December 21, 2016 by

Creating Connections with Every Student

Educators are typically very familiar with the research that describes the effectiveness of having strong relationships with students.  As an elementary school staff, we have discussed the importance of building relationships and personal connections with our students.  We have shared ideas as to how some teachers build these relationships.  Our teachers greet our students at the door each morning and personally greet them as they load the buses to go home.  However, we wondered if every student in our school has a personal connection with an adult at our school.  We thought that was the case but did not know for sure.  In an effort to ensure each student has a personal connection with at least one adult, we went through a process to make sure that was the case.  Below is the process our adult learners took to examine the levels of personal connections with our students.

The process for identifying personal connections started when we watched Paper Tigers as a staff.  This powerful documentary is about Lincoln High School,  located in Wala Wala, Washington, and the efforts the staff took to assist students who don’t have the same opportunities as others. This documentary was both moving and provocative and it led to many deep conversations as a staff.  The idea came from this movie and manifested itself into our process to identify personal connections with our students.

During a staff meeting, where we had all of our all staff in attendance, we explored the power of personal connections and truly understanding our students’ stories.  We started the staff meeting by watching the 12-minute video ReMoved.  After watching this video, we briefly talked about the importance of knowing our students’ stories and the connections we have with our students.

This video, or pages it links to, contains information about child abuse and/or violence which may be triggering to survivors.

We then shared the purpose of the activity – to identify which students we have personal connections with, connections that allow us to know our students’ interests and passions, outside of the classroom. I shared 2 examples of personal connections I have with 2 students (1 student who really loves the St. Louis Blues hockey team and the numerous conversations we have had about the team, and another student who loves to sing and performs).  

I then referred to the 6 posters hanging around the room.  Each poster was of a different grade level and had all the students pictures and names on it. The goal was for the teachers to go around the room and put a dot next to a student they had a personal connection with and continue this process until they got through all of the students.  I also shared with the staff that we realize they had some of these students in class in previous years and we didn’t want them to put a dot next to these students just for just that reason.  Our goal was to identify which students in our school lacked a personal connection with an adult (as well as which students had multiple connections just as an aside).

At the conclusion of the activity, we created note cards with the student’s name and picture who lacked a personal connection.  We allowed staff the opportunity to select a student or two and they would make daily contact with those students for the remainder of the school year. This process allowed us, as an entire staff, to reflect on the types of personal connections we have with our students.  This process also provided us an opportunity to ensure that every student in our school has a personal connection with at least one adult!


Matt Wachel is an elementary assistant principal for the Park Hill School District in Missouri. He is a 2015 ASCD Emerging Leader, a 2016 Influence Leader, and a co-author of the book Having an Impact on Learning. Connect with Wachel on ASCD EDge or on Twitter @mattwachel.