Lesson Learned from Pernille – Connections Start with Eye Contact

I’ve got a embarrassing confession to make:  I haven’t felt super connected to my kids this year.  It’s not that they aren’t amazing or funny or kind or interesting.  It’s that I’ve been overwhelmed and discouraged and frustrated and busy.


Trying to cram a massive curriculum into 50 minute class periods means that there’s never enough time to think or to laugh with my students.  Heck, sometimes I even cringe when a kid wants to ask a question because I’m not sure that we will have the time to look for the answer before needing to move on.

And in the hopes of getting home before 5:30 every day, I’ve fallen into the unhealthy pattern of spending the few free minutes that I do have with my kids (before class, during transitions, at lunch time) checking my email or trying to nail down planning details.  The result:  I almost never have an uninterrupted, genuine interaction with a student during the day.  Worse yet:  I’ve caught myself actively avoiding uninterrupted interactions because they steal minutes from the planning tasks I’m trying to power through.


Then I read Pernille Ripp’s newest book: Passionate Learners.  

One of the simplest recommendations that Pernille makes is that teachers give students  complete attention, no matter what they want to ask or say.  “Eye contact,” she writes, “is one of the biggest tools we have as teachers to establish trust, community, and respect. If you want to tell a child that they matter, look at them when they speak with you. Stop and be present whenever you can, rather than multitask.

Her words left me convicted because I knew that being fully present is something that I’d stolen from my students this year.

The consequences:  I’m not sure that my kids know that I actually care about them.  They rarely stop to say hello or goodbye and seem uneasy when approaching me with questions.  I can’t say I blame them:  Their actions are a result of the “I’m too damn busy for you” signals I send off whenever they try to reach out to me.

Since reading Ripp’s book, I’ve made a conscious effort to make being fully present a priority in my room.  Whenever a student has approached me, I’ve given them my eyes, attention and heart.  The results have been rewarding: I’ve learned alongside and laughed with more with kids in the last two weeks than I had in the previous two months.  I’ve also strengthened relationships with quirky kids who needed to feel valued and seen my students reinvest — both in me and in my classroom.

In a lot of ways, I’m ashamed of who I was for the majority of this school year.  While my kids are pretty darn prepared for our end of grade exam and while I churned through my daily and weekly tasks with brutal efficiency, I missed out on countless opportunities to remind kids that they matter.

I’m just thankful I’ve got a few weeks left to try to make things right.


Related Radical Reads:

Teaching is a Grind

Book Review: Passionate Learners

This is Why I Teach: Inspiring Jake


9 thoughts on “Lesson Learned from Pernille – Connections Start with Eye Contact

  1. Pingback: Advice to a New Administrator – 3 years later | Hatcherelli Blog

  2. Derek Hatch (Hatcherelli)

    Courageous post, Bill! It serves as a great reminder for all of us. I have found in my career that you can tell so much about a kid by looking at their eyes. As you mention in your post, we get so busy that our interactions with kids become secondary and we get focused on exams and content.
    Wishing you all the best for a great year end! Enjoy your kids…

  3. Elisa Waingort

    Hi Bill,
    Thanks for being brutally honest. It hurts sometimes when we realize we’re not living up to our expectations of ourselves as the best teacher we can be. We’ve all been there. That wake up call that we get from different places – Pernille’s book was yours – is important. Enjoy the last few weeks or days with your students. Next year you get to try again.

    1. Bill Ferriter Post author

      Thanks for the kind words, Elisa…

      What’s nuts is that I probably did a right good job this year. But doing a good job isn’t good enough for me. Heck, it shouldn’t be good enough for any teacher.

      I’m just glad that Pernille’s book gave me the reminder that I can do better.

      Be well,

      1. Elisa Waingort

        Yes, I’m sure you’re right: you probably did a great job, not just a good one. I am like you; it’s never good enough. I always want to do better. I think that is a mark of an effective teacher – never being satisfied with what you’re doing but always looking to improve. Isn’t that what we expect from our students, as well? We shouldn’t expect any less from ourselves. BTW, as someone else commented, your post allows all of us to recognize that none of us is perfect and writing about our perceived failures or not-quite-there-moments, is just as important.

  4. Sean Crevier

    I love this post, Bill. It’s so important for educators to talk about struggles so we don’t feel alone in them on our classroom islands. I get caught up in this same challenge too, man!

    In “Teach Like A Pirate”, Burgess talks about swimming with the kids vs. lifeguarding. Lifeguarding allows me to get other work done and multitask. Swimming allows me to make the connections and be helpful the way I want to be helpful. I made a commitment (similar to yours) that I would stop being a lifeguard. It’s been great.

    I can feel and I echo your excitement about your commitment. Go get ’em and finish the year strong!!

    1. Bill Ferriter Post author

      Sean wrote:

      I love this post, Bill. It’s so important for educators to talk about struggles so we don’t feel alone in them on our classroom islands. I get caught up in this same challenge too, man!


      This is such an important point, Sean: When teachers write about their struggles, they make struggling safe for everyone. If all we ever do is write about our successes, then teachers who struggle feel like failures.

      One of my personal goals is to always make the struggle transparent. My hope is someone else will see it and recognize that struggling and failure are not one in the same.

      Hope you’re well and happy!

  5. Bryant McEntire

    Bill, you always know just what to say and when to say it to the rest of us and your transparency is so helpful and appreciated. Finish strong and ‘see’ you around. BTW, in NC this summer!! Connect?

    1. Bill Ferriter Post author

      Hey Bryant,

      Thanks for the kind words. The way I see it, transparency matters. I want people to know that I’m real and far from perfect.

      And I’d love to connect if we can make it work! Drop me an email with the dates you’ll be in NC.

      I’m on the road a bunch doing some consulting work, but if I’m in town, let’s make it happen.

      Looking forward,

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