Save One Student

Embracing a new year provides a teacher with a clean mental slate after two weeks of recuperation (aka “Winter Vacation”) to reflect on the first semester of teaching in their classroom and create new goals for the rest of the school year. They may include determining a new approach to teaching strategies and/or methods or maybe restructuring a new mindset……. The possibilities are endless! I have spent a few sleepless nights under an incredibly bright full moon and unusually cold Arizona temperatures, tossing and turning with reflections of myself as a teacher in a new school. How did I measure up to my own standards of educating young minds, preparing them for the 21st century? I made some new goals to achieve in 2015, and one of them included using a strategy called “Save One Student.” 

“Save One Student” was formally introduced by Robert Eaker and Richard and Rebecca DuFour in an inspiring pedagogical resource, “Getting Started- Reculturing Schools to Become Professional Learning Communities.” “The SOS program was adopted to help the children in our school who were not getting adequate parent support. We confidentially identified those students and then assigned one staff member per child to monitor, encourage, and support his or her student. Staff members made a commitment to meet with their child at least three times per week, even if it was only to touch base with the student….” (Eaker, Dufour 72) I have used this strategy in my classroom for many years and have been blown away by the results. 

The first time I observed a student who was needing some special one-on-one attention was during my third year of teaching. This girl was wanting to spend every spare moment with me during recesses and lunch. She was very sad and lonely, too depressed to make friends or want to play with the children her age. I asked her mom if she could come after school for special tutoring, and she spent at least an hour every day after school, reading and playing games with me. This girl didn’t really need academic support, but she was desperate for an emotional connection with an adult. After spending several months together, I found out that her older sister had attempted suicide after her parents’ divorce, and she was dealing with the severity of those events. Fast forward ten years later—I was blessed to receive an e-mail from this special student. She reached out to thank me for being there for her. That was one of the most rewarding messages to receive, to know that identifying and supporting one student truly did make a difference. 

My next opportunity to “Save One Student” occurred just a few years ago. I had a student transfer into my classroom from a fellow teacher. He was violent with his peers, threatened my peer with a pair of scissors, and was consistently defiant and hostile with all authority. Throughout the next few weeks of keeping him from pulling out his eyelashes or making verbal threats to hurt others, I caught a glimpse of a very scared and confused little boy behind the bravado of anger and violence. Once again, I asked his grandmother for permission to tutor him after school, and I gave him opportunities to play Legos and the computer, providing him with time to decompress and learn social skills. After several months of nurturing his love of construction and technology, I learned that he was very intelligent, possibly gifted. Through this insight, I was able to structure my assessments around his special emotional needs to receive higher grades. His referrals dropped significantly, and this child was also successful in making friends. Taking time out for this angry child gave me an opportunity to see the real child within. That gave me the insight to save him from a life of hostility and violence. 

Currently I am providing a student with one-on-one tutoring before school to help her improve her reading skills. She was known throughout the school for her explosive tantrums last year, and thankfully I have connected with her. Spending an entire year with behavior issues cost her a year of academic growth, and so this support before school has two purposes- reprogramming her explosive behavioral and emotional reactions, and also providing reading and math interventions. Recently I assessed her reading skills and strategies, and I was amazed at the growth!! Spending time together to read one-on-one has provided her with fluency and accuracy to decode text. But most importantly, she is confident! That was the best reward for me to see this young girl stare down a challenge and overcome her fear of defeat! I am excited to see how far she will grow in the upcoming semester. 

I do want to emphasize that I shared these three stories of how I tried to “Save One Student” not to brag about my successes, but to provide actual evidence that this strategy does work and is profoundly influential on young lives. I hope that you will choose to start this movement in your own classroom or even your school! Remember that you do not need to “Save One Student” in your classroom, but look outside your space at the other children in the school. Which ones look lost, lonely, or needing attention? Talk to their teachers and set up one-on-one time to spend with them. 

Support and positively impact the future success of our 21st century learners by saving one student!


Lisa Moberg

Lisa Moberg

El Mirage, AZ

Adventure is my middle name. Although I have never sought it out, it somehow finds me, especially in teaching!! These past 16 years of my teaching career have been an exciting voyage in education, stretched between two different states, three school districts, and six grade levels (Kindergarten – 5th grade). After teaching in Washington State for six years, I moved to Arizona and have taught at a Title 1 school in the West Valley for ten years.

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