It started with a simple tweet. Kyle Schwartz tweeted a student’s response to the prompt “I wish my teacher knew ____.” The heart-wrenching response: “I don’t have pencils at home to do my homework.” Before long, #IWishMyTeacherKnew was trending across social media as teachers around the world began using the prompt. We spoke with the third-grade teacher about the impetus behind the lesson and her work with children in a high-poverty school.

The Basics

School: Doull Elementary in Denver

Career path: Schwartz spent a year as an AmeriCorps member working at an education nonprofit in Washington, D.C. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts and professional communication, she moved to Chile to work on English Opens Doors, a joint project of the Chilean Ministry of Education and the United Nations. Schwartz returned to her hometown of Denver to become a teacher resident while completing a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction.

Teaching Philosophy: “Teach the student, not the subject.”

Cool Project

I Wish My Teacher Knew: Schwartz’s lesson is a great way to kick off the school year. Write “I wish my teacher knew ____” on the board. “Tell students a little bit about yourself and why you want to learn about them,” Schwartz advises. Pass out note cards for students to write their responses. Allow them to remain anonymous, if they’d like. Then, gather as a class and invite students to share their notes.

Why do you think this lesson is so important? “There’s something really powerful about inviting students to share their voices and letting them choose what’s important about themselves to share. Instead of making assumptions about what kids are going through or what we think must be the most challenging thing for them, let them tell you.”

Three More Relationship-Building Activities

  1. Compliment Circle: “The kids sit in a circle and give a compliment to the person on their right. Kids love hearing those things from their peers.”
  2. Call-and-Response: “I’ll say, ‘Never give up,’ and the kids will say, ‘Never surrender.’ It’s a simple way to build community.”
  3. Meet Them Where They Are: “I offer to go to [houses of worship] with them. That has been a wonderful way to spend time with students at something they feel is very important.”

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Photo: Courtesy of Kyle Schwartz