‘Each student is treated with the ultimate respect’

Michael Wilson

The Department of Public Education ConnectEd newsletter this week features Wisconsin’s Teachers of the Year, including Michael Wilson, a school counselor at St. Croix Falls High School, a member of WEAC Region 1, and Wisconsin’s 2019 Special Services Teacher of the Year.

In a column describing his approach to teaching, which boils down to treating each student with the ultimate respect, Wilson writes:

All students All of the Time: Michael Wilson

Throughout my years in education, I have seen a strong transformation from what used to be a cookie-cutter approach with students to more individualized focus and attention. It is clear that our students have more individual needs and our teachers are working to meet those needs.

As a school counselor and dean of students in a small school in a rural town in northwest Wisconsin, I have the unique opportunity to know every single one of our high school students. Each fall I make a point to interview our freshmen, one by one. I want to get to know them, their families, their hobbies and interests, and their needs. I also want them to know who I am and explain that I am their personal assistant in high school.

In education, the word equity can be interpreted as very complicated for some. My vision of equity in schools is a simple definition: All students, all of the time. As I work day to day with my students, I keep the thought process simple. It doesn’t matter who they are, what they look like, or where they came from, each student is treated with the ultimate respect and offered opportunities they need so they can reach their highest potential, goals, and dreams. The kid in cowboy boots who milks cows in the morning before school needs the same attention and guidance offered as the kid wearing flip-flops and cargo shorts, whose parents are both doctors.

Intentional conversations create intentional relationships. Talking with students and asking about their day, their weekend, or quite simply asking them how they are doing naturally creates positive, mutual, respectful relationships. Asking the right questions opens up many social and emotional doors. Educators not only can but should ask personal questions and build strong bonds with their students.

A two-way trusting relationship creates a safe environment for learning and growing. I have had conversations with students on topics ranging from hunting to fishing to horseback riding to reading. I ask students about things like their most recent athletic contest or what their parents do or about their new car. Students love to know we care. As educators, we hold a powerful position in influencing our students and a trust-based, two-way teacher-student relationship is essential. All students deserve this level of care and concern all of the time.

My advice to teachers, veterans or rookies, is to speak with every kid with an open and honest approach. Students who are struggling need to be asked if they are struggling. Students who are not doing well need to be asked why. Students who have great successes should be celebrated. Students with depression or suicidal thoughts need to be asked directly about them. Our kids need to know that we genuinely care and are there for them, as a whole child.

Ask questions, share stories, and let these kids know you are not only a teacher but a human being. Imagine being a student in a school where you know your teachers genuinely care about you as a person. Imagine how motivated you might be to learn. Imagine how strong you would feel about not letting these caring, trusted adults down. All students deserve our honest and natural attention, all of the time.