Make the Connection

Over the last few months, I have made my way back into doing what brings me the most joy… training and teaching leaders. In this particular case, I was training teacher leaders. It’s been incredibly gratifying listening to teachers engage in discussion allowing them the opportunity to hash out their feelings about many of the challenges they have encountered over this past school year. Poverty, trauma, mental health, behavior, mindset; these are just a handful of the many issues impeding educators’ ability to effectively engage students in learning. While I have advised many educators on ways to help connect with students, it really doesn’t take much more than a big heart and an open mind!

How well do you know your students? How much effort do you put forth to get to know them? I have worked with teachers who have been so open with their students; they have given their personal phone number or attended events with students’ families. Others weren’t as open for whatever reason and that’s okay. However, when that is the case, it is important that these teachers discover more creative ways to connect with students. This requires intention and purpose.

As schools prepare to open their doors for the new school year, I want to offer a simple way to make connections with students. Simply remember these three words: relevant, real, and rapport. These three R’s can go along way when working to make connections with your students. Let me offer an example…

I have always found interesting, the number of students that think teachers don’t eat, sleep, or breathe! Seems pretty foolish, right? However, I have literally had several conversations with students about something as simple as a trip to the grocery store, only to be met with a gasp, then, “You go to the grocery store??!!” At this point, we’d find ourselves looking at each other with cocked heads and equal amounts of confusion. I’d simply answer in affirmation and realized that to some students, the “teacher” was some sort of fantasy, fairy tale character, and because of this, I had to figure out a way to bring myself to life! I had to make myself relevant and real outside of the classroom in order to build a stronger rapport inside of the classroom.

I’d like to offer you this… During the first days of school, share a bit of your world with students. It doesn’t have to be anything extremely private, but should be something you wouldn’t mind other people knowing. Think about your hobbies or something you are passionate about doing in your personal time. For example, I am an avid sports mom and I also played sports when I was younger, so I would often share photos and updates about my children’s games or races.  In return, I would learn about the sports my students were playing, receive game schedules; hear about their games and tournaments, their wins and their losses. Now, because I have shared my own love of sports and expressed interest in theirs, I have opened up opportunities for further conversation or even a pickup game or race at recess, in spite of the pain that was sure to come as a result!  Not only do we talk about our own experiences, we ended up having discussions about professional sports and sports players! So many life lessons can be taught to them simply because I was willing to make the connection. Showing that I value them and what is important to them has now connected our worlds and I have become more relevant, real, and built a foundation for a stronger relationship. It didn’t take research or a lot of planning. It simply took me sharing a piece of me and expressing interest in them. As a result, my students became more responsive to my directions, decreased behaviors, increased participation, and increased engagement in my lessons.

This seems simple enough, I know, but sometimes it seems the simplest of things become the first things go by the wayside when teaching gets tough. I also realize there is much more to engaging students than this, but this is a great place to start at the beginning of the year. Believe me, I, both, acknowledge and understand that the year gets long, planning becomes monotonous, student behaviors go awry, and patience gets short. However, it doesn’t have to be that way. Remember that what you are feeling, more than likely students are feeling too, so make it your plan for the entire year, intentionally and purposefully, to simply make the connection.

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