Positive connections between students, teachers, administrators, and school community lead to academic success and a balanced education. To reach their potential, it is integral that children connect to at least one person in their school community. This connection needs to exist within a safe and stable environment, providing opportunities for these relationships to strengthen and grow. The middle level leader plays a key role in fostering these important components of success.School communities need to gain a firm grasp on how well they really know their students in order to effectively connect with and eventually educate them. An activity called “Do You See Me?” (also known as the “Dot Activity”) provides leaders with a chance to measure not only how many students connect with educators in the school, but also how many staff members each student might see as a resource or support. “Do You See Me” is best done toward the end of the first quarter which gives staff time to get to know their students.
To prepare for this activity, we take the student pictures provided digitally by our school photographers at picture day and print out a copy of each student. We fit two 5×7 images on one standard letter-size paper, tape all of the pages onto paper, and hang them in a large area like a gymnasium or library. From there, faculty and staff are given a variety pack of small “dot” stickers and follow these directions:
Part One: 20–30 minutes
- Walk one lap around the entire area, viewing the pictures of all the students.
- Walk a second lap and begin placing stickers on the pictures of students with these guidelines:
- Place a blue dot sticker on a student’s picture if you know their first or last name.
- Place a yellow dot sticker if you know at least one school-related fact about the child.
- Place a green dot sticker on a student’s picture if you know one non-school-related fact about them (hobby, vacation location, favorite sports team, etc.).
- Place a red dot sticker on a student’s picture if you had a one-on-one conversation with them about something not related to school.
Part Two: 10–20 minutes
- Allow a short break after the second lap.
- Teachers should then take a third lap, relooking at all the pictures and stickers.
- Ask them to make silent observations about the completed student pictures along with observations about the students they personally knew, didn’t know, or only knew particular information about.
Part Three: 5–10 minutes
- Staff will then independently complete a survey (can be electronic, written, or non-written) asking for the following information:
- Approximately what percentage of the student body did you “know” something about?
- How many stickers did you place on the students who you teach in class? Which color stickers did you use for them?
- How many stickers did you place on students who you do not teach in your class(es)? What color stickers did you use for them?
- How did you feel after placing your stickers on student pictures after the second lap?
- How did you feel when you were walking around looking at the stickers on student pages during the third lap?
Teachers will likely come up with some powerful reflections during the survey portion of the activity. If you were able to conduct the survey electronically, you can monitor the comments and use it in the “Discussion Phase” of the activity. Here are some actual comments from prior teacher surveys:
- I felt bad when a kid didn’t have many stickers, or only yellow stickers. I was thinking about how to improve my percentage of “red”, so I could make time to have more personal conversations with kids. I also noticed that the kids with the most stickers were IEP students, students with behavior issues, or students with outgoing personalities.
- I was amazed at the distribution of stickers. Some of the students that I thought would be well known turned out to have very few; the converse is equally true. I was surprised that the least-stickered students were also the students who would be considered “not a problem, not a star.” They didn’t stand out for good reasons or for academic reasons and exist under the radar.
- It was sad to see some students with only a few stickers or no stickers at all. As a parent, it made me realize that I would want my own children’s teachers to spend the time to get to know them.
After completing the survey, conduct a group discussion with your staff (whole or small group depending on the size of your staff). Use a protocol for the discussion to make sure that everyone has an opportunity to have a voice in the conversation. Some examples of effective discussion protocols include Affinity Mapping, Final Word Protocol, Four Corners, Pinwheel Discussions, and Socratic Seminars. This is an opportunity to focus the conversation on your building goals, vision, or specific issues you are facing at your school. Some guiding questions for these discussions may include:
- If you saw a student picture with only one sticker, why is that sticker important?
- What characteristics did you notice of students with no stickers, one sticker, or only a few stickers?
- What characteristics did you notice of students with many stickers?
- Is it more important to focus on students with many blue or yellow stickers, but few green and red stickers?
- What should we do about students with no stickers?
Some specific examples of comments made during this portion of the activity are below:
- That student may not feel connected to school and that sticker could represent the strongest staff relationship in their life.
- That may be a student who could’ve “fallen through the cracks” or does not have many supports in their life. That one sticker may be the one smile per day that that child sees at school and brings them comfort.
- What can you do about students with no stickers?
Close the discussion activity with the following question:
- What’s the most important thing you can do as a middle level teacher to make sure your students are being seen?
- Here are some real-life examples from our middle school staff who answered this question:
- I think that standing in the hallway between classes is essential. There are times when I get busy and don’t do it, however, when I am out there, I always try to say good morning or good afternoon and use the student’s name. I find that these are the times when they would be likely to tell me something about themselves that is silly or non-academic.
- Continue to communicate as a staff with one another to make sure no child falls into the shadows. Additionally, extracurriculars are the best way for me to get to know kids that my role at school simply would not allow.
- Just because a student had a lot of stickers, doesn’t mean we’re making a big change/difference with them. There are kids with a few stickers that we are making a big difference with at school. This activity really highlights the importance of personal connections our students need to make with their teachers, coaches, etc.
After the activity ends, be sure to follow up in the coming days and months. Consider having your guidance counselor(s) collect the student papers that had very few stickers or more superficial stickers. Identify ways to support the students who need more of a connection in your school. Look for commonalities between the students with lots of stickers. Do they have any similar characteristics that could translate into skills to teach less-connected students?
In the final analysis, there is no right or wrong way to go about performing “Do You See Me?” As long as the building community has the opportunity to reflect on the relationships they have with students in the building, it’s guaranteed to be a successful exercise. All students need to know that they are more than grades on a report card, more than a discipline form. They need to know they matter.
How does your school measure student connections with staff?
Nicholas Indeglio, EdD, is the principal of Downingtown Middle School in Downingtown, PA. He is the 2017 Digital Principal of the Year. Follow him on Twitter @DrIndeglio.
Jonathan Ross is the principal of Lionville Middle School in Exton, PA. He is a 2009 National Distinguished Principal. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanG_Ross.