When I began my teaching career eighteen years ago, I was advised by many veteran teachers not to smile at my students until Christmas. As unnatural as it felt, I decided to hold my smile. Unfortunately, by Christmas, many of my students were already disengaged. After that first year, I realized I really did not know many of my students. I knew their names of course, but I did not know them. I knew I would not make a significant difference in the lives of my students if I did not have a relationship with them. Since that first year, research I have conducted has clearly shown that building relationships with students is essential to student achievement. Still, some educators find it difficult to develop relationships with students for a variety of reasons. Through my personal experience I have culled a few strategies that could help even the most reluctant educator connect with a student.
- Be visible – For middle and high school educators, the time spent greeting and talking with students can be invaluable. It allows you to set the tone of class as well as take note of any students that may have a difficult time in class that day. Using the time between classes also keeps class time focused on instruction. It may seem like a great time to check a quick email or two, but utilizing this brief time period now will yield big relationship dividends later.
- Take Interest – So many of our students have amazing talents. They enjoy seeing their teachers and administrators take an interest in them outside of just the classroom. It is not feasible for you to make every game or match nor is it possible for you to attend every fine arts program. I have found that staying until half time or an intermission to be effective. During my tenure as a teacher, I discovered that many of my students had a gift of some kind that was not always respected or celebrated in school. It is important that our students know they are more than just another number in our system.
- Listen – I have found that listening has been an effective and very easy way to get to know your students and build rapport. Throughout my career, I have had numerous students drop by my class or office just to sit and talk. They do not expect me to solve their problem or even help them solve the problem. They simply want me to listen. Without me ever saying a word, these students began to build trust in me simply because I was willing to listen. Currently as an administrator, I often have students who request to come to my office to take their tests and to work on projects. This, again, does not take much effort by me. It allows me to keep working at my desk while students complete their work. I am not sure what brings them there, but if being there is helping them achieve, and I can help I am all for it.
Education is a difficult, yet, rewarding profession. As educators, our goal is to prepare the next generation of students. That difficult goal cannot be achieved if we just show up each day and go through the motions. Young people are wonderful. They are full of life, hope, and wonder. Get to know them. Be visible, take an interest, and listen. Both you and your students will be better for it.
Tori Simmons is passionate about teaching and learning. During her nineteen year career, Tori has served as a National Board Certified English teacher, a literacy coach, and district instructional coach. She currently serves as an assistant principal at A.C. Flora High School in Columbia, SC. Ms. Simmons is a 2015 South Carolina ASCD Emerging Leader, and she is currently pursuing her doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction at the University of South Carolina. Follow Tori on twitter @ttsimmons18.