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November 2, 2009 Connecting With Students: Three Easy Strategies By Justin Lim
Grades 3–5





    Every year it's the same. It's the first day of school and there are twenty faces staring at me with a look that says, "I dare you to try to teach me." The class is reading intervention and half of the kids have already figured out that they're in the "dumb class." Because of their poor experiences with school in the past, many of them are ready to give up before they even start.

    In addition to giving my students the academic tools they need to succeed, my mission is to let them know that they're cared for. I want them to know that before any lesson, they matter.

    Here are three strategies that I regularly use to connect with students:

    1. Encouraging Notes - During class, I never have enough time to recognize all of the good things that my kids do. In order to show them that they're appreciated, I write short encouraging notes on cards (100 for 10 bucks at target) and leave them in student mail boxes. The content might be anything from telling a student that he did an exceptional job on an assignment to letting him know that I noticed when he picked up that stray piece of trash. My kids cherish those cards, because they're tangible symbols of success. It's also a way for me to encourage them when they're going through personal problems at home.

    2. Show You Care - When a student is acting up or refuses to work, the first thing that I'll do is quietly ask if everything is alright. It's been my experience that more often than not, the reason for abnormally poor behavior stems from problems at home. I've had students tell me about recent deaths in the family, friends who were killed, parents going through divorces, and much more. Depending on the response, I'll let them talk with a counselor or if they're uncomfortable with that, I'll even let them sit quietly in class for the period.

    Sometimes, I get girls who come into my class crying (90% of the time it's because of a boy). When this happens, I'll usually let them go to the restroom and cry it out, sometimes even sending a friend for moral support. I know that it's important for students to get as much instruction time as possible, but I do things like this because I want the message to be clear. You are more important than any assignment.

    3. Talk About Yourself - I've found that one of the best ways to get kids to open up to me is to share with them parts of my life. I take every opportunity I can get to tie in my personal experiences into our lessons. I particularly try to share about embarrassing moments or about times that I've failed, so that they know that I'm willing to be vulnerable with them. My hope is that, in time, they'll learn to be vulnerable with me too.

    I know that as teachers, our first initiative is to prepare our students for academic success. However, if your experience has been anything like mine, then when your old kids come back and visit, the things that stand out for them are not just academic lessons. Instead, they remember how you were the "cool" teacher because you let them hang out in your class at lunch. They remember how none of the kids would cheat in your class because nobody wanted to disappoint you. They remember how you listened to their problems and gave them advice when they needed it. It was these things that made you the real deal for them.

    I hope that these strategies will be helpful, but even if they're not, I hope that at least you're reminded of the great influence that you have over the kids who look up to you.

    Warm regards,

    Justin Lim

    Rosemead High School
    El Monte Union High School District


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