One thing I have always known is this, to be a highly effective teacher, your students need to know you care about them and feel they are someone special. To piggyback on the blog post from Angela Maiers, Listen to children. Invite them to the table. Hear their ideas. Respect their perspective. Believe they matter and can make a difference in the world. Angela is notorious for her two simple words, YOU MATTER, this says it all. So, what do kids need most from teachers? Simply stated, to have a viable connection, be a point person they feel comfortable with.
I couldn't agree more with the author, Madeline Levine, who states, “The biggest impact you’ll have as a teacher is a relationship you establish with your student.” My first year teaching I experienced the power of believing in each and every student and how doing so made an enormous difference to every one of the second graders I taught. Thirty years later, I know what many of them are doing, where they now reside, career paths they've chosen, and a number of children they've had. I also know they remember me and know that I cared about them. To this day, I will cherish the scrapbook they (with their families) put together for me. This testament has traveled with me from classroom to classroom and school to school; every fall it reminds me to give the same level of caring to each new student that has been assigned to me.
In the elementary grades this is especially true and if you think otherwise, watch this TED Talk video with Rita Pierson:
What Kids Need the Most From Teachers
Everyone has their own style of connecting and there is no right or wrong way. Here are some suggestions to help ensure success in connecting with as many of your students as possible:
1. Catch kids when they've accomplished something and acknowledge their success. Almost like catch them when they are good, except this is more about them than their behavior.
2. Connect in the morning or at the beginning of each period. In our school, we use the Capturing Kids Hearts by the Flippen Group and greet each student with a handshake as they enter the classroom.
3. Share something good. Make time every day for your students to share, whether trivial or monumental, this is a great way to get to know your students and adds an element of caring and sharing.
4. Don't overdo the rules. Again, from the Flippen Group, our school uses a social contract that is created by the students and everyone signs it and it is posted in a predominate location in each classroom.
5. Remember in order to get respect, you need to give it.
6. Work on planned ignoring. If a student is acting out just for attention, focus on the student doing the right thing and ignore the negative as much as possible.
7. Take advantage of out of the classroom time. Homeroom, walking in the hall, lunch, recess, special area classes and dismissal are great occasions to spend some extra time with students and interact in a less structured way.
8. Encourage creativity and thinking outside of the box.
9. Writing a quick note on a sticky or having written dialogue in a journal is a great way to personalize the learning.
10. Celebrate the diversity in your class and recognize all the different talents.
11. Gear instruction to students' interests. Give choices, whether it is in choosing a book or how a child reports on a book, options are important.
12. Relax, kids know when we are uptight.
13. Take short breaks to breathe and let students regroup when necessary.
14. Learn the strengths of all of your pupils and let them shine.
15. Be patient. Remember, we all have different comfort zones and you can not force a connection.
16. Diffuse awkward and uncomfortable situations with humor.
17. Give ample time for cooperative group work and spend quality time with the different groups.
18. Encourage risk taking and honor those that are not yet able to take the leap.
19. Build a climate of "belonging" for all students, which will obviously mean different things for different students.
20. Respect individuality and encourage students to be true to themselves.
21. Use proximity control, body language, eye contact, and any other techniques without words to diffuse inappropriate behavior.
22. Be accepting. Remember that children need to be treated differently to be treated fairly.
23. Encourage families to get involved in class activities, have an open door policy, within reason.
24. Mix it up. Instruction needs to vary and understand that sitting erect in a chair may not be possible for some kids.
25. Admit when you make a mistake. Remind students there is much learning to be gained as we all learn from our mistakes, give time for reflection.
26. Share some of your personal life and encourage kids to do the same.
27. Accept that there are many ways to get the same answer, encourage divergent thinking.
28. Go the extra step and ask your students to do the same, raise the bar.
29. Focus on the positives. Model for pupils how easy it can be to turn negative things around.
30. Be passionate about your teaching. Bring out the passion in your students and listen with an open mind and open ears.
Most importantly HAVE FUN! The greatest challenge of teaching is reaching as many children as possible. Touching every student is an impossible task but every moment in our lives as educators brings new opportunities. Don't get caught up in the details, look at the big picture and let each and every child know that you care, even if you have to pretend!