Being a Champion

In the first week of my teacher training, I was shown Rita Pierson’s ‘Every kid needs a champion’ TED talk. I’m not someone who feels that teaching is my vocation or calling, for me it is a profession. But it’s a profession where we are in a privileged position to work with future generations, and listening to that particular TED talk certainly motivated me to want to champion my students whenever I could.  

Being a champion for your students will look different depending on your school’s culture, context, environment, and students. When I was in my home country, championing my students included providing stable structure to their day, being firm but fair, and making learning environments disruption free. When I moved  internationally, I soon realised that expectations were different. Parental expectation increased due to the financial investment parents had put into their child’s education. But also external stakeholders, such as the for-profit businesses running schools, implemented their own policies and procedures. In that space, championing the students became about keeping the students at the centre of everything we did. After all, it was still first and foremost a school, a place for young people to learn and grow. Now, in my current location, championing my students is centred around student voice and helping them develop agency, but also being truthful with them and ensuring they are accountable for their own learning, in a culture that often lacks structure and high expectations. 

The way I have had to adapt in my own mind, what being a champion for my students looks like, has been challenging for me as an educator, and it’s fair to say my entire educational philosophy has shifted as a result. One thing has remained constant though, no matter what country or school I am teaching in: building strong, positive relationships.

Kids are amazingly quick at picking up when an adult is being inauthentic. They know who cares, and who is there for the right reasons. Taking the time to get to know students at the start of the year and then solidifying and building those relationships throughout the year has always helped me tremendously, especially when I find myself in schools lacking in structures and support. This can be as simple as asking students about their weekends, or finding out their favourite subjects, hobbies, colours or food. Remembering these details and bringing them up at a later date. Or using them to find common ground, or even making links to what you are teaching. But it can also be finding who struggles with deadlines and needs extra reminders or extensions, who will start to lose focus so could do with 5 minutes of your time in class to keep them on track, who is exceptionally quiet but produces deeply analytical pieces of work and loves to discuss one-to-one but isn’t ready to share their thoughts in front of everyone. 

Building relationships with your students forms the bedrock of everything you do in your learning environment. There are times when a lesson I’ve prepared just isn’t going to plan. The relationships I have with my classes allows me to put my hands up, be honest with them and say I got it wrong. It’s so important that our students see that we are human, that we’re not infallible, and that making mistakes is part of learning. I can try new things in lessons and ask for their feedback at the end. I trust and value what my students have to say, and when I seek their input, hopefully they know it’s genuine. 

But the relationships I have also means I can call them out occasionally, yes they’re teenagers, and they’re still learning and developing socially, emotionally and cognitively. But that doesn’t mean that they all get a free ride for absolutely any behaviour. Our job is to teach these young people, and get them ready for the world they’re going to play a big part in. We can play a small part in that preparation by forming solid relationships that last across their time in our schools, and hopefully well beyond. 

This microblog post was a featured post in #slowchathealth’s #microblogmonth event. You can search for all of the featured posts here. Please do follow each of the outstanding contributors on social media (including Vickie Merrick, the author of this post) and consider writing a microblog post of your own to be shared with the global audience of

Pair this blog post with the following:

Meeting Them (Almost) Where They’re At by Michelle Ireland

Finding Their Swish by Judy LoBianco

Different Ways from a “Different” Teacher by Heather Burd

Have you read the latest Book of the Month recommendation?

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