This week’s challenge is connecting. Relationship building is a huge component of classroom management that is often overlooked in discussions about students.
- Smile. Simple, right? Maybe not. My first year of teaching, I worked in a self-contained classroom with a group of 10 kiddos with emotional and behavior challenges. There were days when I had to purposefully make myself smile at a child who had already had three fits that day when he pulled it together. However, it was so important that I did this, because the student needed to know that while I didn’t like his choices, I liked him as a person. When kids know you care about them and don’t hold grudges, they begin to WANT to make you happy. For many of these kids, school has been a place where the grown-ups are just waiting for the next time they screw up. It starts a vicious cycle of disconnect, but you can be the one to change this. Yes, you might have to fake it at first…especially on those days where a child has found EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. of your buttons. Just keep trying!
- Find out what makes ’em tick. Another super simple way to connect and build relationships is to find out what that child is interested in and learn about it. Am I a huge Minecraft fan? …Nope! However, I know more about the game than I care to admit because last year one of my challenging students LOVED it! I also know about football, and Pokémon cards…and, well, you get the point. Every year your most challenging student might have a different passion than the previous one. It is worth every second of time you spend learning to be able to have a meaningful discussion with that child about something they LOVE because it opens the door to a discussion about something you LOVE…them making good choices.
- Don’t forget the family! My first few years of teaching, I didn’t realize how important this one really was. Yes, I worked to connect with families, but I didn’t truly understand what that meant in terms of my challenging students. For some of these families, the only calls they have received from the school are about bad behavior or how their child is struggling. Instead, focus on turning this around. Even when I am calling about something negative, I always open with the fact that their child has so much potential…or I can tell how smart she is…or something positive. By cushioning my concerns in a positive wrapper, the parent sees I am not out to get their child and that if we can turn this around, their child will be doing great things. I also send positive postcards, where I point out something that the child has done well or improved on. These show up as a surprise in the mail…and parents love them as much as the kids do.
Connecting and building relationships is the foundation for classroom success, and it is even more important to put focused effort into it with our most challenging students. All too often we THINK we have done this, but the students haven’t really connected with us. I hope that these tips will help you take a renewed focus in looking at those relationships with the students who are struggling the most. You might be surprised at how little effort it really takes to change your classroom environment for the better!