Friday, January 26, 2018

Relationships Matter

    As humans we crave relationships.  We are relational beings.  Need proof?  Next time you go on a plane pay attention to how many people who are seemingly strangers will talk to each other for the duration of your trip.
    Relationships matter not only to us in society, they matter to us as educators.

    When I was in college, my education professors always put an emphasis on student relationships.  Making sure we interact well with students.

    I wish that I could provide a silver bullet to developing relationships with students or a simple ten point checklist to follow to create better relationships with students, but the fact of the matter is that I would then be lying to you.

     It's funny.  At points I have heard stories of some students who misbehave for some teachers.  Those same students are like angels in my class; I love working with them.  Sometimes I have students who challenge me but don't challenge their other teachers.

    Relationships depend entirely on the person.  They are different for anyone.  What I can provide are some things that I do to try to build these relationships with my students.  Truthfully, I have not always been successful with this.  Last year, I had a student who I continued to try to build a relationship with.  Every time I felt like I was getting close, something would happen that would put a rift between us.  However, this loss is far exceeded by the many wins that I have had.

    At the start of every school year, I give my students an index card.  On this card I have students put down different things they are interested in on different lines.  I ask about their favorite books, movies, tv shows, ice cream flavors (mine is vanilla, which I already know is boring), and I also ask them if there is anything they would like to share that would help me know them better.  If I am struggling to connect with a particular student, I look back at that notecard and try to find something to connect with them on.  I start a conversation with that student about one of those items.  The point though is that it is an authentic conversation.  I genuinely want to speak to and relate with this student.

    However, I also do not always have trouble developing relationships with students.  I think students sense my desire to create authentic relationships with them.  I think they know that I want to help them grow.  Grace is a major part of my life, so I apply it in my classroom.  I have told students that I will never hold a bad day against them.  If a student tries and fails I will give them another chance.  If they mess up 1000 times then 1001 times I will work with them.  Humor is another thing I try to apply in my classroom.  I can definitely be silly in the classroom, I make jokes, when the students praise something I do sometimes I will "dab," and the reason I do these things is because laughter is a wonderful medicine.  When my students and I can laugh together we can build relationships together.  Relevancy is another method I use to build relationships with students.  When I am out in the hallways greeting students (another great way to build relationships) I like to strike up conversations about the game this past weekend with students.  In my classroom on my desk you will see bobbleheads of characters from shows and movies that I enjoy, you'll also see behind my desk some Steelers, Star Wars, and Doctor Who posters.  These help give students some natural conversation starters with me, because sometimes they are a bit nervous to start a more serious conversation with me.

    But it is not only what I like, I also try to be relevant by doing things that students enjoy!  I love seeing them at the games or events in the community.  My wife and I like to go on dates at restaurants in the community that they recommend sometimes (students always have great suggestions for food options!).  When students see you as an active member of the community they know you are invested in them.

    But these are not checklist items.  These are what work for me to build relationships with students, but it does not work for everyone.  I certainly have had teachers that I have enjoyed that did make jokes.  I certainly have had teachers who I never saw attend a sports event or play or concert that I attended.  But I still loved these teachers, because of something they did to try to build relationships with me.
     That's the point though, and I am sorry that I cannot provide you a list to build the greatest relationships with students.  Let me just offer this counsel. . . Relationships with students are worth your weight in gold.  Students will do grand things for teachers they love, but they will do nothing for teachers that they do not.  Relationships are vital and they are uniquely crafted between the individuals engaged in them.  Their purpose should not be to get something from the other, but rather to give something to the other.  Use your relationships to give your students the best possible opportunity to enter the next phase of their life triumphantly.

Relationships matter.


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