Educators around the country are beginning to think about starting back to school. Campus administrators are planning inservice programs and registration fairs for new students, librarians are thinking about how to get more people in their libraries this year, and teachers are contemplating what they can do to provide amazing learning experiences for their classes. It’s a time for new beginnings, hope, and bright possibilities.
As a former teacher, I would spend a lot of the time right before the start of school in planning those opening day activities. What supplies did I need to stock up on? How would I decorate my room? What icebreaker would help to break down the barriers between my students and myself? And all of these were important things for me to consider. But what I didn’t spend enough time on before the start of a new year was in thinking about how I could form a better relationship with each of my students.
The research on this is very clear. “When teachers form positive bonds with students, classrooms become supportive spaces in which students can engage in academically and socially productive ways (Hamre & Pianta, 2001).” Before we can begin teaching them, we must form a positive relationship with our students. So, while spending time on creative and engaging bulletin boards and opening activities is important, it is not as important as reflecting on how we can get to know each of them better. (And for those campus administrators, this same caveat can be applied to your staff. Before you can lead them, you must know them.)
What will you do to begin forming these critical relationships with each of your students this year? Relationships don’t usually just happen on their own, but occur as a result of thoughtful activities and time. As the adults, we must make a strong effort to:
- Really get to know each student. Learning their names is not enough. We must engage with them to find out their interests. What are their favorite sports, music, foods, activities? What do they like to do in their spare time? What is their family like? What do they hope to become? What do they need from you?
- Treat them as we would want to be treated. The first few days of school can be crazy. Most of us will admit that we are frazzled with all of the paperwork, regulations, and stuff that we must get through. It’s easy to just hurry through things and think that we’ll be “nicer” when we have more time. But first impressions are critical. So the early days with students must be made up of us on our very best and most positive behavior as we welcome them into our world.
- Compliment them. I think we would all agree that it’s harder to be a child today than when we grew up. And yet these amazing students show up every day at school, willing to at least give us the benefit of the doubt and listen. We must tell them how much we appreciate that. If the only time you interact with a student is when he/she is causing a disruption, then your relationship cannot possibly be a positive one or one that will lead to learning. Instead, tell them when they are doing things well. No one ever complained that they were complimented too much!
- Listen to them. A strong relationship is based on give and take. For that to happen, we have to believe and practice the belief that we can learn just as much from our students as they can learn from us. And the only way to learn from them is to let them talk and actively listen to them.
Students and educators alike begin each new school year with high hopes. Sometimes, these hopes are dashed before the first week is over. But if we start the year by learning about each other, then the research says we are more likely to end the year with success. What will you do to form a positive relationship with each student this school year?