Teacher Clarity for Student Success: Building Connections

One of the most challenging pieces that I continue to hear from teachers is that they are having trouble connecting to students in the midst of virtual learning and social distancing.  We know how important it is to give a student a smile, hug, high five, hand shake or pat on the back, and we know how difficult it can be to not have those options. 

We know how quickly you connect with your students in normal circumstances, and that makes it even more frustrating now!

In culturally responsive teaching, we talk A LOT about building an alliance – working toward a common goal as a team. But forming a connection with the students is the first step to building this alliance. 

So let’s talk about the foundation of building connections. What connects you to people? To your administrator? Your co-workers? Even your friends and families?

We need to feel important or valued by someone.  

This is a “common sense” statement, but there is actually a lot to unpack here.

Am I number, or a unique person?

  • Know their names! – I encourage you to know your students’ names, pronounce them correctly, and know (within reason) any nick-names that your students are typically called – (for example, Alex instead of Alexander). I was working with some amazing teachers in Union last week, and the Pre-K teachers mentioned that they took pictures of the students with their masks on, and without, and pinned them up side-by-side on the board to show what the students looked like. I love this.
  • Assign a nickname – I want to give you another way to take this to the next level.  One day, while on virtual learning, my son, Tate, a 5th grader, was eating a pickle. His teacher made a joke about it, and Tate expressed his undying love of pickles. His nick-name for that teacher is now “Pickle Man”, and my son LOVES it. He loves it because she connected with him on that, as silly as it is. Now obviously, you want to make sure that your student is on board with the nick name (ask him, watch his reactions – does he light up or get embarrassed – you never want to embarrass) – but by her recognizing, having a short conversation, and then remembering – it made Tate feel special.
  • Unique greeting – I have always encouraged teachers to greet students by their names with a touch (handshake, side hug or high five) when they come into their class.  It looks different now, but the idea of a unique greeting is still there.  If you are a F2F teacher, a special phrase, hand signal, elbow tap, dance move, or foot five (touch shoes) can still be done! We will talk more about these on the FB Live on Wednesday (9/30) at 8:00, but these are FUN and POWERFUL! A unique greeting lowers the students’ affective filter as they are walking into your classroom, making them connected to you and ready to learn.  This is huge! Virtually – do the same thing!  A unique hand movement or phrase to each student as they enter your virtual classroom is a powerful tool for you as well. This can be done as you are taking roll as well.

Do you care about my thoughts, opinions or feelings?

  • Strategies like Anticipation Guides (agree or disagree), interactive journals, and 1-5 Self Ratings are easy ways to capture the students’ voice.
  • How do you respond with a student tells you in detail about their weekend? I know you are fighting against the clock, but students have had a lack of connection for many months, and may still be in the thick of it…so this may be what they need before they can move on to the learning.
  • Ask questions and get to know about the student, not just about their work or grades.

We need to find commonality with each other.

The next part to making a connection is finding commonality.  We all have things in common.

  1. Do you understand what I’m going through?
    • If your students answer an opinion question or give their thoughts on something,  make an empathy statement, even if you’ve never been in the same position
    • Students are often wondering if they are going to be okay.  This directly links to feeling safe and secure.  Even if they are going through a hard time, it’s really powerful when a teacher can offer that assurance, especially if you’ve been in a similar situation.
    • Do you have any of the same academic struggles, confusions, misconceptions? Students often look at teachers as the experts (as they should), but this can lead to a “of course it’s easy for you…you’re the teacher!” By assuring them that you had some stuggles, and even sharing the strategies you used to help you, you can guide the students through academic difficulties through connection.
  2. Are we the same in any way?
    • Are their surface connections? Same Birthday month, number of siblings, favorite color, type of music, sports teams – even these surface connections can be hugely beneficial to moving students to an alliance.
    • Participating in some of the “get to know you” activities or Anticipation guides can show the students where you may have some commonalities.

This is definitely the time when teachers are having to be more creative than ever, but you’ve got this.  Remember the two foundational points:

  1. We need to feel important or valued by someone.  
  2. We need to find commonality with each other.

If you can keep these as the goal, I have total faith that you can work around any boundaries to connect with the students you love so dearly.

Give yourself and your students grace. One step at a time. One challenge at a time.

If you’d like more ways to be culturally responsive, check it out!

Podcast: Jenn Kleiber, Teaching by Reaching

YouTube: Jenn Kleiber

FB: @pressingonwardblog

IG: jenn_kleiber

Twitter: @onwardpressing

And if you want info on how we can provide support thoughout the school year with online virtual coaching, check out our Clarity Membership! https://pressing-onward.mykajabi.com/clarity

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