A personal connection with your students means finding ways to create an atmosphere of trust, so that students want to learn what we have to share. Here are a few ways to develop a personal connection with your students:
Collect personal index cards.
It is wise to get to know your students as soon as possible. Several teachers have found it effective to give each student a 3” x 5” index card, and have them list such things as their favorite sport, after-school activity, food, school subject, or previous favorite teacher. There are endless questions that can be asked that will quickly enable you to get to know your students. Create a list of questions pertaining to issues, experiences, or references that you think your students would find interesting.
A friendly smile can go a long way towardmaking someone believe that she is special. It takes little effort but has a big payoff. Conventional thinking suggests that a smile is just an expression of happiness; but research has found that people who smile can actually make themselves feel happier. Some researchers have even found that people can make themselves healthier by smiling and laughing (Cousins, 1980). The message is: Don’t wait to feel good before you smile—smile and good feelings will follow.
Say “good morning” to every student you see in the hall.
This is another simple gesture that takes no more time than walking through the halls in an anonymous, impersonal way, but can yield huge results in defining yourself as approachable. Make eye
contact and, with a friendly smile on your face, offer a warm greeting. If you are so inclined, you might want to confront students who ignore you by responding in a friendly manner. I have walked down many high school halls and said hello to students and received no acknowledgment from them.
Be at the door and greet students as they arrive.
It is best to personalize your greeting by including the student’s name. Students appreciate knowing that their teacher knows who they are.
Send home birthday cards.
Nowadays it is simple to record birth dates on a computer database so that it is relatively easy to keep track of birthdays and acknowledge them with cards. It is best to hand write
the student’s name and personally sign the card. Most schools will even pay the postage.
Keep pictures of your family or friends posted in class.
This acknowledges you as having a life outside of school and shows that you value important people in your life. Some students will enjoy knowing that they can experience a sense of family in your presence. It can also work well to share with students those characteristics of your children that remind you of certain students. This can be particularly beneficial when you conclude by seeking advice.
Ask an opinion from a student who rarely offers anything.
This is an empowering behavior that is greatly appreciated, although not always acknowledged, by the student. There are many ways to do this. One of my favorites is to approach the student as she is leaving class and say, “I don’t hear from you too often in class, but you look very focused and thoughtful. I was wondering what you thought about . Thanks for sharing.”
An even better approach is to share the student’s opinion with the whole class. Unless the student has given you permission to do so, it is generally best to do this anonymously (“I got this great idea from one of you that I think is going to make our class work even better than it already does. . . . “).
Do the “2 x 10.”
Think of a student you find unattractive. Make a commitment to invest two uninterrupted, undivided minutes a day for 10 consecutive days to “relationship build.” If it is impossible to follow
this guideline, then try to get as close to meeting it as possible. During these two minutes, you cannot do or say anything related to correcting the student’s behavior or telling the student what he must do differently to be successful in class. Anything else that is within proper moral and ethical guidelines is allowed. Expect awkwardness and abrupt communication during the first few days: Most students will be wary of your intentions, and you are unlikely to feel comfortable about knowing what to say or do. By the 10th day, most teachers report improved communication with the student, as well as evidence of better behavior.
Use the 4H method.
Naddie Jones, a high school teacher in Athens, Georgia, thinks about which of her students she knows the least. After compiling a list, she greets these students daily with one of four welcoming “H’s”: handshake, high five, “how are you?” (asks), “hello” (says). Jones reports that many “tough” kids eventually open up and connect after she does this for a while. A related method is known as the “H or H” (“hug” or “handshake”). Essentially, the H or H in its pure form is primarily designed for use with younger children. In this method, the teacher greets children at the door with either a hug or handshake. Each student decides her preference. Recently, a teacher of 9th graders shared that she did the hug or handshake at the end of every class.
She went on to say, Yesterday we were going to the library. Before we left the room to go there, a student asked, “Do we have to do the hug or handshake?” He is 15 years old and was very much aware that 70 other students besides his class were going to be in the library. Almost the entire class bombarded him with, “Hey! We want our handshake.” He shook mine when he left.
Share ideas and conflicts aloud with the class, especially when choices aren’t absolutely clear. You can do this with academic or interpersonal conflict. For example, when you hear inappropriate language, you might say, Whoa, when I hear words that sound disrespectful, there is a part of me that wants to argue and yell, and another equally strong part that wants to try to understand why it is that we sometimes forget where we are and what is appropriate. Hard as it is, I am going to continue behaving like an adult and get on with the lesson.
On the academic side, you could say, “I sense that some are bored with this unit, and actually so am I. But we need to get through it, so I appreciate your hanging in there.”
Offer notes of appreciation.
It is remarkable how much goodwill and cooperation can be gained from students by writing notes to them about something you appreciate. A simple thank-you note in the form of an index card or sticky note is all that is needed. Perhaps the easiest thing to do is to simply thank the student in writing for cooperative behavior. Try a thank-you note to a student who often is tardy but
comes to class on time one day. In fact, you might want to make a list of all the “regular,” appropriate little things that students do that are rarely noticed or generally taken for granted (getting their homework done; following class rules; behaving in a courteous way), and periodically write a thank-you note to the student about those behaviors. Keep your list handy as a reminder.
Give occasional “positive paradoxical” notes.
With some of your more difficult students, you can often influence their behavior by giving them a positive note shortly after they have done something inappropriate. Like a fastball pitcher who surprises an expectant batter with a slow change-up, doing the opposite of what a student expects can lead to a positive result.