Sunday, February 9, 2020

5 Simple Habits to Build Connection With Your Students

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Creating stronger connections with your students doesn't require grand gestures. But it does require some intentional behaviors on the part of the teacher. It requires taking action.

But these actions can be simple in the sense that they don't require any extra time. But that doesn't mean it's easy. They do require showing up with a certain emotional readiness, and they require making the effort to work at the interactions you're having each day.

"Every interaction is an opportunity 
for building relationships."

For elementary school teachers who see the same kids all day, these things may seem almost too obvious. I don’t know for certain, but I’m guessing these things might be more common in elementary.

But in middle school and high school, where teachers see so many different students each day, and the amount of time is so limited, it seems more likely that these things aren’t prioritized as much as they should be. We might tend to focus our energy on other things, but kids of all ages need us to take the leadership to create a warm classroom environment.

Here are 5 things you can do to build connection. If you already do them, you might try to do them even more, or more effectively. Just writing this post is a reminder to me that I can do better.

1. Smile

Every kid wants to feel like they are important, valued, and loved. They want to feel like they matter and that their teacher likes them. They also want to feel like their teacher enjoys them and enjoys teaching them. So smile. That's one of the best ways you can show warmth and care toward your students. 

But don't be fake about it. Fake smiles don't work. Kids can see right through that. You have to prepare yourself emotionally to be fully ready to teach with your heart. When you arrive for school with a full heart, your smile will shine through.

2. Make eye contact

Lots of kids are hurting or have been hurt, and they're moving through their day with their heads down, avoiding interaction because they either lack confidence or think that someone else will hurt them. But these kids need someone to see them. They need someone to notice them and connect with them eye to eye.

Eye contact lets your students know you have their attention. It shows them you're paying attention to them. When they are speaking, it shows them you're listening to them.

I've found that teachers often think they're making eye contact with their students, but they're speaking in the general direction of the class, or they only make eye contact with one side of the room, or with certain students. 

Search out and find the eyes of all the students in your classroom. Really see them, hear them, and understand them.

3. Call students by name

Dale Carnegie said, "A person's name is to him or her the sweetest and most important sound in any language." When you call your students by name, you are connecting with their identity, their individuality. 

Learn the names of all your students as soon as possible. As a teacher, I would always make it a point to remember names the first day of school. The students would see me struggle, make mistakes, but continue to practice as I went around the room saying their names until I could get them all. 

Make sure you learn to say their names correctly. There were names that were tricky for me over the years. Other people might be able to get them easily, but I had to work at it. I wanted the student to know it mattered to me to say their name correctly, and I would apologize if I didn't get it right.

I think most teachers know it's important to learn student names. But are you intentional about saying the student's name regularly? Do you make it a point to try to say every student's name every time they are in your class? I suspect many teachers are missing lots of opportunities to call students by name.

If a student is in trouble or the teacher needs their attention, you can bet they will hear their name then. But students need to hear their name on a regular basis in each of their classes. They need to know they aren't invisible to you.

4. Say thank you 

While it's great to encourage students with just the right compliment, that's not always easy to do. But it's not difficult to give your students a heartfelt "thank you." Show your appreciation for them. Model the behavior you want to see.

A sincere, heartfelt "thank you" shines your gratitude and appreciation in their direction. It shows them you care. Never, under any circumstances, say thank you in a sarcastic way, "Thank you for finally showing up on time for my class." You'll destroy any connection with that student and create a toxic classroom environment. There's no excuse for biting sarcasm from any educator. 

5. Praise your students

A recent article detailed some of the extraordinary benefits of giving praise to students. The more students were praised, the more engaged they were in their academic tasks. And the more they were scolded, the more they exhibited disengaged, unhelpful behaviors. Praise really works wonders.

I've heard teachers say, "I only want to praise a student when they've done something truly outstanding. I think it lessens the praise if I give it out too freely." Unfortunately, that is a personal preference and not what works best for kids.

Praise even the slightest of improvements. Don't miss a chance to lavish praise on your students. Be generous in your encouragement and affirmation. See the best in each of your students and let them know it. It will give them the confidence to succeed, and they will be forever grateful to you for it.
The person who will influence you the most is the person who believes in you and sees the best in you.
These tips are not difficult. They don't take a lot of time. They just require us to be more intentional. And they're a great start for building those connections. Deeper connection will require even more time, more energy, more conversations, and really getting to know students on a personal level. But you can never go wrong with getting started on the path of connecting with your students.

What are some of your tips for building connection with your students? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

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