As I prepare this year to send my own daughter to her first year of middle school, I am increasingly aware of the complexity of being a preteen (and teen) in 2019. There is a lot to navigate -- academics, extra-curricular activities, social-emotional well-being, friendships, and the ever present cell phone culture. I've always tried to build relationships with my students, but this year I want to double-down on this practice by giving kids even more outlets for reaching out to me for help or simply guidance. I'm not exactly sure what this will look like in it's entirety but here are some strategies that I plan on using (some old, some new to me). I hope they'll spark ideas for you about how to continue to strengthen your relationship with students.
1. Greet students at the door, every class, every day.
This may sound simple (and common sense) but for secondary teachers it can be difficult. After all, we have six classes to greet daily and class changes can often be the only time to run to the restroom or refill a water bottle. On top of that, as the keeper of my hallways locker key I am often running around opening lockers. That said, I am going to try to be more mindful of standing at the door each day to greet kids. I also am thinking about a new greeting this year, maybe a different greeting for each day? Monday Hello, Tuesday Fist Bump, Wednesday High Five, Thursday Handshake. You get the idea.
2. Mental Health Check-In Chart
I recently saw a mental health check-in on Instagram and thought it was a great idea. Basically, students self report how they are feeling using sticky notes (with names on the back for confidentiality). I am not sure I would do it daily with 130+ students but I love the idea of rotating through one class each day or doing it for all of my students one day a week. It's an easy way to get a pulse on how students are feeling. You can read more about the teacher who created this idea and her reasoning behind it here.
3. Passing Notes
At a PD session that I attended a few years ago hosted by Cris Tovani, she talked about creating a sheet that students turned in daily that allowed them to quickly communicate with her. It was almost like they were writing notes back in forth. They were short - something she could rapidly look over and comment on an entire classes' work in a matter of minutes and for some students, they were a driving force in deciding to come to class. They didn't want to miss their check-in with her. I think we often check on students' content understanding, but I also think it is worth frequently checking in on how students are doing outside of class. If I had easy access to technology, I might do something using Google but at this point paper might be my best option. I am not sure exactly what it will look like, but I love the idea of building relationships not just through spoken words, but written notes. It might be something as simple as a question on an exit-ticket after content-related questions.
4. Anchors Away
I think that anchor charts can be a great reminder to students about a teacher's hopes and dreams for them. I usually create anchor charts in conjunction with students, but I also think they can be used effectively to share teacher messages with kids in a heartfelt, authentic way. For example, I might use a chart like this one or this to amp up the social-emotional support in our classroom.
5. Lunch Bunch
In year's past I have used lunch as a time to connect with small groups of students to build relationships and provide extra support. I hope to utilize this time even more this year to connect with kids. Sometimes just being the adult in the room, while they chat with one another can make a big difference in their lives and sense of belonging.
How do you promote connections and positive relationships with your students? We'd love to hear from you!
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