Artwork by Patty Baker
Schools are places where names are eminently important. Every year our rosters are full of names we recognize and names of those we will soon get to know. As classroom teachers, we approach the process of learning our students' names with vigor. We write and type names countless times as we prepare our classrooms for their arrival.
The process of name learning is different when we gather in large meetings with our colleagues. We say hello, give our name, say something about ourselves, then it is the next person's turn to do the same.
And our turn to forget many of the names we have heard.
I admit that I have been bad with names. When meeting someone individually, I usually owned up to this right off the bat. "Please forgive me if I have to ask your name again. I am a visual learner, and the font on our ID badges is really small." I trailed off into a smile and held up my hands in surrender to my bad memory. In large groups, I accepted the fact that after hearing the names of 20 new faculty members, I was in for 20 episodes of not-knowing when I next encounterd their friendly faces in the hall.
I think the phenomenon of teachers knowing their students but not knowing each other by name is not uncommon in our schools. I've tried mnemonic strategies to learn the names of everyone in my building. I've studied the staff list. Looked at a map of my school and visualized class assignments. My memory fell apart pretty fast, though, when teachers and staff members inevitably left their rooms and were in other places in the building. I had wonderful conversations with people while trying to remember their names.
How can we as coaches help create a community of teachers who know each other and call each other by name? I've seen many ways to do this. I experienced one way that stands out during a diversity workshop. We formed small groups and were tasked with telling the story of our names. What happened next was exciting for me. As we told our stories, we learned much about each other that evoked laughter, hugs, empathy, and amazement. We discovered common ground and were inspired to think about new things. We connected in a way that went beyond school, and the connections became the seeds of great friendships.
Happily, we remembered everyone's name.