Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Developing relationships with our students

I've been spending a lot of time thinking about next year and the focus that should be first and foremost for myself and the staff.  I keep coming back to relationships.  I truly believe the only way to assist students in learning is to have a positive relationship with them.
Oftentimes we find it easy to develop relationships with some students and what motivates them but there are the occasional few that we struggle ever truly connecting with.  How can we find the personal connection with these students when each of us seems to have contact with an ever increasing number of students and responsibilities?  A better question is how can we not find a connection?
Relationships are all about connections, finding those one or two things that are of importance to specific students and then building upon them.  Finding these connections can happen through individual meetings, a time consuming process for middle and high school teachers who are in contact with 100 or more students, or through surveys but I think the best way is to let the students get to know you as an educator and, more importantly, as a person.  Let the students know about your interests, your family, and why you became an educator.  Allowing the students to see you as a person will help them develop connections with you and with these connections comes a better opportunity to assist students in learning.
I have been very fortunate in my career as an educator feeling comfortable sharing personal stories.  I have shared things about my family, my passion for sports, my struggles, and my successes.  This sharing has led to discussions with students in the classroom as a teacher, in the hallways, in the cafeteria, and on the playground as an administrator, and in different sports venues as a coach.  I truly believe that the students saw me as a person first and an educator second so they felt comfortable speaking with me about their goals, their successes, and their struggles.  I have found that the students sometimes see me as their uncle, their father, and, now that I'm getting older, their grandfather.  I may be the only person they feel comfortable speaking with about a variety of topics.
I think, above all, that relationships are fostered by listening.  Listen without judging.  Be an active listener.  As an educator, you need to listen to what your students are saying, however hurtful it may be to you as a person.  Listen to their comments and concerns because they are just telling you how they feel.  Some students don't have a "filter", not because they are trying to be mean or cruel, but because they have an opinion that they need and want to express.  Listen to what they are saying and make the appropriate changes to meet their needs.  This may also lead to personal discussions that can lead to a stronger relationship and an even greater opportunity for learning to occur.
In the May 7th edition of MiddleWeb SmartBrief, there was an article entitled "What if Your Students Don't Like You?"  There are a number of questions posed by Fawn Johnson at the beginning of the article for guest blogger Renee Moore.  Although she is a Language Arts teacher, the responses are applicable to all content areas.  It is well worth the read.
Relationships are the bedrock of education.  In the words of Theodore Roosevelt, "Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care."  So I have a question for you.  How will you go about developing relationships this school year?