State standards and test scores are important, but we can’t forget the necessity of positive student-teacher relationships. When students don’t feel comfortable or cared for in the classroom, learning becomes difficult. On the other hand, if a student feels connected to their teacher, they’re likely to flourish.
1. Say hello and goodbye to every student, every day.
Connecting with students in the middle of a lesson isn’t easy. It’s important to take advantage of the time before and after class to build bonds. Stand at the door as your students enter and as they leave, saying hello and goodbye to each child.
Perhaps you’ve seen viral greeting rituals, including having a special handshake with each student or allowing children to choose how they would like to be greeted (e.g. high five, fist bump, or smile).
However, it’s not important how you greet your students. What matters is that you take the moment to be fully present and attuned with every child. Make eye contact, smile, and use their name. In these seemingly small moments, relationships are built.
2. Accept students–and their mistakes in the classroom.
Accept all students, despite their quirks and differences. Treat all students with the same respect and kindness, and don’t allow students to tease or disrespect one another in your classroom. Create an environment where all children can feel welcome and comfortable.
When you struggle to remain patient, remember that the children who need your love the most often show it in the most destructive ways. Try to give a fresh start each day, continue trying to connect, and consider how you can help even the most challenging children succeed. What skills are they missing? What do they need?
In addition, accept that mistakes are a natural part of learning, and instill this belief in your students. When they make mistakes, ask them, “What did you learn from that?” and celebrate the lesson learned.
3. Provide students with a choice.
As often as you can, provide flexibility and choice in assignments. Sure, you must assess specific skills and knowledge. However, how students demonstrate these abilities may vary. For instance, students can show vocabulary knowledge by writing a story, singing a song, or even making a collage.
You may also allow students to choose a book, design their own experiment, play a role in creating class rules and expectations, etc. The more you provide students with choice and autonomy, the more they’ll see that you value them as individuals.
4. Get to know your students.
Take the time to know your students as individuals. Learn about their families, backgrounds, interests, likes, and dislikes.
A “Getting to Know You” questionnaire at the beginning of the year is helpful. Other strategies include talking to your students at the beginning and/or end of class, or having students keep a journal that you regularly read and respond to.
Once you learn information about your students, bring it up in conversation. Asking, “How did your soccer game go?” or, “Did you get to see the latest Marvel movie yet?” means more to your students than you might expect.