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story.lead_photo.caption Janelle Jessen/Siloam Sunday Teachers and school employees visited the booths of local businesses during the annual Chamber of Commerce Back to School Breakfast on Wednesday morning.

Keynote speaker Connie Matchell reminded school employees to build intentional relationships with students in the coming school year, during the annual Chamber of Commerce Back to School Breakfast on Friday.

Matchell the current chair of John Brown University's undergraduate and graduate teacher education program. She is also a current Siloam Springs School Board member and retired school district administrator. Her audience consisted of teachers and staff members from both the school district and the university.

The annual Back to School Breakfast is designed to honor teachers and help them get ready for the coming school year. Teachers were given goody bags and had an opportunity to tour local business booths in the high school gym before being served breakfast in the high school cafeteria.

Ed Ericson, vice president for academic affairs at JBU, introduced nine new university faculty members, and Assistant Superintendent Jody Wiggins introduced 104 new school district staff members.

"After thinking about all my experiences with education the one thing that came to me is something that is very small, but that can yield very big results and that is the importance of building intentional relationships with students," Matchell said. "This is something I continually work on year after year after year. It's something that everyone in this room can do, from cafeteria workers to bus drivers to custodians to SROs (school resource officers) to administrators to secretaries, teachers, anybody in this room can do this and build a relationship with a kid."

During Matchell's speech, she shared experiences from a recent trip to Kenya to visit her son, who is teaching at Rift Valley Academy, and his family. She drew parallels between the animals and environment she observed on a safari trip and the school environment.

One thing that Matchell's family noticed on the safari was that there are so many kinds of animals in the deer family -- such as Gazels, Topis and Dik-diks -- that they become hard to tell them apart. Her family gave up and jokingly nicknamed them DLCs, or deer like creatures.

She warned school staff members of doing the same thing with students.

"I've been guilty of doing this with students, lumping them into categories like SPED (special education), ESL (English as a second language), gifted, Hispanic, Asian, etc., and not taking the time to look at them individually and see all the differences, even within each category," Matchell said.

She encouraged teachers to do a little more research and get to know their students. Testing data can help teachers break their classes down into small groups, but that still doesn't take the place of looking at the needs of individual students, she said.

Matchell suggested school staff members could begin with building trust and providing a positive learning environment.

She shared a picture of three beautiful lionesses. After taking a closer look at the picture, Matchell noticed that one lioness had a scar on her face and another was covered in bugs.

"As a district and a university we have multiple services available to help students when we get close enough to them to see the signs of neglect, abuse, learning problems or physical needs," she said. "There first alert systems, student services, nurses, counselors, advisers, etc., at the university. At the district there are special education services, ESL services, nurses, SROs, counselors, Bright Futures, and Panther Health and Wellness Center."

School employees sometimes have to love the unlovable. On safari that might be the hyena, warthogs and jackals, she said, explaining that their behavior as scavengers makes them hard to relate to.

"Sometimes we don't always understand all the actions of our students either," she said. "We might have students who misbehave daily, but it's important not to just get frustrated by the behavior, but to understand the root cause of the behavior."

On Safari, there are some animals that are more elusive, such as the big cats.

"Finding them is more difficult because they like to hide, like this male lion, in the grass," Matchell said. "Intentionally search for students and help them come out of hiding and realize their true potential."

School employees also need to free themselves of misconceptions. For example, Kenya is on the equator, but visitors are wise to pack sweaters and jackets because it can be quite cold during July.

"Sometimes we might need to work on being aware of our misconceptions as we start working with kids," she said. "According to Bill Daggett, founder of the International Center for Leadership in Education, there are three things that are important to teaching: rigor, relevance and relationships.

"I would say the order should be reversed and begin with relationships, because people don't care how much you know until they know how much you care, so let me ask you, are we together with this idea of trying to be intentional with building relationships with students?"

General News on 08/12/2018

Print Headline: Annual breakfast honors teachers as they head back to school

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