Building relationships with my students has always been incredibly important to me, and the reason why I am still connected to a lot of my old students, despite being out of the classroom for 2 years now!
Likewise, teaching is about so much more than the content we share with our students. My most memorable teachers are the ones that I felt really knew me and cared about me. If we want our students to know that we are their allies, it starts by building relationships with each one. But where to begin?
Start by learning their names! Every year I make a seating chart for each class, like the one pictured. On the first day of school I take the time to walk up to each student, introduce myself, and ask what they like to go by. I record their names on my chart and spend the first night of school memorizing them. I truly don’t make any plans for that night so that I can have the time to do this. I always greet my students at the door so the next day I call them each by name as they walk in. It’s a small first step in building a relationship with students that says, “I value you as an individual and I want to know you. I care enough about you to learn your name.”
Additionally, it is important to connect with each student AT LEAST once per class period. One way I do this is through using popsicle sticks. At the beginning of the year I make a set for each class with the students’ names on them. I store each class set in a cup at the front of my classroom. I use these names for EVERYTHING – drawing names to hear answers, engaging students in discussion, creating lab groups, assigning tasks, anything! I make sure to go through the entire cup at LEAST once a class period to make sure I have spoken to each student and called them by name every day. I also liked to greet my students at my door to start each class (as I mentioned in last week’s tip!) so that was usually a second interaction.
It may sound like a silly or obvious tip, but I found that before I implemented this strategy I would spend all my time interacting with the students that raised their hands the most and students that caused the most disruptions. There were so many students (especially in my public school my first few years where I always had 30-32 in a class) that could slip through an entire period under the radar. I want every student in my class to feel not only noticed, but known and cared for.
Next, I recommend sending positive emails to parents. During one of my first mid year evals with my principal he challenged me to focus more of my energy on creating relationships with parents. I really didn’t get the need for it at first until (1) I started doing it and (2) I myself became a parent!
Because of his challenge, I set aside 30 minutes every Friday afternoon before leaving for the weekend to send quick emails (or phone calls home) to parents with something positive about their students. I kept a list so that I could keep track and try to contact each parent/guardian twice a semester. It was so fun to hear the surprise from many of the parents that a teacher was actually reaching out to share GOOD news! Some students would even come in on Monday and thank me for saying something nice to their parents.
I found it really built my rapport with the parent AND student, much more than I anticipated! It also made parents more receptive and responsive when I did have to reach out with any issues, because they felt like they knew me and that I truly cared.
Last but not least, support your students in their extracurriculars! I can’t tell you how much it meant for students to hear my voice in the stands (I have a very specific holler that the students learned to recognize and know – Mrs. J is here 🤣🤣) or to be able to tell them the next day that I was in the audience and was so impressed by how well they played the drums. To know their teacher cares about them enough to take the time to come see them outside of class is a GAME CHANGER for so many of our students.
But that’s just the thing – how do you find the time?? 😅
Pre-kids: I would stay at school late once or twice a week until the performance/game/competition started. This allowed me to not only get a TON of grading and prepping done, but it made it a lot easier to go. Once I got home and saw my couch it made it a LOT harder to head back out to the field or theater, so just commit to one or two days staying. Get all your extra work done beforehand and then go home immediately the other days as your reward!
Now for with kids: I’m no pro at this since my kids are little, but I will say it has actually been WAY easier than I thought to support students. The “witching hours” from 4-6 have been made much easier (in the past pre-COVID) with outings. Especially if you teach lowerclassmen – all the JV games start EARLY! I think we attended every JV volleyball game this year and may have been the only non-student parents there, ha!! But it created some great memories with my kids for my students. My 2 year old gets so excited now when I tell him we are going to the high school. Practical note: plan crockpot meals on these nights so you can walk straight in to dinner ready!
What tips or experiences do you have with supporting your students outside the classroom, or for just building relationships with students in general? I’d love to hear!