking the time to reply. Connecting with people you don’t know can be a little scary at first. As an introvert, I have trained myself how to behave in large groups, which has helped give me confidence. Maybe that might be true for you too?

      1. Thanks Sue! I think that this is definitely true for me too. I almost find that I’m giving myself an “in your head” pep talk before engaging in unstructured, large group social situations. I don’t know if this is how you train yourself, but if you have any other ideas, please let me know. It’s nice to know that I’m not alone! 🙂 And I would have never guessed that you’re an introvert too, so obviously you’ve trained yourself well. Thanks for sharing such a thoughtful post, and while it did make me feel a bit guilty, that was definitely in a good way (and may help me step out of my comfort zone). 🙂


        1. As I read Aviva’s reflections on your post, Sue, it makes me think about strategies administrators can put in place to be the facilitators of these introductions, perhaps through the use of technology, when we aren’t presented with an initial face to face opportunity.

          1. Susan, I’d be curious to hear about some of these ideas! I will say that my principal and vice principal wrote an email where all of the staff were “introduced” to each other. The staff has also been very welcoming and helpful (in more ways than I can count), but the social interactions always seem to be quick ones. I think that I really need to look at ways to make more “real” connections with the staff. Sue’s post gave me the “nudge” to do so, and as I reflected in my own blog post last night, things are starting to come together:


  2. As I read your post I immediately thought of Lawrence Hill’s novel, re-named for some markets, “Someone Knows My Name”. As Aminata moved through the bowels of a slave ship she kept fellow passengers alive by greeting them by name. Powerful. It is always an initial personal goal to learn the names of our new students as quickly as possible. To see their faces light up when they hear their name is…priceless!

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