Building community and establishing positive relationships with students is a must for all teachers and schools at the start of each year. The September 2016 addition of Educational Leadership is fully devoted to the importance of establishing relationships. In addition to Educational Leadership, I have been heartened to see Twitter and blogs being flooded by great ideas from educators around the world regarding how they establish positive relationships at the start of the school. While it is amazing to see such a focus on relationships and how they can lead to a successful year, I could not help but wonder, would the same focus on relationship building last once the beginning of the year had passed. What do educators do to continue to nourish relationships as the year goes on? What practices are used to ensure that the relationships that we establish at the start of the year can grow and develop so as to always have a student centered approach to education?
I decided to reach out and ask educational professionals how they continue to build relationships over the course of the entire school year. Here are ways that some teachers around the world continue to build and maintain relationships with their students.
Elsa Baptista–Canadian International School, Singapore
Elsa believes that taking an interest in students lives and activities outside of her classroom helps to build and maintain positive relationships over the course of the year. She makes an intentional effort to ask her students what school activities they are involved in. Taking it a step further, Elsa attends as many school events that her students are involved in as possible. These events range from MYP Personal Project exhibitions, to DP art night, to school concerts and sporting events. By making herself visible at these school activities Elsa is showing that she cares about her student as a whole student, and not just as a class member.
Kyle Dueling–International Community School — Addis Ababa
Kyle had two very interesting reflections regarding maintaining strong relationships. First, Kyle says, “I would say the general classroom environment really fosters these [positive] relationships. Creating a classroom of inquiry where you are the guide, but students are the center of learning really makes them feel valued and lends to positive relationships.” In addition, Kyle uses a daily routine called “good news”. Kyle takes the first 3-4 minutes of each class to give anyone the opportunity to share “good news” in their lives. Kyle says that as the year goes on students tell him how much they feel appreciated and listened to when they are asked to share about themselves.
Eileen Rueth— International School of Beijing
Eileen has a great strategy and a great insight that allows for relationships to be maintained over the course of a school year. Eileen says “At the beginning of the year I have students fill out cards with all the basic info, extra curricular, favorite sports, etc. and then ask them some random questions about music or movies or stuff I can use later. I usually don’t even look at them for 4-6 weeks but when I do (which is when I can actually put a face to a name) I make mental notes of them and then comment. I will say stuff about their favorite football team, or ask about a latest video game, or inquire about try-outs for a team and I do it privately on their way in or out of class. They know then that I know something personal and remembered that about them. If some kid is really trying to fly under the radar screen I work doubly hard to find something to say to them.”
In addition, Eileen shared this thoughtful insight. She says, “Kids are people and they want to feel valued – it’s not rocket surgery. Making that personal connection so that they see you as a person and that you are interested in them as an individual – and not as a grade – it’s easier to relate to them.”
So why are relationships so important?
I believe educators need to show our students that even when we are all working hard and are in the grind of day to day, we still make the time for relationships. Beyond the often mentioned outcomes of increased positive behaviors and educational gains when trust is built, I feel relationship building taps into the humanistic component of education that is often overlooked. By making this effort we, as educators, can show students that yes, we care about class, but we also care about you as human beings. In addition, by continuing to build relationships with students we can model for them a positive behavior. We can show them what it is like to maintain relationships beyond initial meetings and the create positive correlations between maintained relationships and feeling successful.
So as this school year moves on and you move past your “community building” activities, I encourage you to reflect on the following questions: What can you do to push yourself to keep developing authentic relationships with your students? What are some unique ways to connect with students in an authentic and meaningful manner? What are the benefits of investing time and resources into positive student relationships?