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Monday, September 4, 2017

Building Relationships in the Classroom

Whether you have been teaching for a long time or you are a first year teacher, I am sure you have heard or realized by now that the key to a successful school year is building relationships with your students. John Hattie's Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning book shows that forming teacher-student relationships has an effect size of .72. His research has shown that teaching practices with an effect size of .4 or above improve student learning.
Other research I have read shows that we cannot just have simple surface relationships with students and we need to push ourselves to really get to know our students, building trust so we can forge high-performance relationships. This would be the level we would want to aim for a classroom teacher. Our students at this level will feel cared for and also know that we will be challenging them to excel in their learning. 

So how do we do this? 
  • The first step is to check our own belief system. If we truly believe that our students can be successful then we need to push them to get to that level of success. If we do not believe that a specific child or children can be successful, we have completely halted the ability to form a true relationship with that student. 
  • The second step is to get to know all of our students. This can be done in so many ways. Many teachers use beginning of the year surveys to get to know a student's likes, dislikes, passions, and struggles. I admit, this is a tool I have always used. I even do an additional first week of school survey for parents to see how the student sees himself or herself compared to how the parent sees their child. Another way to learn about your students is to have lunch with them. I would schedule lunches with small groups of students in my classroom. They loved this special treatment and I also got to know more about what they do on the weekends, their families, and their friends. There are tons of resources on TPT for students sharing information about themselves. Some of my favorites are the All About Me Bags and the Math About Me
  • The third step is keeping a record of that information! I have always had a binder where I kept student surveys and information I had learned about them, but honestly sometimes flipping back and forth in those binders to get to their student page made things a bit difficult. A few weeks back, I read an article from Mind/shift that suggested collecting student data all year round. I used their example and created a spreadsheet of my own. Feel free to use it for your class! Click HERE for the 360 Spreadsheet. As a coach this year, I have actually taken this same type of form and have a spreadsheet on my teachers. I am using it to remember and track new things I am learning about them so I can make connections with them in future conversations. 
  • The fourth step is being available and making sure that students know you not only want to connect with them, but that as a classroom you want all students to connect and learn about one another. I was so happy to find out about The First Six Weeks Of School by Responsive Classroom. Check out their website HERE. I heard about this book last year and was so excited when I found out my administrators had bought a copy for every teacher to read over the summer. Morning Meeting is the key to a successful school year. I can honestly say that after these first few weeks I have seen so many student-student and teacher-student connections being made. So many students have said that Morning Meeting is their favorite part of the school day, and to top it off, they are upset if they are late to school because they do not want to miss out on it with their classmates. The thing I love most about this book and Responsive Classroom is that it gives a structured, guided approach to doing morning meetings. Complete honesty: I have done morning meetings in the past and have had a huge success, but I would just throw in topics that we were struggling with as a group. I would also do most of the getting to know you activities at the start of the year and then we would just discuss goals or reflect on our day. I always knew something was missing, and I believe the structure and activities were that missing piece. With this format there is a Greeting where students greet each other in a different way each day. Next, you have a sharing time where students share with one person  or the whole group. Third, you guide students in a group activity which is a chant, song, or game. Finally, you read the morning message together. There are tons of resources in the book that guide a teacher through the first 6 weeks of school and beyond. Morning meeting continues throughout the school year. 
  • Finally, throughout the year, but especially at the beginning of the year, share your hopes and dreams (goals) with students and have them share their hopes and dreams (goals) with you. 
As an instructional coach, I have also been getting to know students and trying to build relationships with them. I have signed up for morning and after school duty. During this time I am able to get to know students and talk to them about their lives in and out of school. I also have been joining in on Morning Meeting every day in a different classroom. If I will be in a classroom for the first time that day, I make sure to go to that classes Morning Meeting. I have also been in the cafeteria if it works into my schedule. I try to talk to students on an informal level while they eat lunch or in the hallways. While I know I will not be able to have close relationships with students as a classroom teacher could, my goal for the year is to at least get to know something about each student that I encounter. 

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