Building Strong Teacher-Student Relationships in the K-12 Classroom

Click above to listen to this podcast episode. Below is the transcript for Student-Centered World Podcast Episode 27: “Building Teacher-Student Relationships

Okay, you guys, welcome to another episode of the Student-Centered World podcast. Today I think is going to hit everybody in the feels. Today, we’re going to be talking about creating meaningful relationships with your students in a year where you might see them in person, you might not. You might see them for a little bit, they might go away. You may only see them through a screen, etc., etc.

So, we know that creating relationships with our students is the number one way to get them engaged, to get them performing so we get to know who they are and what makes them tick and I can go on and on about the importance of building relationships in the classroom. But when you have a year that the classroom itself looks so different, and the expectations and how we even see them is changing so rapidly it’s really hard to create consistent relationships.

The number one challenge that I’ve been hearing from the teachers that I’m working with are the ones that have been all digital. How are you supposed to create a relationship with somebody who may never even come on camera? What are you supposed to do there? A lot of them are like, I’m just not.

You can’t just not. You have to do your due diligence to make meaningful relationships with each one of these students. So today, I wanted to talk about some of the ways that you can do that. These techniques can be used in the classroom. They can be used out of the classroom. They can be used digitally. They can use a hybrid. It’s just a matter of putting your own spin on them.

Finding the Opportunities

I do focus a little bit more on explaining it in a distance learning mindset, because I know that’s the hardest to wrap your head around. But it’s really easy to wrap your head around say, oh, you know what, if I just change this or this, I can do that in the classroom, or oh, you know what we can do that with our hybrid students.

There are a lot of possibilities and opportunities. I feel like, within this podcast, I’m kind of all over the place with my thoughts, but stick with me and I promise that you will hopefully find something that you can start implementing right away to make sure that you have those rock-solid relationships with each and every one of your students.

Welcome to the Student-Centered World podcast where we talk about all things hands-on teaching and keeping your energy and sanity in the classroom. This teacher turned consultant is making it her mission to help as many teachers as possible become the best version of themselves and keep their passion for teaching on fire. It’s her hope that we never forget why we desire to have a passion for educational progress. This is Student-Centered World, and this is Jenn Breisacher.

One of the questions that I have been seeing a lot but the concept of how are we going to get to know our students if we are online or if I can’t see their face or you know, all these different options. It’s a very valid question. But some of the responses from people that I saw were a little bit upsetting. So, people that were like well, you just can’t. Just can’t, I’m not going to get to know them at all.

Then I saw one lady that was adamant who was like, they don’t care about me, obviously, so I’m going to come in, and I’m going to teach my curriculum, and that’s all I’m going to do. I’m doing no more than that. I am coming in and doing the bare minimum. I don’t think that that’s the correct mindset to have.

Their anger is coming from a justified place, I think but I also think that they are displacing that anger a little bit because it’s going to come back to bite them. Because if you’re not going to try to get to know your kids, or you’re not going to try, I don’t want to say go above and beyond because that’s a little bit excessive, right now I feel.

But if you’re not going to at least do what as teachers, we would consider the bare minimum, which obviously goes beyond just teaching curriculum, you’re going to get no buy-in from your kids whatsoever. Especially if you starting with distance learning, you’re going to have a situation where they’re not going to like you or they’re not going to want to do anything and they’re going to start to use their own terminology, ghosting you a little bit.

Then it’s going to turn on you of why aren’t your kids engaged. What are you doing, which is going to cause more stress and just that mentality? It’s disheartening and I know, it’s a tough time and it’s a really disheartening time, generally, with how teachers are being treated, I think I’ve seen that meme float around 100,000 times already of we were heroes for three months in the spring and now we’re basically, you know, being told that we’re just the babysitters. So, obviously, it’s hostility, being upset, being displaced almost.

So, I get it, but don’t react in a way that is going to hurt you more in the long run. Not even worrying about your students and what they would or wouldn’t learn or participate in. Taking that element out completely. You’re going to wind up hurting yourself because you’re going to get in trouble. There’s just no other way about it, you’re going to get in trouble.

So, what I wanted to sit down today and talk about was some easy ways especially if you are 100% distance, to get to know your kids, even if you are digital, I’m awful with names so don’t tell any of my former students this but it used to take me a really long time to be able to put their faces and names together. I’m good with faces. I recognize people but it takes me a long time to piece it all together. I know a lot of that is just a repetition of working with them in the classroom. So, obviously, what can we do?

What if You’re on a Screen?

So, I’m sure you’ve heard the debate before, should you have the kids have their cameras on, or can they have their cameras off if you are doing teaching through a screen? You can really go back and forth on that debate. I don’t necessarily have my own feelings on which way I want that to go. However, if you do allow the students to have their cameras off, and there’s a lot of reasons why that would be absolutely appropriate.

One of the tie-ups there is that a lot of people feel like they can’t see their students and there’s just a huge disconnect when they can’t see their faces and read their facial expressions and see how things are going like we wouldn’t in the classroom. So, kind of an option to sort of getting past that a little bit is if you take some time and you have them create an avatar for themselves or a Bitmoji or take a selfie and make sure that that is put in place of the letter.

Even though that’s not something that would be interactive at the time, it would still give you something to look at that brings out the personality of the student. That could be helpful just sort of knowing how to move forward at that point.

So, if you’re only going to see your kids in the classroom a very small bit compared to the bigger picture, try to schedule conferences with them. Set up schedules where you can do a video conference with them for 5, 10 minutes just try to get to know them a little bit. Have them get to know you a little bit and create whatever kind of connection you can, their likes or their dislikes or concerns or fears that they had that could be very real.

You might get a little inkling if there’s an issue at home just from some undertones they’ve obviously, not obviously, but most likely wouldn’t really discuss it if they’re at home. But you can at least get a sense of if you should be keeping an ear open for something or maybe even a fun fact about them and then be writing this stuff down and try your darndest to incorporate that stuff into the lessons that you’re teaching in the beginning.

Making the Little Connections

So, if you know somebody who is super into boats. My family boat races, fun fact. But if you know somebody is super into boats and you’re teaching a math lesson, make an equation that talks about racing boats. Just silly little things that you can just incorporate. I had a co-worker years ago and I think he still does it but would get a list of the kids’ favorite songs, and then he would get the edited version of all those songs and put them in one giant playlist.

Then as the kids walked in every day, one song would be playing from this massive playlist. No, we were high school so any year we could have had anywhere between 150, 175 students but that’s enough for almost one a day. At some point during that school year, somebody would be walking in and their favorite song would be playing. So, that would be a little bit different.

I mean, maybe you do it like hold music as you’re waiting for kids to sign in, I don’t know, you have to be a little bit creative, but just little things that make them know that you were paying attention and that you thought about them while you were planning things out. That will go a long way for buy-in. Another option, we always do those getting to know you icebreaker-type activities, and people are like well, we’re not going to be able to do that. You can, if you use Zoom, for instance.

If you can create breakout rooms where the kids are automatically assigned or randomly assigned to these different groups for a certain amount of time and they can work on some type of team building activity or something that you find, or they could just have a conversation. Maybe they already did some type of getting to know you sheet and they’re just discussing it and then you can pop from group to group and join them and add to their conversation.

Again, just trying to build that sense of community even though we’re far apart. That’s the ironic part about our whole society right now. We’re so connected more than we’ve ever been and yet, I think the pandemic has actually helped this, but we’re so distant from one another. So, how many times is everybody together as a family in a room that everybody’s on their phone? So, even though we’re so interconnected, we’re still so distant from each other. So, this is a way to kind of combine the two and make it a little bit better.

Again, I think the pandemic, one of the silver linings is it sort of helped us reel that in a little bit. I think that that’s helpful.  If you’re not in school, or if you’re hybrid, or even if you are in school, they have really been cracking down on the number of in-person events that can be taking place for very good reasons. You can’t have a lot of kids with their families like we would have before for bingo nights or family fun nights, or the like of what we’re normally seeing.

teacher-student relationships

Thinking Outside the Box

So, something that you can consider setting up in place of those events is maybe some drive-thru events. You’ve seen, where there instead of a family movie night you can create a family drive-in movie night where the cars can fill up the parking lot and you have the big screen and can show the movies. You can still maybe sell snacks where people come to and from cars. You can create drive-thru teacher events.

So, the families can drive through and see the teachers to maybe pick up something or to have some type of a face to face interaction especially if you are in fact all digital. There are a lot of different options there that brings the families together and bring the families to school, which a lot of schools do struggle with. So, it could help that cause or keep it the same or just still keep that family-friendly atmosphere that a lot of schools do pride themselves on.

In spring 2020, we know that the teacher parades were a big deal. So, maybe you can bounce around and keeping your distance even staying in your car. Just hi, how are you and then something else as well that you can do maybe if you can’t be as interactive is you can make a video about you and the things that you do and make it spoofy make it funny.

You could do a day in the life of you know what you go through, but make it ridiculous where they’re going to love it and laugh and buy-in and think wow, that’s a cool teacher. Because the main thing that you need to make sure that you’re doing-especially if you’re working with distance learning is getting that student buy-in.

The people that are like I’m just going to go through the motions, you’re not going to get them to buy-in. They’re not going to want to do the work and that’s a giant piece of the whole blended student-led is to find a way to connect with the students to get them to buy-in, to give them the choices that make them engaged and want to do the work.

You have to do the work to make sure that they want to do the work. It’s not like when you’re in a classroom and you hand them something and they have to do it right then and there. It’s a different world but this whole process will show you exactly how you can do that and it’s not perfect. I want to make that very clear.

It’s not going to work perfectly in every single situation and there is troubleshooting which we do go over and there are situations where you know the internet is spotty or whatnot and we do go over all of that. But I’m not giving you a magic potion here of it’s all going to be rainbows and butterflies. There are always going to be things that can come up and can happen. But if you change your mindset with it a little bit, it’ll be not so difficult.

There are a lot of different options, you just have to make sure that you have your mind open to it, and trying to figure out what works. Also, keep in mind if something doesn’t seem to work, that doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea, that just means you need to tweak it for the students that you have in front of you.

Just because you’ve done something forever doesn’t mean that the group and the dynamic and the culture of the kids that you have in your possession now will work the same as other ones. That’s also a mindset shift. So, I hope I gave you some good ideas there. I know I had chatted with a few people saying, you know, we still don’t know what we’re going to be doing. There’s still so much up in the air.

If nothing else, again, when you’re planning for blended, you could do it online, you could do it in the classroom. I’ve said that a million times now. But if you can come up with some ideas like these, even if they wait until the last minute to tell you how to fix up your content, and then tweak as necessary, you’re going to be in good shape.

So hopefully that was helpful but if nothing else, I hope you’re realizing that no matter what, this year, next year, who knows how long all of this is going to be crazy. Until we reach the new normal will say no matter what gets thrown at us, we can still reach our students. Yes, there are going to be instances where the student isn’t logging on or they’re not coming to school but that’s no different than any other year.

You always have challenges. These are just new challenges that we haven’t quite had before. So, I hope you had some, at least thought processes about how you can tweak some things or change some things or implement some things to help build those relationships or to make sure that they stay strong.

If you have any questions as always, feel free to reach out. Instagram and Facebook at Student-Centered World, email admin@studentcenteredworld.com. Always happy to chat with another teacher. Always happy to help bounce ideas off of you. So, on that, I hope you have a fantastic upcoming week that you can use some of this in the classroom and I will see you next Saturday at 9 am Eastern Standard Time.

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After moving from a teacher-dominated classroom to a truly student-centered one, Jenn found herself helping colleagues who wanted to follow her lead.  In 2018 she decided to expand outside of her school walls and help those out there who were also trying to figure out this fantastic method of instruction to ignite intrinsic motivation in their students.  Read more about her journey with Student-Centered World at studentcenteredworld.com/about

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