You’ve probably heard it a million times. Relationships are at the core of successful teaching. You can’t expect students to care about learning until they know you care about them. So it’s important to build a strong connection with students.
When students feel connected to their teacher and to one another they perform better socially and academically.
Luckily, it’s not hard to form meaningful connections with your students. You just have to be willing to do the work.
You must look for the good in all students, be willing to meet kids where they are, and try to understand them. This means understanding not only their academic strengths and weaknesses, but also their homelife, hopes, fears, and interests. When you get to know kids on a personal level it’s easy to build connections that last long after they leave your classroom.
But Jamie, it’s the middle of the school year. Is this really the time to be thinking about building connections?
Some teachers are meeting with students in person for the very first time. Others have been going back and forth between virtual and in-person learning or juggling simultaneous teaching all year. This is definitely the time to focus on strengthen your connection with students.
But even if you’ve been in the classroom since the first day, it’s always a good time to strengthen your connection with students. Here are six easy ways to help you do that.
Whole Group Ways to Strengthen Your Connection with Students
One easy way to connect with kids is to give them a voice in the classroom. During class meetings you can ensure that every student has a chance to speak each day. Greetings, sharing, or an academic activity all provide students with a low-stakes opportunity to participate.
Setting aside time to bring your kids together and give them a chance to weigh in on what’s going in the classroom and the world shows that you care about their thoughts and ideas.
Students can provide input on classroom rules, procedures, and consequences. You can discuss and model important skills like apologies, conflict resolution, and how to deal with stress.
Creating special rituals in your classroom will help your students feel like part of a classroom community. These rituals don’t have to be elaborate or fancy. Kids like things that are quick and easy. And silly. If you can make your rituals silly, all the better.
I had a tradition in my classroom of using silly goodbye sayings. It all started with a short list including, “See you later, alligator,” and “Out the door, dinosaur.” But the kids loved these simple sayings and started researching their own. Each day someone would bring me a new goodbye, and before long we had a list of over twenty farewells!
We added to the list all year by creating our own farewells for each season and holiday. (No, we didn’t do them all every day, but a student helper would draw slips of paper from a cup and lead the class in the chants as buses were called).
This silly, simple tradition bonded my students and me together. It made them feel safe and comfortable, and cared for.
Other simple class rituals include:
- High five (or elbow bump) when students enter
- Daily greetings
- Birthday celebrations
- Flashlight Fridays
- Weekly riddles
- Transition songs
- Class chants
- Genius hour
The specific ritual isn’t important. What matter is that you pick something and do it consistently. And that you make a big deal about how it’s a special part of your classroom. It doesn’t take long before the class looks forward to the ritual and claims it as their own.
Individual Ways to Strengthen Your Connection with Students
One on One Time
Students love one on one time with the teacher. This is especially true for students who struggle or don’t seem to like to school.
You don’t have to spend a lot of time with every student every day. That would be impossible. But taking just two minutes a day, every day for two weeks, can deepen your connection with students.
You can do this first thing in the morning as students are getting settled. Or hold recess chats.
For students who are shy or more reluctant to engage in face-to-face conversation, try breaking the ice with the chat feature of your LMS, if you have one. Often kids will reveal more in a message than in a conversation.
Try to make these conversations about anything other than school. You can comment on a student’s shoes, t-shirt, favorite sports team or hobby. Try to find out what they are interested in, and even if it’s Fortnight, make sure you are interested in it as well.
Another super simple way to connect with students is to leave them desk message. You can write a simple note on a post-it or a scrap piece of paper. I’ve even seen teachers write directly on student desks with dry-erase markers.
Messages can be encouraging, inspiring, or silly, but they should always be positive. This small act show you care enough to take the time to write to everybody and that you see the good in them.
A kind or encouraging word can go a long way to deepening your connection with students.
Share a Meal
I know, I know…you need your lunch time to grade papers, use the restroom, or just decompress for thirty minutes. Believe me, I understand. I looked forward to that quiet time too.
But connection happens over food. You never know what a student might reveal while she is focused on something else.
You don’t have to do this every day. Or eat with the entire class at once. In fact, it’s better to eat with just a small group.
And it doesn’t even have to be lunch—you could do breakfast instead. But you should try to schedule time once a week to eat with some of your students. Just make sure everyone gets a turn.
How to Strengthen Your Connection with Students Online
Of course, all of this is harder during COVID. Most events are canceled or limited, social distances must be maintained, and many students are learning online. It’s hard to connect with anyone.
But it’s not impossible. Try to communicate with students individually. Send an email, a snail mail postcard, or record a voice message. Try video feedback for projects and other assessments. Use breakout rooms to communicate with small groups or hold one-on-one conferences. Also build in time for the whole group to interact in a fun way. Maybe host a pajama party or a pet day, where students can be their pets (real or stuffed) to class. These small gestures go a long way to building connection through a screen.
To learn more about how to build and maintain online connections be sure to check out this week’s podcast. Jennifer Saravello shares some amazing tips and ideas for building and maintaining connections with students even when you can’t be physically together.
Have a Not So Wimpy day,