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A time to connect, reflect and ‘be a family’

New daily class aims to enrich learning, bond students and teachers

As middle school teacher Susan Trotter walked around her classroom on a recent Friday, the group discussion focused on what it meant to participate in school Homecoming activities.

Some students said it shows that you care if you participate. Others said it shows you support and like your school, especially in the eyes of a visiting parent who might want her kids to attend.

Finally, Trotter asked for the secret word she was looking for that described it best. One student yelled out, “Pride!” Replied Trotter, “Yes, pride. You get a double high-five for that!”

This is Connect, a new, daily class in which students spend 18 minutes focusing on their learning process, goals, life skills and discussing specific topics — like Homecoming.

Sixth grader Grace D’Orazio looked forward to staying with her Connect class throughout middle school, as all students do. 

“We will really connect with each other and be a family,” said Grace, who likes to play softball and volleyball.

Susan Trotter’s Connect class discusses school spirit on one of its Friday group discussion days

‘Connecting with Kids’ Daily

Trotter, an eighth grade social studies teacher, also likes the idea of remaining with the same group of students for three years.

“The goal is to check in with each individual student on these days to make sure they know what to do to be successful for the week,” Trotter said of the class founded this year at Kenowa Hills. “Our number one goal is to connect with our kids. It’s 18 minutes where we can slow down and have a relationship with them.”

Said student Brooklyn Bierema, “I think it’s helped me and my classmates make new friends and understand what’s going on in the school.” Added Ja’ Keyvion Brown, “It helps you to find easier ways to do things; they give you advice.”

Trotter, a Connect class planning team member, said students like the fact they have one adult to go to, and teachers like that they are given time to build relationships.

Connect class planning team member Susan Trotter talks to her sixth grade students, as part of the daily 18-minute class to help improve the learning culture

Deeper Relationships, Better Thinking

Erica Kochaney, a middle school instructional coach and Connect class planning team member, said the reasoning behind its creation is threefold:

  • to build deeper relationships between students and teachers, and between students and other students;
  • to teach life and learning skills;
  • to positively impact the learning culture of the school and improve the overall school climate.

“Many teachers already report feeling more connected with all of the students they interact with, and student discipline referrals were lower at the beginning of the year than what they have been,” said Kochaney, who hopes other schools adopt this program.

According to the Kenowa Hills course description, Connect class provides “foundational skills for the 21st century,” and fosters creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, communication, flexibility, initiative, productivity, leadership and social skills. Students also learn about goal-setting, self-reflection and “Habits of Mind” — a key component of the course.

Habits of Mind consist of 16 learning dispositions, including: 

  • persisting (stick to it and don’t give up); 
  • managing impulsivity (take your time); 
  • listening with understanding and empathy (understanding others); 
  • thinking flexibly (look at it another way). 

Others deal with communicating with clarity and precision, working together, having fun and laughing a little and being creative and innovative.

Bena Kallick and Art Costa, founders and co-directors of The Institute for Habits of Mind, say their vision is to create a more thoughtful, cooperative and compassionate generation of people who skillfully work to resolve social, environmental, economic and political problems, according to their website.

Sixth grader Cadie Stoepker finds it helpful. “Habits of Mind is like making goals so you can become a better person,” said Cadie, who enjoys drawing and art.

Susan Trotter asks her class what words best describe Homecoming during a sixth-grade Connect class meeting

A Class is Born

After working with the Habits of Mind for a number of years, Kochaney had shared some of her successes with Nelli Koster, who was instrumental in bringing it to Kent ISD and telling Kochaney about upcoming training in the model.

Next, the middle school sent a team of seven people to the Habits of Mind training at Kent ISD. From that team, a group of four teachers — Kochaney, Katie Bush, Trotter and Jayne VanderKlok — set out to develop an implementation and logistics plan, as well as daily lesson plans/curriculum to be shared with teachers.

Middle school Principal Abby Wiseman said Connect class originated from discussions around designing a new schedule. Staff members were realizing that social and emotional learning are the building blocks students need to be successful in the district’s competency based learning system.

“These social/emotional skills need to be intentionally taught,” Wiseman said. 


SNN story: ‘Learning, Not Time, Drives New Approach to Teaching’

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Cris Greer
Cris Greer
For more than three decades, Cris Greer has been a wordsmith, working in the fields of journalism, advertising and marketing. Much of the past decade, he helped grow the MLive Statewide High School Sports desk as a supervisor, editor and reporter, which included eight newspapers in Michigan and mlive.com. Cris also was a freelancer for The Grand Rapids Press, The Advance and On the Town magazine for many years. A good portion of his early career was spent building and managing the copywriting team in the advertising department at Meijer, Inc., where he oversaw copywriting for print ads, mailers, brochures, signage, several dozen in-house magazines per year and much more.


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