OTA in Action: Anna Barsanti
Meet Anna Barsanti, an educator of 30 years as a classroom teacher, coach, advisor, counselor and school and system administrator for 7th-12th grade students. Reflecting on her experiences as a young person, Anna recognizes that she was surrounded by Trusted Adults throughout her upbringing. With these adults, “communication was open, and I could share my feelings, tell them about my trials and tribulations, worries and joys. As I reflect back, I see they were my model for becoming a trusted adult.” Anna goes on to discuss how these Trusted Adults lived out the ABCs (accessible, boundaried, and caring). “They made their homes feel open and appropriately boundaried. I felt cared for through their attentive listening, humor, and quality time together - they were present, trusted me, gave me responsibilities, encouragement, taught life lessons, and shared family history.”
In her work with young people, Anna knew she was a Trusted Adult named by many students, and worked to live out the ABCs everyday. She was accessible in that students would stay after class or stop by after lunch and knew where to find her. She maintained caring but professionally boundaried relationships, and listened and always looked for lessons - for herself and for her students. Anna regularly partnered with already identified caring adults of her students to further support her efforts in the classroom, knowing that what is important for each young person is One Trusted Adult, but what is better, is MANY!
An experience that solidified Anna’s belief in the importance of developing community within her classroom came toward the start of her career, which still resonates with Anna today. Students who were not thriving in their assigned classes, were often placed in Anna’s classroom as her, “teaching methods were based on building community so everyone would feel welcome.” She held on to that intention throughout her work until one day when a new student entered her classroom, walked directly to the back row and plopped his feet on top of his desk. Anna reflects that, although she worked hard to ensure all students in her class felt connected to her and each other, this initial action on his part, these sneakers sitting on top of the worksheet they had been assigned, immediately influenced how she felt about this student and therefore how she taught him. Eventually, Anna was confronted by another student in the class. This student informed Anna that she felt that Anna was treating this new student unfairly, naming several specific instances where he was treated differently than his classmates. In this moment, Anna knew she had a choice— try and explain away her behavior or listen, address the issue, and thank the student. Choosing the latter, the two went on to make a deal—her student would hold Anna to task, by observing and providing feedback anytime she missed a moment to make a positive connection. And Anna would commit to adjusting her actions to better support this new student, and all students.
At the end of the semester, Anna is happy to report that she never needed a reminder about her actions and, more importantly, the young man shared that he was grateful to have been in her class. Anna shares that, “even writing this now, I can picture that moment in my career and it brings tears to my eyes. If that young woman hadn't stepped up, he would not have experienced a trusted adult in his life who accepted him as the person he was.” Anna highlights the importance and benefits of looking to learn from our students, staying open to students’ observations and feedback, and building partnerships with young people in an effort to build communities for all to be seen, heard, and valued.