“No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship…” ~Dr. James Comer
These words are my mantra. Building a strong rapport with students is vital to maximizing academic growth. Here are some of the ways I cultivate relationships with my fabulous first graders:
1) Positive Discipline: To create a happy, healthy, and loving classroom environment I continuously highlight positive behaviors/choices rather than focusing on the negative. Negative language/punishment breaks the bond between student and teacher and is typically counterproductive. Check out my post The Heart of Positive Discipline for 101 Positive Principles of Discipline. Pick one or two to try at a time!
2) Share Your Life: Don’t be afraid to bring your own personal passions/interests into the classroom. Find ways to embed YOU into your lessons. One year I made a Prezi containing photographs of the mountains goats I encountered while hiking Glacier National Park. Do you think it piqued the interest of my students? I bet they could still tell you about their body covering, appendages, methods of movement, habitat, etc.
3) Embed Their Interests: Likewise, find ways to embed student interests as well. Provide choice during reading/writing and integrate PBLs that allow students to explore their own personal curiosities. This is highly motivating and shows students you care about them, as opposed to the standards alone.
4) Morning Meetings: Ahh, I LOVE morning meetings! I do them every day. During these meetings, students gather along the perimeter of the carpet. We start with some kind of a brief energizer or collaborative movement activity. We then move into share time and pass around an interchanging talking object. On Mondays, each child shares a weekend event, piece of news, or can ask for teacher/peer advice. The rest of the week I have students share a thought about some sort of a community-building/topic of study question. This gives every child a voice while providing me insights into their life.
5) Book Talks: If there’s one thing teachers should talk about to students, it’s books! Allow students to recommend their favorite books to each other. Also, during trips to the library, immerse yourself in conversations about their book choices. It’s so telling!
6) Mailbox Messages: I keep a little mailbox on the my teacher desk so that students can drop me notes/pictures as they please. When they leave me something, I always write back or verbally address what I received. This makes them (and me) feel special. There’s nothing quite like receiving an unexpected sweet note.
7) Attend Extracurricular Activities: Has a student ever invited you to something (like a birthday) and you felt strange about going? I used to feel that way until one little girl invited me to her “End of Chemo” party years ago. This was something I simply couldn’t (and wouldn’t) miss. It helped me get over my initial awkward feelings about doing it. Athletic events are a great thing to attend, too. Even if you only have time to stop by for a few minutes, the kiddos will certainly remember seeing your face in the crowd. While you can’t attend everything of course, making an effort to get to some events will only strengthen those bonds. By the way, the lovely little girl I just spoke of is doing great!
8) Classroom Pride: Is your classroom warm and inviting? Do the walls of the room reflect who they are? Show off class/student achievements, display student work, and post family photos. Save wall space so that they can add to it throughout the year. What kinds of things about your room are trademark? One thing special about my room is our class pet Betta fish named Bob (they named him). He’s kind of like our class mascot. Taking the extra time to make your room student-centered helps students feel personally invested.
9) Hello/Goodbye: I greet students at the entrance of my door each day. I want to make positive contact from the get-go. Plus, it makes students feel like their presence matters. I give them options for how they’d like to say good morning. Some simply say it, others prefer a high five or handshake, while some give me hugs. We end the day in the same manner.
10) Invite Families: Find ways to bring families into the classroom that go beyond just having class parties. I’m fortunate to have a lot of parent involvement at my school, so I employ room parents, reading tutors, organizational helpers, door decorators, etc. I have guest readers come in throughout the year, and seek ways to have families support instruction. For instance, I usually have grandparents come in to do a show ‘n tell on “Then and Now.” Parents serve as audiences for poetry readings or readers’ theater performances also.
I believe that if there’s one thing and one thing alone to do with absolute conviction, it’s to build meaningful relationships with every student. This, to me, is the fun stuff!
What are some ways you build student rapport? Let me know!