Right now, there are invisible people in your school.
No, not some sort of ghosts like those who haunt people in books and movies; in your school are students who are “invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see” them for who they are (not unlike the unnamed narrator in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man whose self-description is quoted here).
They’re largely unnoticed, many are compliant, and all are disconnected. Some of them think this is the only way they’ll ever experience school; after all, they missed the welcome to high school orientation, they’re not sure who to talk to about sports or clubs, and their older siblings preceded them in living the invisible high school life (maybe graduating, maybe not). So why expect anything different?
They’re in more of our classrooms than we’d guess, even in unlikely places–places where lots of people are, where people look like everything is ok, where school doesn’t seem to be a struggle, where students live in poverty or affluence or alone or in fear.
But do we even know who they are?
At your school, do you know who is involved and who isn’t? Could you put pen to paper and create a list of who is connected to this sport, that teacher, this club, or that group? Do you know how students would answer the question, “Who are your people?” on your campus? It’s time we look into how we ensure that we’re reaching out to all students who are part of our campuses.
You’d be hard pressed to find an educator who would argue against the positive benefits of relationships; however, if we really believe that relationships impact student success, that belonging at school is prerequisite for many students’ belief in their own ability to attain success, we need to take action on their behalf.
Look at the students who were new to your campus this year. Who struggled? Who continues to struggle to meet academic and behavior expectations after spring break? What needs to change in your models and instruction as you teach students to expect better of themselves on your campus?
As you think through those questions, consider what the best ways to prepare students who are new to your campus to meet your expectations next fall. What have you done so far to know who your struggling students are likely to be in the group who will be new to your campus next year? What are their greatest needs? How do you know? What will you do to connect them to something positive in your school community?
Whatever your response to those questions, resist the easy path of believing the rumors about that next group. Instead, determine their gaps and find a great way to teach them expectations and engage them as part of your school community.
On my campus, we’re brainstorming options for a number of different populations among our incoming 9th graders. We’re talking about how to serve students who continue to struggle academically with minimal attendance and discipline issues interfering with their school work. We’re talking about how to serve students who might have large gaps in understanding our behavior expectations at our school. We’re talking about how to intervene before high school even begins in order to establish positive relationships while providing a taste of academic success for students who have traditionally struggled.
Though we have experienced success with several new initiatives this school year, I’m thrilled that our success this year is driving conversations toward helping more next year. If you’re reading this with the successful programs you have in place in mind as justification for not starting new conversations to help those invisible students on your campus, you’ve missed it.
What will you do different next year to help these invisible students?
Yes, right now, there are invisible people in your school community. They’re in mine, too. We’re actively looking for them and learning along the way. You should, too.