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Loving a Student Holistically

brea porter 2

By Brea Porter

September 28, 2022

Growing up as a young brown girl in a classroom full of white counterparts and white teachers taught me at an early age that I was different, but that being “different” didn’t have to be a bad thing. While I did not share the racial, or socioeconomic identities of my peers or teachers, I am grateful for the ways that they welcomed, and celebrated my differences. From an early age, I trusted the adults in my school building because they created spaces where I felt safe to be authentically me. Those feelings of safety and trust allowed me the opportunity to be vulnerable, make mistakes, and come back the next day to try again. I experienced a cohesion of supports from my school, friends, and family that allowed me to focus on my academics. I was cared for beyond my single identity as a student, I was loved for being Brea.

During my first year of teaching, I was excited to share this gift of unconditional love with each of my students, but I first had to learn that loving a student holistically looks different for each child. For some students, it was showing interest in learning about their culture, for other students, it was knowing what they need to express themselves when their emotions feel overwhelming. Children will always tell us what they need if we take the time to listen carefully. I will never forget one of my first students, Thomas, who gave me a run for my money Every. Single. Day. Thomas and I butted heads for a full semester before we spent recess together one day, and I had an epiphany: I was so frustrated with Thomas for not fitting the mold of what I thought a student should be, that I hadn’t taken any time to learn about Thomas as a young person, or about what beliefs he held about school, or about me. My experience with Thomas reminded me why I started teaching in the first place – To provide all children unconditional love, and the skills and opportunities necessary to be curious and confident learners.

When I started to check my own assumptions about students and create safe spaces for them to authentically share their experiences with me, and their peers, our classroom community began to connect on a human level. In partnership with students and their families, I finally had the data I needed to build a system of intentional and cohesive supports for each individual child. With each student equipped with the supports they needed, our growth data began to soar.

When we seek to truly understand the students that we are aiming to serve beyond their single identity as a student, we begin to care for the whole child. To achieve the rapid academic growth required for the children of Indianapolis to reach levels of proficiency in all school buildings, it is imperative that we work in partnership with both students and families. Imagine the outcomes that are possible if our students can learn in school buildings where their full selves are loved, supported, and celebrated. To those of you who are working in classrooms or are classroom-adjacent, I ask you, what could connection do for you, and your students this year?