Building Student Relationships

So much goes into making a classroom!  Ultimately, your day, the reach you have with your students, and the learning that takes place has to do with connecting with your students.  So let's discuss what it takes to connect and build great relationships with your students.

Classroom relationships are built when a mutual respect between students and the teacher is formed. So, how do you do that?  The days of having respect just because you are the teacher are long gone.  You now have to prove yourself to your students to some degree.  Is it right?  Well, frankly no, you worked hard to become a teacher and it should be something that earns you respect.  However, it earns you the respect of your students staying in the room.  From within the four walls of your classroom it is your job to teach them respect by showing it and forming those relationships that students may not see or get anywhere else.  So let's talk about how to do that.

The first step to building relationships with your students is to speak to them with kindness.  A student who believes you are kind, and who thinks you like them, will work so much harder for you than a student who thinks you don't like them.  This can be difficult to do, but it is achievable.  Help your students to see that you are their cheerleader; you want them to succeed.  Applaud them for a job well done.

Consistently allowing kids to be successful builds their confidence. It also builds the confidence they will need to participate in your classroom and to be a part of the successful culture.  As you allow for success, remember this is more than "Good job!" or, "I like that!"  Turn your statements into things like, "You did a great job labeling that problem!" or, "You are such a leader, thank you for showing your classmate ______ where to turn in their paper."  Through this, you are enforcing the behaviors you want to see, and you are showing the students that you pay attention and that you care that they are successful.

Be consistancy with students to create powerful teacher and student relationships

No matter how encouraging you are, you will face students who disobey, or just plain refuse to do what is asked.  That's okay.  You do what you can to reach them, and there are plenty of strategies that go into that ... but that is a different post for a different time.

I will also tell you that part of connecting with students is being consistent.  When students know what to expect from you and know your expectations, they will feel safe about their environment and they can connect with you.

I have had difficult students in the past, and part of what helps with them is for me to keep my cool.  Does this mean I never get frustrated or raise my voice?  No, it has happened.  It does mean that 99% of the time I do not do this.  I keep a calm tone when I talk to my kids.  You can be stern without yelling.  And never, ever attack a child as a person! I know it sounds crazy, who does this, right?  Well, I have heard of it happening, and I want to save you from that.  You don't want to be the teacher that tears down, you want to build up.  So when these student issues arise, you address the issue.  For instance, "Johnny, your decision to do ______ was a poor choice.  There are consequences for your actions."  You are addressing the issue, not "Johnny, I hate when you do ______, why are you bad all the time?"  I hope you can see the difference in this.

It is important that once you make a decision, you stick to it.  This is where consistency comes in.  It is very common for children to try to talk or deal their way out of a situation.  I have seen it happen SO MANY times.  Do not let them out of their consequences, just because it is easier.  This happens sometimes at home with kids, and then they try it at school.  Being consistent reinforces that there are consequences for choices.  You do kids a disservice when you rob them of that learning opportunity.  That child may not realize it, but they will thank you later and they will have more respect for you if you stick to your decisions.

Unconditional Love is Important to Student Success

Although it breaks my heart to know about some of the situations my students come from, not every student has a bad home life.  Many have great home situations!  There is always that one kid (or two kids) who maybe doesn't have that life at home, and you want to be there for them to bridge that gap.  You may be the one person in their young life that makes them see they are capable, and that someone really does care about them.

Unfortunately, our society is based on conditional love.  Our divorce rates are up, and our people are disconnected, unless it involves their face in their phone.  More than ever, what our kids need is for us to love them and care about them with unconditional love. What does this look like?  Well, you let your students know that you still care about them and want what is best for them even if you don't like what they did.  Not so hard, right?  It is very simple.  When you discipline a student, as you wind up to the end you tell them, "I am doing this because I care about you, and I want what is best for you," or, "Even though you made this choice, I still know you are capable of doing great things and when this conversation is over I am not going to think less of you. You made a mistake, we all do.  Fix the mistake and move on."  Showing students this unconditional love teaches them how it works and helps them to build that same connection with others.

Build classroom culture through laughing with students

Laugh with your kids, cut up with them and have fun when it is appropriate, and about appropriate things!  I love having a good joke with my kids and we laugh A LOT!  It is great to get on their level, and not be so serious all the time.

Lightening up and joking will help them to know that when you are serious, it is important to be serious.  You are teaching them to be well-rounded individuals, and you are allowing them to see a side of you that is personable and loving.

Humor is also a great way to put students at ease.  It makes you more approachable.  When you are approachable, they can ask you questions and they are more likely to open up to you when they are struggling, or have other issues that need to be addressed.

As teachers it is important to listen to students to build trust

Listen to your kids when they talk.  Listen and absorb what they are saying.  If they have a concern, hear it and answer it. It is very easy to get "in the zone" of teaching and to keep going, so you miss a student concern or misunderstanding.  Stopping and catching them up is not only good practice, but it makes them feel safe and lets them know you care and will help them.

When a student comes to you with a family concern, listen.  It is important to be open-minded when a student brings a concern from home.  Remember, every family is different and their family dynamics are different.  There will be times when students need you to stand up and advocate for them.  There will be times when they are asking for help and don't even realize it.  It is your duty to listen for these things.  It is also your job to hear those things that may not be a danger, but may just be something they need to talk about.  I have had students that just constantly chattered at me.  It was easy to zone them out, and sometimes I did.  Until one day, amidst that chatter, a child told me something deep that they needed to talk about, and that they needed reassurance and help in dealing with.  Always have your ear bent to hear for those things.

Finally, listen when they tell you about other kids and conflicts.  It's easy to dismiss the annoying kid or the tattler.  You will get to know your kids, and sometimes part of their growing process is for them to have you tell them to not worry about it and go on.  Give them a chance to state the case first, though; sometimes there is more to it.  You don't want to stifle something that may be important.  At the split second you know it is a tattle from your well-known tattler, feel free to tell them you are not handling that in the words you so choose, but make sure you hear them first and know that it isn't something more.

Explain your thinking to students to help them understand

As adults we sometimes feel like we don't have to explain ourselves or shouldn't have to explain.  This is true, we shouldn't have to explain ... but that doesn't change the fact that sometimes we NEED to explain.  Why?  How else will kids learn the reasoning behind something?  I am a "Why?" person so I have that burning desire to understand most things, which makes this easy for me to do.  If you are not one of those people, this may take you a little more practice and training.

To elaborate, when I teach my students a rule or a procedure, we discuss the reason behind it.  For instance, why do we walk in the hall?  Because someone can get hurt if they run and bump into someone.  Why do we use our math strategies? They help us to map our thinking and understand what the question is asking.

When students realize its more than just checking off a box, they will take things to heart.  They gain a deeper knowledge, and begin to make connections.  You also build a connection with them.  They see you as advocating for them and providing them tools to help them understand.

let students know you make mistakes

One final important point ... we all make mistakes.  You will not be perfect at all of this, or at teaching ... not in year one, not in year twenty.  We all get one day better with every reflection and every improvement, but we all learn and grow as educators.  At the point you stop growing as an educator, you become an ineffective educator.

It is okay for students to sometimes see your failures.  Does this mean you divulge every mistake you've ever made?  Of course not!  It does mean that it is okay to mess up and tell them, "I'm sorry, I misunderstood that." I can count a few times over the past three years in third grade where I have answered word problems and at first I missed information or missed the problem.  Students would point it out.  I said, "Oh, goodness, you are right!  See, we all make mistakes and I have to read more carefully." This allows students to see you own your mistakes, and that you are teachable.  This helps them to feel connected and safe to also make mistakes.

Connecting with students is vital to their academic and social growth.  Using these strategies will help them to thrive in the nurturing classroom you have created.  It is easy to get caught up in the decor and the cuteness of a classroom, but at the end of the day, the moments that matter are the ones that involve the learning and collaboration taking place through the children and teacher who are in the room.

Thanks for reading!  Please go to Beth's blog and read more information on creating student relationships!

Stay tuned next week as we go from student relationships to parent relationships!  How to form them and have parents on your side to best meet the needs of the children in your classroom.

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