2019’s National Teacher of the Year
In April, 2019, Rodney Robinson was honored as 2019’s teacher of the year by the Council of Chief State School Officers, who commended him for creating “a positive school culture by empowering his students — many of whom have experienced trauma — to become civically-minded social advocates, who use their skills and voices to effect physical and policy changes at their school and in their communities.”
Robinson teaches social studies at Virgie Binford Education Center, which is a school inside the Richmond Juvenile Detention Center in Virginia. Many of his students come from impoverished and high crime backgrounds, and Robinson is committed to being a voice for these students, helping them understand the juvenile justice system from the outside, and encouraging them to make real, positive changes in their lives.
Back to school
When getting ready to go back to school, Robinson says getting to know his students is the most important first step in preparing for a new school year.
“I prepare for back to school by just getting to know my kids,” he tells Mediaplanet in an interview. “Talking to past teachers and community leaders about the things that my students are into that they’re interested in and just really working on setting the tone for building a relationship.”
About parents, too
He also encourages parents to start the school year with an open mind and “be open to new things and new experiences.” But most importantly, parents should really get to know their children’s teachers and peers and “to build relationships that allow you take ownership of their learning.”
Taking ownership of one’s own education is a pretty important tenet of Robinson’s philosophy as a teacher, and he wants students to feel like school is a place that belongs to them and to which they belong.
Extracurricular activities, for instance, are a great way for students to feel involved. “The more students feel they belong to the school culture, the more ownership they will have of their school and their learning.” “Engaging students in extracurricular activities creates more pride and enhances the school culture.” And furthermore, “any activity that builds relationships that they normally with other school stakeholders is a great opportunity for students.”
Though Robinson only teaches at Virgie Binford Education Center, his advice is pertinent to any child or parent preparing for a new school year, and it all comes down to setting the foundation for good relationships where every student feels important and valued. Because if a student feels like their school truly cares about their success, then maybe they’ll be ready to truly care about school in return. The sky is the limit for what that student can accomplish.