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Building Relationships

How Do You Build Relationships With Students?

How_Do_You_Build_Relationships_With_Students? iconHow Do You Build Relationships With Students?title

Presentation from Dr. Hoover: 

* Give students the feeling that teachers will listen to them. 

* Write notes to students.  I write notes on students, "How is your day going?," so that when the students come back into the classroom    they can read the note and they can write back.  

* Sometimes giving students space.

* Having routines and procedures.  

* Establishing a comfortable environment where mistakes are valuable.  

* Share stories from my personal life.

* Have a smile on my face.

* I stay emotionally calm (Not easily angered). 

* My interactions are positive.

* I have great relationships with parents.

* Tell students that you care about their learning and will do whatever it takes to help them learn.  

* Never speak to them in a condescending way.

* Get to know brothers and sister of our students.

* Memorize student names even before students 1st day of school by looking at pictures.  

* Use personal stories from your own life in teaching.

* Use personal stories from your students' life.  

* Take time to share how their weekend was.  

*Celebrate being kindness in the classroom.  

*Be approachable.  

* Have high energy in class.  



I tell my students (and their caregivers) that I will always tell them the truth.  I won’t say something just to be nice.  I want my compliments and reprimands to mean something to my students.

Just talk to them.  Keep an eye on facial expressions so I know when something is wrong.  Welcome them back after absence.

While taking attendance I greet them with a good morning or “buenos dias.”  

I ask them if they are feeling better when return after an absence.

I also let them know how smart I think they are, “Smart Cookies.”

I welcome each one of them in line every morning. I notice and comment about little things- a new haircut, new shoes, an owie, a happy or tired or sad attitude. We talk every Monday about the weekend. I try to have a little one on one check in conversation with each one of them every day.

My focus the first week of school is to get to know each student personally and let them know that I care about each one of them.  We set goals for the year.  Each time a student reaches a goal we celebrate him/her as a class.  Students enjoy being called “Smart cookies.”   

I share stories about myself. They especially like to hear about the things that I was doing when I was their age.

Each month I have “Dojo lunch” for winners with the most points. This helps me have time to ask students questions about their lives. Other things: asking students questions about themselves after school/during recess, connect learning to their lives or ask them how their weekend was occasionally, let them know that they were missed/ask how they are feeling if they were out sick the day prior, give them each high fives in the morning.

I try and make sure to notice the little things with my students. When they get a haircut or when they have a new pair of shoes, play with them at recess. Also, I try and apply my lessons to their interests. For example, some of my students like rap music so, I wrote a rap about PEMDAS. (I’m still practicing).

I may say a word that is from youth culture such as “I have to bounce.”  Which means “I have to leave”  I also teach them about code switching.  I have to act a certain way around my Spanish-speaking family, another way around my fraternity brothers, and another way at work.  This is also called code switching,   Dr. Geneva Gay refers to this as using a Culturally Responsive Teaching (CRT) approach.  Using words from students’ worlds helps build connections without losing focus of the academic vocabulary that also needs to be taught.    

When they invite me to a party I have attended, and let me tell you that one time I attended a quincenera, and I was a rock star.  There were so many students at the party who were screaming and yelling because I was at the party.  They said, “I can’t believe you are here.”  The other people at the party were looking at me like, “Who is this guy who just walked into the party and has all of the children screaming?”   

I tell my students, “I don’t just want to get you  ready for the next grade, I want to get you ready for the rest of your life.  If you ever need help at any point in school find me and I will be there to help.”  

I once had a mother who was struggling getting her GED.  I went to her house weekly and tutored her free of charge. I did this because I knew that if she received her GED, she would then get a higher paying job, and then in turn would do a better job of providing for her family.  SHE PASSED!

My goal is to build trusting relationships with everyone, and I do this by treating everyone as if they are the most important meeting that I have that day.  My message to students can be summed up in five words as, “I care and you matter.”  Because of my high level of caring actions are operationalized.

Bolman and Deal (2008) describe the importance of Emotional Intelligence (EI) in people.  EI refers to the ability to perceive, control and evaluate emotions.  For example, a person who has high levels of EI will have knowledge of how others perceive their messages.  Some people believe that EI is something that people are born with, yet others believe that it can be learned.  

During my first day at a new school I had a mother introduce herself to me.  She asked, “Is it fine with you if I observe in your classroom?”  I responded, “Yes you may come anytime that you wish.”  I few days later she did attend class.  First, I am a new teacher educating her most valued treasure (her daughter).  Obviously she had concerns about who I was and what were my teaching abilities like.  As she sat in my classroom she organized all of my books.  The next day I took the time to send her a thank you card for organizing my books.  Soon afterwards she brought me a plate of food.  Her daughter loved the fact that her mother and I always communicated.  As a teacher, when a parent brings you a plate of food that is amazing. Sending a thank you card with a special message for students or parents is an important strategy.  If you are interested in learning more about (EI) Here is Dr. Peter Salovey from DUKE explaining it further.  

The next border is referred to by Phelan et al. (1998) as the Psychosocial Border.

“Psychosocial Borders are constructed when children experience anxiety, depression, apprehension, or fear that prevents from adopting the mindset and emotional or attitudinal orientation required and valorized by schools.  Such borders disrupt or hinder students’ ability to focus on classrooms tasks, participate fully in learning, or establish positive relationships with teachers or peers in school environments.  Psychosocial borders can also prevent students’ connections with peers or family.  The problems associated with psychological borders are amplified when school personnel  are unable, unwilling, or ill-equipped to uncover sources of anxiety or distress” (Phelan et al. 1998 p.12).

This border is very difficult to alleviate.  First a school-wide team effort is needed as a student's’ mind may be preoccupied by life events.  For instance, take the real-life example of Alberto.  Alberto has had a difficult life and he is only in fourth grade.  His father died unexpectedly in an accident when he was only in second grade.  Mom struggled to maintain a roof over his head and food on the table.  She found employment as a house cleaner.  Mom then entered into a relationship with a new man and he moved into their apartment to help with the household expenditures.  Alberto began having feelings of having a father again.  After about two years step-dad went to Mexico and brought his other son to join the family.  Alberto now feels that he lost his father once and he doesn’t want to share his new dad; not even with his stepbrother.

Next imagine if Alberto is in your classroom or if Alberto is your child.  Imagine the traumatic experience associated with death that Alberto has experienced.  As a teacher or parent how would you help Alberto or others like him?  As you think of Alberto’s life, below is another fourth grade student named Chris.  Chris was in my fourth grade class and he experienced some issues associated with a psychosocial border.

Chris was a new student at the start of the fourth grade.  Being a new student may cause students to feel anxious or nervous so as a teacher, it is my responsibility to make new students feel welcomed.  This is an excellent time to review the rules, provide the new student with a guide to take a tour of the school, and really make the new student feel valued. Chris had a slender built and looked as if he was malnourished.  Mom and dad were both visible at the school site.  Both parents showed symptoms of drug use (poor hygiene, gaunt, impulsive, wide eyes) ,however I only suspected.  Later that year, father went to jail and I learned that father had previously served time in the state penitentiary for armed bank robbery.  I also learned that mother was using drugs again.

If you have ever been jailed you know the feeling of that cell door locking behind you and an even worse feeling when you realize that your freedom to see the sun, smell the fresh air, and eat at your favorite restaurants have been deprived from you.  It is difficult to be incarcerated but imagine now that a child has had a parent jailed for extended periods of time.  Think of the traumatic experience that jail brings to children.  Unless you have had a parent that was jailed or have been in jail yourself you truly don't understand what the children are going through.  If you have experienced some form of incarceration then you will understand the struggles that families who have parent(s) incarcerated are dealing with.  As a teacher what can you do to help Chris be successful in spite of this?

Scenarios such as the ones presented by Alberto and Chris are becoming more and more prevalent in schools.  Most teacher preparation programs do little to prepare teachers for scenarios such as these.  Students like Chris or Alberto may have behavior issues.  They may experience difficulty in classes because of their home lives.  The important aspect to consider is that if a teacher only focuses on the behavior and neglects focusing on the root of the problem then the student will be sent to other classrooms for time-outs, sent to the principal’s office for disruptive behavior and hinder the learning of all students in the class.

In working with students like Alberto and Chris, I am reminded of the teeter-totter of learning.  I actually thought of the teeter-totter of learning when I was watching students play on the teeter-totter.  The teeter-totter of learning states that when learning is high, problems are low and when learning is low, problems are high.  This theory should be in the teacher’s mind as he or she attempts to deal with students who have had a traumatic experience.  

In my dealings with Alberto and Chris I noticed that they both were good children who had a horrible home life.  As a teacher, one is also a counselor and most teacher preparation programs provide almost no counselor training.  Chris and Alberto should be referred to a counselor and as a teacher, remember the psychosocial border that is present.  I remember how scrawny Chris appeared; like he hadn’t eaten a thing in days.

I spoke to Chris and invited him to lunch.  I said, “Chris I want to buy you lunch today because I can see that you are really trying to do well.”  Chris wanted a six piece chicken nugget meal from Mcdonald’s.  I returned with a twenty piece chicken nugget meal.  That lunch that we had together really set the tone for Chris’s year.  During our lunch together Chris spoke about his feelings regarding him not passing fourth grade the previous year.  I could not understand how a teacher would not consider Chris’s home life and fail him.  It was not his fault that his family was plagued by drugs or that his father was incarcerated.

I knew that extending a lunch invitation to Chris helped the situation.  Keep in mind that Chris’s issues were much deeper than a lunch could solve but at least it made things better.  Chris said , “Mr. ********, thank you for buying me lunch today.  I have never had a teacher buy me lunch before.”  I could tell from that Chris knew I cared about him as a human being.  When children who have experienced trauma know how much you truly care for them by your actions only then will they rise up to your expectations.  Hopefully you have tremendously high expectations for all students.  Chris scored at the highest level on the state examinations, and led the class in many areas that year.  I was very upset that a teacher retained him instead of counseling him and understanding the borders that encompasses him.  All he needed was a little bit of nurturing.  Yes it takes more time to do this but that is why I chose to work at a low-income school.  

I wear raiders gear to have those conversations about football with students.  

I address my students with respect.  I use the term Mr.___ or Miss____ in front of their name and try to remind them continuously that they are leaders that deserve respect and should behave in a way that merits that respect.  Someday, these kiddos will be running the country.  They are Very Important People.  The best I can do for them is prepare them for that leadership role by teaching them and modeling for them as many life skills and academic skills as possible, but I temper that with compassion.  Not all of my students come from homes with those same high expectations.  I suspect sometimes that being treated with respect is a novelty for some of them.  

I talk to all students at the school, and say things like I love your shirt or something nice.  It always bring a smile to their face.  I think it is good to start building relationships before they become my students.