Teaching is a profession that takes not only brains but heart. Good teachers know that while it is crucial to explain concepts thoroughly and have a comprehensive knowledge of the material you are teaching, having good relationships with your students is what truly makes a difference.
As the school year starts, a teacher’s focus is often on procedures, rules, and routines. These are all very important. Any good teacher knows that when you have strong classroom routines, and expectations are made clear to students, your class will function much better than if you don’t take the time to build those routines, teach procedures, and clarify expectations. However, in the process teachers can and should also build a relationship with their students. There are so many vital relationships to develop in the classroom. Students need to develop relationships with each other; teachers need to build one-on-one relationships with their students, and with the class as a whole.
As we know, teachers teach their students far more than just academics. Many students need good mentors in their lives. Some students come from homes where they desperately need an adult to model how to build a healthy relationship. Others come from homes where parents are involved and doing everything right, but even these students can still benefit from a positive relationship with another adult. When students feel safe and loved, they can learn much more than they could in an environment devoid of those relationships.
Rebecca Alber, Editor at Edutopia questions: “Why share yourself in this way? Showing our humanity to students allows us to be people and not just The Teacher. And in my observations and experience, to be loved by those whom you teach, you have to show vulnerability, at times reveal who you are, your feelings, challenges, hopes, cares, and dreams. We ask students to write essays and poems and speeches in which they share vulnerable aspects of themselves. As teachers, as members of a classroom community, shouldn’t we do the same?”
So how do you build these relationships? One of the best ways is by sharing with your student. You share with each other the details of your lives. Be vulnerable and let your students see your humanity. This makes it much easier for them to connect with you. Brene Brown, researcher, and college professor states that
“Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.”
― Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead.
Therefore, by being vulnerable, and encouraging vulnerability in our students, we can build deep relationships with them.
There are many ways to implement these ideas into the classroom. Here are just a few activities to help you connect with your students both at the beginning of the year and throughout the year.
Start each day by sharing the good things happening in your life; your students can do the same. This has the academic benefits of building vocabulary and the emotional benefits of creating a positive atmosphere that feels safe for learning and risk-taking.
All About Me
There are hundreds of variations of this activity (just look on Pinterest!) It is popular precisely because it works so well. Students fill a bag with items about themselves, bring a poster with pictures and statements about themselves, or merely have the spotlight on themselves for the day or week. By sharing about themselves and their interests, other students feel safe to share. Students can also find others with similar interests in this way.
Just Like Me
Alber suggests this activity, which is often helpful as a getting to know you activity. “This community-building strategy allows students to see those students they have things in common with, or with whom they share similar traits. The teacher makes a statement, and those students it relates to stand up. For example, “Pizza is my favorite food,” “I’m glad to be back in school,” or “I am the youngest in my family.” After making a statement, ask students to look around to note those they have this in common with before sitting down.
Give students a survey to fill out with their likes, dislikes, hopes, and dreams. This helps the teacher as they can use this information to find things in common with students and tailor our instruction to their needs.
Take the time to build relationships with your students. More than the academics, the procedures, and the rules you teach, the relationships with your students are what they will remember, and are what will ultimately impact their lives.
Amy Curletto has been teaching for 12 years in grades K-2. She has a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood and Elementary Education and also has endorsements in reading and ESL. Besides education, her other passion is writing and she has always dreamed of being a writer. She lives in Utah with her husband, her 3 daughters, and her miniature schnauzer. She enjoys reading, knitting, and camping.
The child who is ‘left behind’ most is the one who leaves school without transition readiness.
Dr. James Stanfield, Ed.D.