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September 15, 2016 10 Ways to Build Relationships With Students This Year By Genia Connell
Grades PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8

    On the first day of school I always tell my class of third graders that we’re like a family — a school family.  Building upon that premise, I do my best to create a nurturing environment where students feel cared about and supported. While this makes our classroom a nice place to be, research also indicates building relationships with students improves student achievement (Marzano, Pickering, and Hefelbower, 2010).

    In the article "Relating to Students: It’s What You Do That Counts," Marzano notes, Positive relationships between teachers and students are among the most commonly cited variables associated with effective instruction. If the relationship is strong, instructional strategies seem to be more effective. Because my ultimate goal is to ensure student learning, building bonds and fostering positive relationships is an impactful, and relatively simple way to do so. With 28 different personalities with very different needs and a jam-packed curriculum, I’ll admit that always keeping things warm and fuzzy can be challenging at times. But I have noticed, just as the research shows, that when I can build ties with a student, especially one who is struggling with academics or behavior, that child seems to work harder and becomes more willing to take risks and challenges in the classroom that benefit learning.

    This week I’m happy to share with you a few of the things I do to help build relationships with my students that take a small investment of time, but pay big dividends.

    Say Hello and Good-bye to Every Student Every Day

    This is the simplest, and I feel like the most important, personal connection I make every day. Each morning my students line up in the hall outside my classroom door and before they enter, I say good morning to each student by name, and they choose from either a hug, handshake, or high-five greeting.

    In the first three minutes of our day, I’ve had contact with every student, complimented new shoes and haircuts, asked how arms got scraped, noticed missing front teeth, and comforted students who had a rough morning at home. Everyone, including me, starts the day by entering the room with a big smile. At the end of the day, I stand at the classroom door as students pass by allowing me to say good-bye to each person, perhaps commenting on the great day they had, and wishing them a good evening.

    Student Letters and Questionnaires

    The first week of school I ask my students to write me a letter that tells me everything I need to know about them. I love when the letters come in and I learn about siblings, pets, hobbies, and some of their feelings toward school. When a student tells you they don’t like math or reading, you quickly get a sense that this is an area where greater support and perhaps confidence building will be needed. It also gives me ideas for starting discussions with the students. For example, I built an instant bond with my fledgling fashion designer this year when I told her that I used to fill notebooks with fashion designs when I was her age (I really did!), and when my dinosaur-loving student was book shopping in our class library, I brought a smile to his face when I took a brand new Who Would Win? Tyrannosaurus Rex vs. Velociraptor out of a shrink-wrapped set and handed it to him. If I hadn’t had those letters giving me inside information, starting those relationships may have been much more difficult.

    Another way to find out more about your students is with written questionnaires or interviews. Forms such as the one shown below are a quick way to get to know your students.

    Parent Input Helps

    No one knows their children better than their parents, so at the start of each school year, I ask them to send me a short note about their children to provide insights that will help me create an individualized program that best suits their child. When I first began doing this years ago, I thought parents would give me the rose-colored glasses version of their children. They don’t. I’ve found parents to be brutally honest in these notes, telling me where their children excel and where they need help. I’ve often been brought to tears while reading these as parents bare their souls about struggles their child has had and their hopes for the upcoming year. These notes serve a higher purpose than letting me get to know the students. They focus my head and heart on the fact that these parents are entrusting me for the next 40 weeks to teach and look after a child they love with all their heart.

    Appeal to Their Interests

    Once I have information about a student likes, I use it! Sports is always a great common denominator. Once I learn who my sports fans are, morning greeting often includes a reference to what the Tigers did the night before or how the Wolverines and Spartans did on Saturday. I ask about swim meets, soccer games, and belt ceremonies. When I make personalized clipboards as presents for each student in December, I try to decorate with stickers I think each student will enjoy. In the morning, when I put the daily agenda on the interactive white board, I add clip art from popular kids’ movies or shows. These small gestures help show students you care about what they care about.

    Speak to Students With Respect

    Every relationship relies on mutual respect and a teacher-student relationship is no different. There are definitely those times when student behavior causes me to feel frustrated. When this happens I take a slow, deep breath (or two!) and think about how I would have wanted my own children to be treated in school by their teachers. This helps me to respond to hairy situations with a calm, steady voice and a smile that just may be masking a completely different emotion.   

    Attend Outside Activities

    If you have ever attended a student activity outside of school hours, you will know that as soon as that child spots you, he or she will break out into the biggest smile ever. It’s fun to see students and families outside of the school “habitat” and taking the time out of your weekend or after school is always appreciated by students and parents and definitively sends a message to the student that you care about them.

    10 Ways to Build Relationships With Students This Year

    Let Students Inside Your World

    I’ve always brought stories of my family into my teaching. Parents would tell me how their kids would come home and tell them all about Katie, Rachel, and Charlie. To this day, my own children still make a point of coming in to get to know my class. There have been so many conversations over the years started by children who wanted to know what my kids were up to or when the next time was they would be coming to visit. One of my favorite events each year is when my students visit my house for a PTO fundraiser. My whole family helps entertain the boys and girls, and kids start asking on the very first day when they get to visit. Opening a window to your world humanizes teachers and helps make you much more relatable and accessible to students.

    10 Ways to Build Relationships With Students This Year

    10 Ways to Build Relationships With Students This Year

    Let Students Have a Voice

    I recently went to a PD where the facilitator stopped and said she needed to WAIT. As we all looked at her, she said WAIT was an acronym that stood for Why Am I Talking? She realized she had been doing all of the talking. As teachers we talk a lot. I know at times I monopolize the conversation. This year I’m using WAIT to help remind me that when I give students opportunities to share their thinking, I’ll gain valuable insight into their thinking and learning.

    Be Real

    Let students see you make mistakes. Embrace them. They 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 and they may become more willing to take risks that increase learning and broaden horizons.

    Trust That They Will Do Great Things

    One of the greatest things you can do to build relationships with children is to trust them. This year on the first day of school we went over our expectations for being good third graders, what each student will do, say, and be, etc. Afterwards, I told them that we wouldn’t post a long list of rules, instead our family would be guided by a single word this year, TRUST. We discussed what it meant to be trustworthy, how we earn trust, and how we can break it. I wrote the word out on chart paper and students took turns decorating it before it was hung up. This powerful guiding word lets students know I trust them to do the right thing, their classmates trust them to do the right thing and they can all trust me.

    In all my years of teaching, I’ve never known a single word, softly spoken, to have more power. When I look at someone who has had a behavior issue and say, I trusted you to act kindly on the playground and you broke that trust, there seems to be real remorse and a desire to not break the trust again. Building a culture of trust has been impactful this year, and I’m so glad I replaced a long list of words with a carefully chosen guiding principle this year.

    10 Ways to Build Relationships With Students This Year

    One of my favorite notes of all time shows how students react to having a teacher's trust.

    In the education world of data points and outcome objectives, it’s nice to be reminded that taking the time to get to know our students is an important factor in their growth. I’d love to hear other ideas for building those bonds, especially early in the school year. Please share your tips in the comment section below!

    On the first day of school I always tell my class of third graders that we’re like a family — a school family.  Building upon that premise, I do my best to create a nurturing environment where students feel cared about and supported. While this makes our classroom a nice place to be, research also indicates building relationships with students improves student achievement (Marzano, Pickering, and Hefelbower, 2010).

    In the article "Relating to Students: It’s What You Do That Counts," Marzano notes, Positive relationships between teachers and students are among the most commonly cited variables associated with effective instruction. If the relationship is strong, instructional strategies seem to be more effective. Because my ultimate goal is to ensure student learning, building bonds and fostering positive relationships is an impactful, and relatively simple way to do so. With 28 different personalities with very different needs and a jam-packed curriculum, I’ll admit that always keeping things warm and fuzzy can be challenging at times. But I have noticed, just as the research shows, that when I can build ties with a student, especially one who is struggling with academics or behavior, that child seems to work harder and becomes more willing to take risks and challenges in the classroom that benefit learning.

    This week I’m happy to share with you a few of the things I do to help build relationships with my students that take a small investment of time, but pay big dividends.

    Say Hello and Good-bye to Every Student Every Day

    This is the simplest, and I feel like the most important, personal connection I make every day. Each morning my students line up in the hall outside my classroom door and before they enter, I say good morning to each student by name, and they choose from either a hug, handshake, or high-five greeting.

    In the first three minutes of our day, I’ve had contact with every student, complimented new shoes and haircuts, asked how arms got scraped, noticed missing front teeth, and comforted students who had a rough morning at home. Everyone, including me, starts the day by entering the room with a big smile. At the end of the day, I stand at the classroom door as students pass by allowing me to say good-bye to each person, perhaps commenting on the great day they had, and wishing them a good evening.

    Student Letters and Questionnaires

    The first week of school I ask my students to write me a letter that tells me everything I need to know about them. I love when the letters come in and I learn about siblings, pets, hobbies, and some of their feelings toward school. When a student tells you they don’t like math or reading, you quickly get a sense that this is an area where greater support and perhaps confidence building will be needed. It also gives me ideas for starting discussions with the students. For example, I built an instant bond with my fledgling fashion designer this year when I told her that I used to fill notebooks with fashion designs when I was her age (I really did!), and when my dinosaur-loving student was book shopping in our class library, I brought a smile to his face when I took a brand new Who Would Win? Tyrannosaurus Rex vs. Velociraptor out of a shrink-wrapped set and handed it to him. If I hadn’t had those letters giving me inside information, starting those relationships may have been much more difficult.

    Another way to find out more about your students is with written questionnaires or interviews. Forms such as the one shown below are a quick way to get to know your students.

    Parent Input Helps

    No one knows their children better than their parents, so at the start of each school year, I ask them to send me a short note about their children to provide insights that will help me create an individualized program that best suits their child. When I first began doing this years ago, I thought parents would give me the rose-colored glasses version of their children. They don’t. I’ve found parents to be brutally honest in these notes, telling me where their children excel and where they need help. I’ve often been brought to tears while reading these as parents bare their souls about struggles their child has had and their hopes for the upcoming year. These notes serve a higher purpose than letting me get to know the students. They focus my head and heart on the fact that these parents are entrusting me for the next 40 weeks to teach and look after a child they love with all their heart.

    Appeal to Their Interests

    Once I have information about a student likes, I use it! Sports is always a great common denominator. Once I learn who my sports fans are, morning greeting often includes a reference to what the Tigers did the night before or how the Wolverines and Spartans did on Saturday. I ask about swim meets, soccer games, and belt ceremonies. When I make personalized clipboards as presents for each student in December, I try to decorate with stickers I think each student will enjoy. In the morning, when I put the daily agenda on the interactive white board, I add clip art from popular kids’ movies or shows. These small gestures help show students you care about what they care about.

    Speak to Students With Respect

    Every relationship relies on mutual respect and a teacher-student relationship is no different. There are definitely those times when student behavior causes me to feel frustrated. When this happens I take a slow, deep breath (or two!) and think about how I would have wanted my own children to be treated in school by their teachers. This helps me to respond to hairy situations with a calm, steady voice and a smile that just may be masking a completely different emotion.   

    Attend Outside Activities

    If you have ever attended a student activity outside of school hours, you will know that as soon as that child spots you, he or she will break out into the biggest smile ever. It’s fun to see students and families outside of the school “habitat” and taking the time out of your weekend or after school is always appreciated by students and parents and definitively sends a message to the student that you care about them.

    10 Ways to Build Relationships With Students This Year

    Let Students Inside Your World

    I’ve always brought stories of my family into my teaching. Parents would tell me how their kids would come home and tell them all about Katie, Rachel, and Charlie. To this day, my own children still make a point of coming in to get to know my class. There have been so many conversations over the years started by children who wanted to know what my kids were up to or when the next time was they would be coming to visit. One of my favorite events each year is when my students visit my house for a PTO fundraiser. My whole family helps entertain the boys and girls, and kids start asking on the very first day when they get to visit. Opening a window to your world humanizes teachers and helps make you much more relatable and accessible to students.

    10 Ways to Build Relationships With Students This Year

    10 Ways to Build Relationships With Students This Year

    Let Students Have a Voice

    I recently went to a PD where the facilitator stopped and said she needed to WAIT. As we all looked at her, she said WAIT was an acronym that stood for Why Am I Talking? She realized she had been doing all of the talking. As teachers we talk a lot. I know at times I monopolize the conversation. This year I’m using WAIT to help remind me that when I give students opportunities to share their thinking, I’ll gain valuable insight into their thinking and learning.

    Be Real

    Let students see you make mistakes. Embrace them. They 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 and they may become more willing to take risks that increase learning and broaden horizons.

    Trust That They Will Do Great Things

    One of the greatest things you can do to build relationships with children is to trust them. This year on the first day of school we went over our expectations for being good third graders, what each student will do, say, and be, etc. Afterwards, I told them that we wouldn’t post a long list of rules, instead our family would be guided by a single word this year, TRUST. We discussed what it meant to be trustworthy, how we earn trust, and how we can break it. I wrote the word out on chart paper and students took turns decorating it before it was hung up. This powerful guiding word lets students know I trust them to do the right thing, their classmates trust them to do the right thing and they can all trust me.

    In all my years of teaching, I’ve never known a single word, softly spoken, to have more power. When I look at someone who has had a behavior issue and say, I trusted you to act kindly on the playground and you broke that trust, there seems to be real remorse and a desire to not break the trust again. Building a culture of trust has been impactful this year, and I’m so glad I replaced a long list of words with a carefully chosen guiding principle this year.

    10 Ways to Build Relationships With Students This Year

    One of my favorite notes of all time shows how students react to having a teacher's trust.

    In the education world of data points and outcome objectives, it’s nice to be reminded that taking the time to get to know our students is an important factor in their growth. I’d love to hear other ideas for building those bonds, especially early in the school year. Please share your tips in the comment section below!

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