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How to make a meaningful connection with your students

August 29, 2011

Okay so this is my first attempt at blogging so be gentle.  Well actually I tried it once in college but I am not going to count that because it was just an attempt to distract myself during finals, but I digress.

Most of you have either already gone back to school or are going back within the next few days and I honestly think one of the most important things to a successful year for both you and your students is how well you are able to make a meaningful connection with them.

I have often heard people say, “student’s don’t need to like you, they just need to respect you”.  Okay, that sounds great, but how many 14 year olds have the capacity to separate the two?  Ok ok too tough?  How many adults do you know that have the capacity to separate the two?.  Think about how many people are in your life that you don’t like but respect.  Need more time?  Well, I was able to count on one hand and I never took my fingers off the keyboard.

I am not saying you should go out and send all of your students a Facebook friend request (you should actually never do that), but I have found that if you have a connection with your students it helps with classroom management (which helps everyone) and also helps with the learning process.  It is our nature to not disappoint people that we have respect for and with a connection students will work harder for you, learn more from you, and you will both just have a better classroom experience.

Here are 3 tips I found that to help make a meaningful connection with your students:

3. Learn about your students- Take 10-15 minutes on the first day of class to learn about your kids.  (notice I said kids there–it goes with the ‘making a connection’ theme)  What I like to do is hand out an index card and start the year off with, yes you guessed it, a “Do Now”.  This “Do Now” is to fill out their index card with their full names, the name they like to be called (James vs Jimmy), what activities they are involved with in school, do they have a job (when do they work), favorite hobbies, something interesting about them, and then I throw in a couple of fun questions, favorite animals, favorite movie, if they were a food what they would be, etc.  Besides just reading them myself to learn about the students I also use the cards as an ice breaker.  I’ll usually read them out loud in my best announcer voice and the students try to guess which classmate it is.  It’s amazing how such a little piece of paper can give you so much information.  Let’s say Student A is having a hard time staying awake in class or getting work done.  Well look at their card, maybe they are working every day until 10pm, now when you call home or bring the student in you can say, “I know you don’t have a lot of free time with your work schedule but we really need to figure out a way that you are able to spend more time on school work and get your assignments done on a more regular basis…”  Now do you think their reaction would be more positive if you did that, or just called their house and left a message saying Jimmy isn’t doing his homework and is failing?

2. Show your students that you are interested-  I am not saying you need to go to 3 plays, 5 athletic events, 2 debates, and 2 band performances A WEEK to make a connection with your students.  I do suggest going to at least a few events to show your students that you are interested but just asking them about activities they are in will really matter to them.  Most schools announce winning teams, play performances, etc.  So if you have a member of the boy’s basketball team in class and you here on the announcements that the team won, congratulate him during class, it can go a long way.  I had a student who bowled for the girls bowling team and I have no idea about bowling but I was still able to carry a 2 minute conversation with her once or twice a week and I could tell it really mattered to her.  I know for a fact that she didn’t do well in a lot of her classes but she never missed an assignment for me and I never had any issues with her.    Do yourself a favor and get a schedule of events for your school, this way you can say “Is anyone performing in the _________ this week?”

1.  Be yourself- Every one hears this before their first day but you really must understand it.  Students can tell if you are putting on an act and they hate it or they will just dismiss you.  I am a dork.  I know it, my kids know it, we all know it.  But they love me for it.  I honestly think most of them are happy to see me when they come to class and that just makes for a better work environment and makes teaching/learning that much easier.  I have had some of the toughest students and never felt threatened by them or thought I needed to act a certain way to get their attention.  If I was in a meeting with my peers and wanted to get their attention I would not scream and yell at them, so why do some teachers feel like they need to do this in the classroom to get the student’s attention?  When you try acting like someone your not that’s when kids decide to tune you out and end the connection.

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