When I began teaching, I was told the first days of school were the time to set the tone for the year. I took that to mean getting rules and procedures down cold. Not anymore. I’ve realized that the connections I make with my students in those first days and beyond have a bigger impact than any list of rules. Keeping it warm and fuzzy can be challenging, but there are a few things I do to build relationships and trust with students, who in turn seem to work harder and take risks that benefit learning.

Build Trust

Let them know you trust them and that they can trust you. I’ve never found a single word with more power. Telling students I trust them to make good choices empowers them. We even hang the word in our room each year as a reminder. Building a culture of trust is a guiding principal that supersedes any list of rules I’ve ever created.

Morning Greetings, Afternoon Good-byes

With a hello and a hug, a handshake or a high five, I’m able to make contact with each student, compliment a new haircut, notice a missing front tooth, comfort a child who may have had a rough morning at home. In the afternoon, as they leave, I comment on strong effort or kind behaviors I saw during the day. These priceless connections take less than three minutes a day.

The Magic of Mistakes

I never hide my mistakes from my third graders—I embrace them! Students will learn more from watching how you react to a blunder than you could teach in an hour-long lesson. They’ll also come to understand that you don’t expect perfection, which means they may be more willing to take risks that strengthen learning and broaden their horizons.

3 More Great Starts

Illuminating Letters: Students write me letters during the first week and throughout the year that open windows into their home and school lives. I learn why they may be acting out or whether there is an area where greater support is needed.

Their Biggest Fan: There’s nothing like the smile of a child who spots the teacher at a baseball game or recital. It’s one of the easiest ways to show students you care about them outside of the classroom.

Teacher’s Home Visits: I’ve always brought stories of my life into my teaching. Parents say their kids even share my tales around the dinner table. Opening a window to your world humanizes you and makes you more relatable.


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Photos: Courtesy of Genia Connell