Featured Community Dec 15

Together for just one year, relationship building is key: an Along school story

At Highview Sixth Grade Center in Middletown, Ohio, school leader Nicole Fisher faces a unique challenge. Students attend Highview for just one year before moving on to their next middle school. Not only do teachers have to build relationships every school year with a new crop of sixth-grade students, but students are largely unfamiliar with each other because they arrive from one of seven different neighborhood elementary schools.

That’s what was on Fisher’s mind when she recently attended ISTELive23, the premier education technology conference held each June. While she didn’t come to Philadelphia with a specific list of tools she wanted to research, when she stopped by Along’s booth, she instantly became intrigued.

“I went in and talked with someone and thought, Along could work for my school,” said Fisher. “It sprung something within me. My kids come in and they don’t know us at all, so we have to build relationships quickly.”

Strengthening school community  

Fisher says that sixth graders in particular are trying to figure out who they are and need to feel connected to their teachers and school community. In addition to being a time of developmental change, students at this age are also finding their friend groups and academic passions.

“They are choosing what kind of person they want to be. Are they going to do the right thing, are they going to be the class clown? You can see a kid change so much from the beginning of the year,” she explained. “You have to have this happen in a positive way or maybe they are going to get in trouble. It’s who they surround themselves with and the respect they have for their teachers, which is why they need to build relationships and trust with them.”

Creating and maintaining strong teacher-student connections doesn’t always come naturally, so Fisher brought Along to Highview’s staff to offer a free solution to help. Since the beginning of this school year, Highview educators ask students a reflection question using Along every Monday during their daily homeroom period known as “Pride.”

“Some teachers can naturally have relationship-building conversations in class,” shared Fisher, “But some people are just not built to do this. They may be earlier in their career or just don’t know how to broach different topics with their students. Along gives them a bank of options to choose from to get to know their students.”

An easy solution for a variety of classrooms 

What Fisher likes about Along is that it allows her teachers to choose pre-vetted questions within the platform that will resonate with their specific classrooms. With some homerooms more boy- or girl-heavy, or some classrooms having different overall needs, Along provides a wealth of weekly questions to ask students. 

Throughout Pride classrooms, both students and teachers have shared that using Along is “easy.” And, some teachers are even exploring how to use Along in their academic classrooms like an exit ticket. 

When thinking about how to approach relationship building at Highview, Fisher said that she went through a “revolution” in her thinking over the past few years. She began by focusing on delivering daily video announcements for staff and students. 

But then, “this year, I was like, it shouldn’t be about me, it should be about the teachers building relationships directly in the classrooms,” she shared. 

And with Along, this new strategy is coming together. “Along is a part of this shift at our school to build relationships every day, in each of our classrooms between teachers and students,” Fisher said. “Each year can feel very different on our campus, depending on the group of kids who are here, and this gives us a way to see how these relationships are going.”

Do you want to share how you’re using Along this school year? Reach out to media@gradientlearning.org, and you could be featured on our blog!

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