At the beginning of the year, I chose the word connect to guide my intentions, goals and actions for the year. I wanted to connect more with students, teachers, parents and the on-line PYP community. Three months in, as I reflect on my growth so far, I can see that I have made the most progress connecting with students. As I try to unpack “why is it like that?” (causation) I can identify a few factors that have helped me.
Here are the 10 things I’ve tried that I think have helped me connect more with students:
- Smile at them – a simple act that makes a big difference. I notice that when I smile at a student, their usual first reaction is shock and surprise, always followed by a smile back. I often wonder why students are so shocked to have a teacher or adult smile at them? Is it that rare? I truly hope not.
- Say hello and goodbye – As often as possible, I try to position myself in a place that allows me to greet students in the morning and send them off at then end of the day.
- Learn names. Use names. Pronounce them properly – Recently I read a quote that said some students can go a full day at school without ever hearing a teacher/adult say their name. How heartbreaking! This year, I have intentionally tried to learn as many names as possible and use them in my interactions and conversations with students. Whether its a greeting, a question, a compliment, I find using their name adds a nice personal touch. I’ve also tried my best to pronounce each name properly. This often requires lots of practice and seeking out feedback from students. But the students are always so appreciative of the effort. It has taken me three years to master “Ahmed”! My next challenge is “Khaled”.
- Ask questions and care about the answer – Edna Sackson advises us to go beyond learning students’ names and start learning their stories. How can we do this without asking questions? How was your weekend? How is your family? How was your day? This year I have tried to ask questions, not just to ask, but to really listen and care about the answer. It has been amazing to learn about students’ lives outside of school.
- Inquire into their interests – 90% of my conversation with the Grade 5 boys at my school are about WWE. I have absolutely no interest in WWE myself, but I love hearing their passion and excitement when they talk about their favourite wrestlers, favourite matches and favourite moves. Whether it is WWE, Trash Packs, Bey Blades, Geronimo Stilton, Premiere League or Frozen, there is such power in learning about the interests of each student. You don’t need to care about the same thing, but you can still acknowledge their interest and ask them questions about it to show you are interested in them.
- Care for them – The Relevant Educator has a great post explaining the difference between caring about students and caring for students. This has been my inspiration for actively seeking opportunities to care for students. Whether that means picking up something they dropped, holding a door open for them, helping them carry a heavy backpack or teaching them how to to tie their shoe. Small, simple acts of kindness can go a long way to show you care.
- Take interest in their language, culture and religion – As an international teacher, most of the students at my school are from a different culture, speak a different language and practice a different religion than me. I find the more I ask, listen and learn about their language, culture and religion the better I understand them as people and our relationship becomes stronger. I enjoy being able to use simple phrases or hand gestures that students understand. It is great to be able to acknowledge and wish them well for an upcoming holiday. It is clear that they appreciate the interest and the effort.
- Take their problems seriously – Sometimes I find we minimize students’ problems. I think it would be helpful to reflect on how we would feel experiencing those same problems as adults. How upset would you be if your money was stolen out of your purse? Could you focus on your job if you and your best friend were in a fight? This year I have tried to empathize more with students when they are looking for help solving their problems – both big and small. I have tried to put myself in their shoes and consider how I would be feeling if I were them, and it has helped me invest more time in listening to their problems and supporting them through solving those problems.
- Have a sense of humor – I love having jokes with students. One student calls me Cruela Daville, one student gives me points when she sees me drinking water and takes points away when she sees me drinking coffee, one student thanks me for the Starbucks I left on his desk (which I never do) and I love it. I love joking around with students. I love laughing with students. I love being invited to see that side of their personality.
- Play with them – This is the jackpot. Whether it is playing tic-tac-toe, who can reach my hand when I wear high heels, stella-ella-ola, solve the riddle, a moon walking contest or the latest version of rock-paper-scissors (which requires going into the splits!) I find that playing with students is the best way that I can build genuine relationships with them. I try to force myself to go out for recesses that I am not on duty, specifically to play with the students. (Not to mention it provides fresh air, exercise and stress relief for me!)
It’s interesting that sometimes you hear teacher’s say “I don’t have enough time to build relationships with students”. As PYP coordinator, none of my direct responsibilities involve students, but I actively seek out opportunities to purposefully connect with students. For me, building relationships with students is intentional… and essential… and the best part of working in the field of education! I often ask myself, Who have I not connected with yet? What can I do to form a bond with this student? and I purposefully invest the time and effort to build that bond. And the investment is so worth it. I am proud to say I have numerous authentic, meaningful relationships with many of the students at my school. I love when they run to my office to share their learning with me. I am honoured that they trust me with their problems. I enjoy the inside jokes we share. I appreciate that they listen to me when I have a reminder or redirection about their safety or behavior. I like being invited to take the Bean Boozled challenge! (If you don’t know what this is, consider yourself lucky!)
I can also acknowledge that connecting with students is not accidental. It’s a causal relationship. I invest in the relationship in purposeful ways and I reap the benefits daily.
Which of these do you already do?
Which of these might you want to start doing?
What else do you do to intentionally connect with the students?