Building Relationships in the Classroom: What To Do in The First Weeks and Beyond!

Huddle

In a previous post by Juile on Relationship Building in the Classroom, we were introduced to the ideas of how important this relationship building can be with students.

You agree with the concept, but are wondering what are some specific ways to build relationships with students as well as student to student relationships.  Here are some which we plan to use in the first few weeks of school, a KEY time to connect with students to build year long positive relationships.

1. Marshmallow Challenge: Simply put, students are randomly placed into groups with a few simple materials: one marshmallow, string, scotch tape and uncooked spaghetti noodles. Students work on team building as they try to construct the tallest free standing structure. See here for more info!

2. Where do I belong? Each student is given a card with a word. Four words fit in each category to make groups. Some words can fit into more than one category, so it really gets the kids thinking. After trying this out, have students find one thing in common outside of the cards (think grade, age, favorite hobby etc) that they all share. See here for more info!

3. Mingle, Mingle. Create get to know you activities that ask students to find another student in the room that matches a statement. Have teachers be a part of the list as well.

4. The Weekend Update: On Mondays, spend 3-4 minutes sharing what happened over your weekend and allow students to share too. We remind students to keep in school appropriate. Great way to connect students as well as continue to prove that teachers have lives too!

5. Student surveys: Give students the chance to share their strengths, weaknesses, goals and fears for the year on a quick student survey. We also add what types of rewards students like.

Building relationships with students are the single best way to enrich your classroom environment for students and teachers. What things do you use in your classroom?

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Beginning of the Year: Blending Procedures, Icebreakers, and Fun

scavenger huntWe all know that explicitly teaching and re-teaching procedures at the start of the school year is considered “best practice.” We also know that building relationships with students is vital to a successful and enjoyable year, and a great way to do this is through get-to-know-you “icebreakers” at the beginning of the year. Lastly, we know that students learn by doing, movement, and teaching others (and have a lot more fun this way).

Why not combine the three?

Two years ago at the middle school level I did a “Procedures Scavenger Hunt” at the beginning of the year, and not only did my students learn my procedures quickly, they also loved it. Last year at the high school we spent a few days of procedure lists, which were, I’ll admit, less than thrilling for us and the kids. I am excited to bring back the scavenger hunt, get students moving, practicing talking to each other, investigating information on their own, and adding a little competition in there too!

Procedures Scavenger Hunt (or a more creative name you can come up with):

Type simple procedures in question/answer format onto a Word document. Leave the answers blank (the students will complete these during the game). I write the procedures in order from most important (#1) to less important, so that, even in my smaller classes, we are covering the most vital information when I give only one answer notecard to each student.

Next, gather notecards and write 1 answer on each.

Give one answer notecard to each student (if you have more students than procedures, it’s fun to add questions about yourself, the school, etc.). Pass out one procedures Word doc to each student with a clipboard. Give the students a set amount of time (5 minutes) to walk around the room and talk to as many students as possible to exchange answers. If they want to guess for some answers they did not get to talk to the corresponding student about, that’s okay! The goal is to try to answer as many correct questions before time runs out. When the time is up, show the correct answers one by one and have students “grade themselves” or each other, and write down any answers they missed. The student with the most correct answers wins!

Challenge variation: Do not number the answer note cards- students guess which question the answer fits with.

More structured variation: Have students walk around the room until you say “Stop!” Then they find a student to pair with and exchange answers. After 30 seconds of talking about answers, they walk around the room again until you tell them to stop and partner up. This could be fun with music, too!

*Note: Be prepared for students potentially giving each other more than just their own note card answer when they meet to exchange answers. For high school students, I see it difficult and also unnecessary to try to prevent this, but instead important to encourage the students to try to exchange as many answers as possible in the 30-second talking period.

Even more structured variation: Form two large circles with equal numbers of students in each. They stand and exchange answers with the person across from them until you say, “Rotate.” Then the inner circle rotates (this method would not work as a competition).

Independent/Exploring the room variation: Tape the answer note cards on walls, desks, etc. all around the room. Give students a set amount of time, and they explore the room to find as many answers as possible in that time frame.

Don’t forget to model and re-teach procedures often, and provide rationale (sometimes I even like to role-play, which the kids think is hilarious!). I believe catching any student not following them the first few days of school will really help to prevent problems the rest of the school year.

The Power of Silence

listen-upAs we’ve talked about before, building relationships is a very important part of every classroom’s culture. In building relationships, communication is very important. Teachers should seek to understand, before seeking to be understood.

Editors Note: This post is written by guest author Aubrey Trimble. The views expressed are her own.

I learned recently about the  power of silence within a conversation. I know that may sound a bit like an oxymoron; “The power of silence within a conversation,” but after working with at-risk students and students with special needs now for almost ten years,  I have learned to be comfortable with silence and allow the students more wait time to respond when we are having crucial conversations.

This was a hard lesson for me to learn due to the fact that I am chatty by nature. When I would have students come into my office to discuss issues they were having I found that I was processing/talking through the problem by myself and not involving the student within that important life lesson of talking through a problem, coming up with solutions and reflecting upon the result.

Like most of the important lessons I have learned throughout my teaching career, a student helped me find the power in silence. A freshman student, we will call Joe, was beginning to fail many of his academic classes and was transferred into the Academic Center for second semester. I had had his older brother the previous year and was familiar with the family background.  Joe came to the Academic Center angry to be in there, feeling as though he did not need any academic support, which in all truth, he did not. Joe was a bright student who was, unknowingly at the time, trying to go through the process of grieving his father who had passed suddenly the year before.   When Joe came into the AC I tried all my usual tricks of the trade; I asked about his family, classes, and talked about the importance of school. Throughout this whole process, Joe was stone cold, quiet and angry. He was scheduled into the Academic Center for his third hour period and most days ended up in my office for trying to sleep, talking back, etc. Every day he would come into my office I would talk at him, instilling upon him what I felt was important in terms of respecting his teachers, reaching his potential, etc. etc. etc. and Joe never spoke.

I went home every night thinking about Joe because I was at a loss of what to do and uncomfortable with the silence between us. So then I decided to try a new approach: be comfortable with the silence and allow Joe to have the control about where the conversation would go. The next day, Joe ended up in my office and instead of reading him the riot act I asked, “Do you need any help with your work?” and left it at that. The first day, no response. The second and the third, no response. Until one day he really opened up about the fact that he did really struggle with math and that he was not applying himself anywhere else because he is just angry and grieving; he actually felt guilty that he may be the reason for his dad’s untimely death. My usual conversations with students stayed, for me , in the “safe zone” of school work, behavior expectations, homework and the like, but Joe took me out of my comfort zone to talk about the root of his academic issues, which were not academic at all. He became a regular visitor in my office and eventually became quiet the chatty kiddo. When he was ready, we involved his guidance counselor to help him begin his journey through the grieving process and talking through some of the guilt he was feeling.

Most teachers, by nature, like to talk. Most teachers, by nature, want to feel in control of their students and classrooms. Most teachers, by nature, want what is best for their students. I found that, at times, what is best for my students is to allow myself to let go and have faith in where the conversation and student may take me.

How Important is Relationship Building in the Classroom?

relationship2Think about the people in your life you are closest to. If they asked you to do something for them, even something absurd, would you do it? Why?

How about someone you know but you do not particularly like or who does not seem to care much for you. If he/she asked you for a favor, would you do it? Would you want to?

I believe the same rule applies in the classroom. There are many students who have been brought up to respect authority and follow directions simply because a teacher tells them to, and we are very thankful for these students. These sweet, well-behaved kids deserve all of the love and attention we can give them. However, there are also those few who seem to want to do the opposite of what we ask and may not always be interested in our consequences. This is where relationships come in.

I still remember my education professor at Hope College imparting her wisdom: “Some kids won’t do anything for you… until you build a relationship. Then they’ll do ANYTHING for you!” I have taught in elementary, middle, and high schools, and I believe these words to be true at every level.

Check out the words of one of our most struggling and sometimes verbally inappropriate high school students about a teacher who has taken time and energy to build a relationship with him:

“She makes sure I have my work done or at least am attempting at it. If it was another teacher trying to nag at me about doing something, I would of simply told them off. For some people, it’s really hard to get someone to do something. At least for me, I’m probably the most stubborn and hard-headed in the class so that’s pretty impressive. I’ve been kicked out and suspended from the class before (more than once) but she still was there to help. I’ve improved myself I think because of her. She also happened to be there when I was struggling in life. She asks about why I wasn’t at school and how to help. I’ve also more understood that not all people are bad or wish the worst on you to do bad. Most teachers couldn’t care less about you… she could of chose to be like that, but she didn’t. I appreciate that the most. For her to take extra time from her job and put it elsewhere is a great thing. She could hate me and just say I’ll become the next dropout or screw up my own life but does she? No. If more teachers were as helpful as her, some kids would be able to look forward to going to school.”

Building relationships does not:

  • mean you do not give consequences
  • happen overnight
  • involve being on a “friend level” with students, or that they don’t respect you as authority
  • ever become wasted time

Some specific tips I’ve developed over the years:

  • I try to keep this thought in mind: The 55 minutes in your classroom might be the most attention that student receives all day.
  • Kids like to know we’re human beings. Telling stories or even apologizing for something we did wrong helps build a relationship with them.
  • All students, but especially older or “at risk” students, will want a rationale about why they need to do an assigned task. The more we can honestly explain the necessity of a direction we’ve given, the more the relationship is built and the happier the student will be to complete it.
  • If you’re about ready to give up on a student, realize that probably every other teacher (and maybe even the student’s family) is too. That’s exactly when they need you in their corner the most: not letting them get away with anything, but also not disregarding them as “not worth the time.”
  • Some kids enjoy compliments, but to build relationships with those who don’t, I simply make observations. “Oh wow, you got a haircut!” “You really know these quadratic equations.” “Looks like you got new shoes!” These things still show them you’re noticing them.

In the wise words of my mother in law, “Everyone’s carrying their own cross.” When I’m burdened and stressed, I become less pleasant. What I need in that time is not only for someone to reprimand my behavior but more importantly for them to care about me, listen to me, and ask me if I’m okay. (See next tip)

  • Certain students are best disciplined in private. I have learned to switch my conversation from “Stop acting this way!” to “Are you okay?” Once I listen to the student about anything going on in his or her life that may be affecting their behavior, then we can handle consequences.

By building a relationship with your students, they will love you, be happy about coming to your class, and work for you, even when they don’t feel like it, because they know how much you care!

Some kids won’t do anything for you. Until you build a relationship; Then they’ll do ANYTHING for you.