*Warning: Blogger in training
I start every school year off with one goal in mind: I want my students to enjoy coming to class. When students look forward to class, they’re more engaged and motivated to learn. This in turn makes our jobs easier. Here’s a fact that I’m proud of: Over the past two years at least 95% of my students were excited and looked forward to my class. No, I don’t have data to back that up but I don’t need it. My students were proof. They would get upset when the bell rang, admitting they wanted to stay. They would walk into my class and say “I’ve been looking forward to English all day.” They came to my class excited, smiling and ready to learn. This was all possible because I connected with my students. I get so caught up in my professional development that I sometimes forget to reflect on my strengths. Connecting with my students came natural to me. Of course, I ‘d be lying if I said being a 25 year teacher doesn’t help but still.
I take the time to build meaningful teacher-student relationships that consist of mutual trust and respect. It’s a heart of my classroom, the foundation for learning. My past students respected me and trusted that whatever we were learning was beneficial to their success. Now since this is something that came natural to me (not that I haven’t read up on the topic at times) I never really sat down and thought about what I do that makes connecting with my students such a success. So here’s my best attempt:
Involvement. I involve student choice whenever possible (An area that I’m trying to improve on with help from A.J. Juliani’s Learning By Choice). Each student has a voice, I try to make sure someone is there to listen. I take time to get to know my students and their interests. I love changing my lessons to better appeal to their interests. At times I’ve taken recommendations from students on improvements for class. I show them that they are a part of our classroom. Students love to feel as though they belong.
Communication. I treat my students as human beings. I explain everything to them. My students understand why we’re learning about a certain topic. They are aware of mistakes I make and how I learn from them. They see more as more than just their teacher. I hold meaningful conversation with them. My feedback, while not perfect, is always tailored towards the individual student. My students know they can talk with me about anything. I’m here for my students, each and every one of them.
Humor. I know it’s been beaten to death but “Laughter is the best medicine”. Humor is a necessity in my classroom. It makes things more comforting, breaks up tension, and just simply makes the day better. My students know that they can joke with me just as I can joke with them. I don’t mind if a lesson is broken up temporarily by laughter so long as we can keep composure and move on. There’s no doubt that students love a teacher they can laugh with.
Stories. Students are so compelled by storytelling. I try to always include a story related to the topic at hand. My favorite is when one of my stories encourages students to share out their own experiences. Making connections to our own lives makes learning stick. Telling stories also allows an appropriate look into my life. Students LOVE learning more about a teacher’s life outside of school.
Failure. I wanted to cry when I polled my first year students on making mistakes in the class. Over 75% of them were afraid to make mistakes in school! This makes me cringe, a classroom is THE perfect environment for making mistakes because we have the time to learn from them. Fortunately, over 80% said they were comfortable making mistakes in my classroom. Why? Because I made sure they knew it was okay. I took the time to show students how to learn from their mistakes/failures. Part of connecting with my students requires creating a comforting, welcoming learning environment.
These are the major points that come to mind when I think about connecting with my students. Now, I’ve also learned a few things over the past two years. Such as making sure students are aware of certain boundaries. I don’t want students to view me as a friend. There’s a difference between them viewing me a friendly teacher and viewing me as a friend. Being so young, students often try to cross these boundaries. They need to still view me as an adult. When my students do anything I feel is inappropriate, I communicate it to them and get them to understand. While building meaningful relationships with my students may feel natural, it still requires a lot of hard work. In the end, connecting with my students creates natural motivation and engagement and less behavioral problems. This all equates to more time for learning.