Reflection plays a large part in the daily life of an educator. Did I communicate the learning target clearly enough? Which students struggled during this last assignment? What changes can I make to improve my instruction tomorrow? We know the importance of reflection and the power it has on our effectiveness as educators. It’s a constant daily reminder to ourselves that we’re always striving to do better.
While these reflections are good and necessary, we need to ask ourselves how often we are reflecting on our relationships with students. What connection did I build with a student today? Were my students happy to be in my classroom? How did I engage them and ignite their passion for what we are learning? Any teacher can teach the content. If we’re wanting to become teachers who are developing passionate, lifelong learners–teachers who will be remembered for changing a student’s life for the better–we need to also focus on developing positive relationships with our students.
What does it take to build and foster positive relationships with our students?
Passion- My students will not buy into what we’re doing in class, unless they buy into me first. If we’re wanting to develop lifelong learners, we have to model for students what passionate learning looks like. Bring your own passions into the classroom by telling them about your hobbies, favorite sports teams, and books you could read over and over again. Show them that learning never ends. They pick up on it and want to share more with you. This is why we have former students still coming to share their passions with us…like cheerleading competitions or drama tryouts. This is why Ms. Arias (@Ms_Arias88) was able to fill up an entire movie theater full of our #TMGenius students and families to see the debut of the movie Wonder. Or why Ms. Starnes (@brit_starnes) and I are known as the “Harry Potter teachers.” When we reveal ourselves as passionate educators, we develop passionate learners.
Trust- Trust should always come first in positive relationships, but it doesn’t always come easy. It’s not something we can demand from our students; it must be earned. We earn trust by first showing our students we trust them. We can often eliminate behavior problems when we look at a student in the eye and show that we trust them running an errand, or carrying out a leadership role in class. Give them choice for what to work on in class after they finish an activity. They’ll trust you when they know you trust them to make choices in their own learning.
Trust opens the door for honest conversations. At Taylor Mill, you see teachers do this with a student off to the side in a classroom about an undesirable behavior, or when a lesson goes terribly wrong and we choose to say “Well this was an #EpicFail. Let’s try again tomorrow.” It also means providing a platform for students to give you feedback for how they’re feeling about your class, whether it be seeking feedback in an anonymous, digital format (Student Voice Survey on a Google Form) or a face-to-face conversation (“I’m seriously struggling Mrs. Callahan” moment). When a student can be honest with you about your teaching or their feelings, you know you’ve connected.
Humor- I am a strong believer that you shouldn’t go a day without laughing. To be honest, I’ve had days like that teaching. It’s not fun for me or the students. I absolutely hate, and honestly feel drained, if I go home and feel like I haven’t laughed enough with my kids. I know that my students have fun when I have fun, so I always try to sprinkle in a little humor into what we’re doing. I’m the teacher in the back cracking a joke about a character we’re reading, insisting on my kids reading in their best British accents, or adding GIFs to my Welcome slides in the morning as students are filing in. Who doesn’t love a good GIF? My students know I mean business, and we’re there to work, but it doesn’t mean we can’t have a good laugh along the way!
A Little Dose of Weird- Yes, that’s right. Weird. We’re all weirdos in some way, shape, or form. We’ve been suppressing it for years. Time to let it out. My name is Katelyn Callahan. I speak fluent sarcasm, could have an entire conversation in GIFs if given the opportunity, and love giving my students nicknames. For some reason, nicknames are what helps me connect with students, and they love it. Sometimes it’s a shortened version of their name (like Hen Hen), sometimes I make up weird middle names for them (my go-tos are usually Penelope or Francis), or sometimes I just pronounce their names differently by emphasizing different syllables. They stick too. Students start using the nicknames and they become a little part of an inside joke within our class. I can’t tell you how many times I’m asked, “Can I have a nickname now?” Never underestimate the power of a good nickname.
In the end, it comes down to us as educators, showing that we’re human. It’s okay to tear down our walls, show our students that we are real people, and treat them like real people too. That’s when we start to see them excited to come to class, and be a part of whatever we’re doing for the day. I can’t honestly tell you everything you’re going to see the next time you walk into my classroom. We may be talking in funny voices or listening to Disney music as we write. I could have stopped the class to have a student demonstrate how Ichabod Crane was dancing in our story (flailing his arms around like an octopus in a tornado). What you will see (and feel) is the little family we have become, because we take the time to laugh, listen, and share our weirdness with one another. That is the reason I come to work every day, joyfully, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.
Katelyn Callahan, Leader, 4th grade Teacher, Taylor Mill Elementary