The Unknown Students
How well do you know your students? How well do you know each student? Many schools use the following activity or something similar as part of professional development.
Step 1: Arrange all the students' names by either year level or in the whole school, depending on size of the school, onto a large wall.
Step 2: Give all of the adults a Post-It note and ask them to stick it next to each student they "know." Knowing can include knowing what sports the students play, what their interests are, or how many brothers and sisters they have—in short, knowing each student as a person.
Step 3: Step back and look at the wall. What do you see?
What typically happens is that there is somewhat of a bell curve represented across the wall. Then there is silence as the adults realize what they are looking at.
- There are 15–25 percent of students that everyone knows. These may be the outgoing, exuberant, or popular students. They may also be the more disruptive students. They are the ones that make themselves heard and seen.
- Then there is a large proportion of the student body that some or many adults know. These may be the students who answer in class, are involved in extracurricular activities, or make themselves known every now and then. This group may be half or more (50–75 percent) of the student body.
- But that leaves another group, sometimes as many as 15–25 percent of students. There is always a group that no one—or close to no one—knows. These are the kids with one or two Post-Its, or even none, next to their names. Staff may know their names, but they don't know "them." They don't know who they really are. More often than not, these kids are the quiet, nondisruptive ones. They don't make noise, cause disruption, or make themselves heard. They may succeed in school or they may be a ghost in the school—no one really knows for sure.
These "unknown" students are the ones we need to make sure have connections with qualified and caring adults. We know from resiliency theory that children need to have a responsible adult they can connect with, turn to, and seek support from. We also know that students succeed more in school with these supports, relationships, and connections. Students perform better, are absent less, and are more likely to graduate. Maybe these students haven't had the need for support yet, but we need to make sure they have supports so when they need them, they're there. A supportive voice of calm or reason can frequently turn what may appear to be a disaster into a discussion. In fact, just knowing that someone cares or is there for you is frequently all that students need.
What most schools do after seeing this bell curve distribution of students is allocate an adult to each unknown student to make a connection, get to know each other, and show the student that he is known and supported by the adult.