Written by Hannah Beach (March 11, 2020)
In my past two blogs, I have shared about the attachment rituals of collecting (creating a conscious invitation into relationship) and bridging (keeping relationship alive even while disciplining). This blog is about the art of matchmaking and how we can use it to grow a child’s community. Dr. Gordon Neufeld speaks about collecting, bridging and matchmaking as the three basic attachment rituals for priming and preserving relationships.
How does matchmaking work?
Matchmaking works by harnessing the energy from the existing connection a student already has to us to help them build another connection.
For example, imagine that you have a great relationship with a student in your math class. You know this student really wants to try out for the soccer team but doesn’t have enough confidence to go to the tryouts.
You would arrange a time for the soccer coach to connect with you and your student. You would prep your student about the meeting, casually letting him know that you have arranged for him and the coach to meet. You would also have already chatted up the coach a bit, paving the way for the future connection. During the introduction, you would make sure to be very friendly with the coach in front of the student. The student would get to see your warmth and connection with the soccer coach. You would then introduce them to each other, perhaps saying a few nice words about each of them.
Shen, this is Mr. Cohen, he’s the soccer coach I was talking about. He’s an awesome guy. You really couldn’t be in better hands if you do decide to try out.
Mr. Cohen, this is Shen, the student I was telling you about. Shen told me he was thinking of maybe trying out for soccer, and I thought hey, why not introduce two great people to each other. I know Shen had some questions he was hoping to ask you about the tryouts and the team.
As you saw some rapport building, you might leave the rest of the discussion between the two of them, allowing some time and space for comfort to develop for your student.
Matchmaking can help us to build a community of support
We can also matchmake by bringing other teachers or community members into the class and introducing them to our students. Students who are less curious, less driven, more insecure, and who need more support often require matchmaking from us in order to connect with other people or services in the school.
For example, if we know our students would benefit from using the library but won’t go, bringing in the librarian to our class for fifteen minutes so they can meet and connect through us can help a lot. The same applies to other services in our schools: we can bring in teachers from the drama clubs, the counselling departments, sports teams, and so on.
Students most likely know these programs exist, but for students who are not yet filled with initiative or who require more emotional safety to try new things, these personal connections can make all the difference for them to develop the comfort to use them.
When we can’t do the matchmaking in person
Sometimes in-person meetings are not possible, but that does not mean that we can’t matchmake. In fact, when I was teaching, I did this all the time for my students. The strategy you adopt will depend on the age of the student as well as their developmental readiness, but even warmly talking about the person we are trying to connect the student to can help build connection.
Shen, Mr. Cohen is such a great coach. I know you will like him. I’ve told him about you and he’s hoping you will drop in at lunch to meet him. I know you are feeling a bit nervous, but trust me, you’ll be in good hands. Mr. Cohen and I play hockey together on Tuesday nights and he’s a good guy.
In the above scenarios, it would be important to connect with the teacher before they meet your student. That way they know the student is coming and can build upon the introduction. “Oh, great, Shen, yes, I was looking forward to meeting you. Mr. Sonier told me about you!”
Matchmaking with substitute teachers
As many of us know first-hand, supply teaching has to be one of the most challenging ways to teach. Since relationship is the context in which kids learn, supply teachers can be at a loss.
Understanding this, many schools are shifting how they use occasional teachers. Schools now often have the students’ usual teacher matchmake their students to the supply teacher. Keeping in mind the importance of relationship in learning, some schools now introduce the substitute teachers at the beginning of the year and try to consistently use the same replacement teacher.
However, that’s not possible for many schools. In these cases, I have heard from some teachers that they leave a letter for their students in the file for the teacher replacing them. This is a letter of introduction that the substitute teacher reads out loud to the class. What’s important is that the letter matchmakes on both sides. The teacher would, of course, make the letter age appropriate and relevant to the specific scenario as well.
The letter might be something along the lines of:
Dear class, sorry I am away. Ugh. I am sick. I have asked Mr. Singh to come in while I am away. He is a good teacher (ask him to show you his crazy spelling game!). He will take care of you until I’m back. I look forward to seeing you soon.
Dear Mr. Singh, thanks for coming in; you are lucky as you get to teach my awesome class. You will be in good hands as these students are very welcoming and hard-working. Ask them to show you the timeline they just made. I think you’ll find it interesting.
Although letters like these don’t replace the teacher, nor do they instantly create a trusting relationship, they can go a long way in helping the students connect to this new person they have for the day. The supply teacher will still need to do the work of collecting them, but you will have laid some groundwork as the teacher who is in relationship with the students.
Relationship is an incredible thing, and it’s amazing to see how our students’ connection to us can help us to build a community for them. And when our students have a community, or a “village,” so to speak, their network of support is larger. This village offers them more support and adult guidance, which they can lean on as they grow. It also helps us, as then we have a community within which we can support our students’ growth as well as address any behavioural challenges that may arise.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on how you matchmake your students to others in your learning community or the community at large! Bring back the village!
Hannah Beach is an award-winning educator, author, and keynote speaker. She was recognized by the Canadian Human Rights Commission in 2017 as one of five featured change-makers in Canada. She is the co-author of Reclaiming Our Students: Why Children Are More Anxious, Aggressive, and Shut Down Than Ever—And What We Can Do About It (released April 2020). She delivers professional development services across the country and provides emotional health consulting to schools.
Find her online at https://hannahbeach.ca