As an educator, I made sure to connect with my students at the beginning of each year. I would ask them to share their favorite summer memory, and what they were interested in doing with their free time. I collected the information on paper, read over it. and filed them away to collect dust. When I could, I worked on making conversation with students in the hallway and doing team building exercises. But it wasn’t enough.
Real connections start by asking the hard questions
What I came to realize was that students wanted real connections. The kind where they were able to share experiences, show emotion, and gain empathy. Where they were able to give me a look and I would know they needed a 5 minute break. Once I asked the hard questions, I got real answers and made real connections. For example, I learned that a father of one of my students was deported and his family needed extra help. I learned that one student was feeling lonely after school, even when she had too many friends to keep track of.
“Once I asked the hard questions, I got real answers and made real connections.”
My point is not to share that we aren’t doing enough to connect with students. My point is how we connect with students matters more. When we connect with students on a deeper level, we gain access to their hearts. When we know what’s in their hearts, we gain access to their minds.
5 Improvements You’ll See After You Start to Connect with Students the Right Way
1.) Academic Achievement: Once students know they are cared for first as a human, trust immediately follows. Suddenly, students who acted like they understood everything trust you enough to raise their hand and ask for help. This has been shown to increase understanding and help build student self-confidence in academics. Students who have close, positive and supportive relationships with their teachers will attain higher levels of achievement than those students with more conflict in their relationships.
2.) Increased Connection: Creating a common connection with your students is one way to show you see them as an equal. Share experiences with your students so they can make those meaningful connections with you. Be open and share more than just the good stuff. Many times, students feel alone when experiencing difficult times. Normalize those feelings and let them know you’re there.
3.) Improved and Consistent Behavior: Creating an environment for positive behavior is important. Students can better self regulate their emotions and behavior when they have your trust and support. As you recognize success in these areas, your students will start to act in ways to attract that positive attention. A greater sense of community provides you more instruction time with your students.
4.) They Feel a Sense of Belonging: Recognizing and celebrating students for their unique qualities creates a sense of belonging in your classroom. By showing students that we respect who they are and the experience they bring, we show them that being themselves is enough. When students are able to show up as themselves without fear, they are more present to learn.
5.) Increased Engagement: Showing students that you care will always get their attention. Celebrating their success, no matter how small, will get them engaged. Creating a safe space opens them up to taking risks that might typically hold them back from participating.
Want 20+ fun and easy activities to start connecting with your students?
“Gone are the days where teachers show up to school only ready to teach the lesson we’ve prepared.”
Homework, science experiments, and math projects are only half of the equation. Knowing that we must meet students where they are at, socially, emotionally, and academically is the crucial second half. It can seem daunting at times, but with the right tools, connecting with students can be easy when you understand their perspective and apply real empathy.
I know I’m not the only educator out there who holds similar stories and experiences close to their heart. The success of our students means more than being self-assured in our teaching ability. It means doing the work to bring exceptional human beings into a world where exceptional circumstances exist for and against them.