Teaching entails many things, but at its core, teaching is about relationships. Relationships breathe life into a curriculum that would otherwise be static; relationships also create a safe space for open discourse, they encourage exploration, confidence and respect. Most of us believe this and while we do our best to nurture strong relationships with students, we often feel them getting lost in the hum of daily activity and the increasing demands of our profession. Thanks to Diane Mierzwik’s book, Quick and Easy Ways to Connect With Students and Their Parents, we’ve got five simple ways you can strengthen your relationships with students.
5 simple ways to strengthen student engagement
Handing back papers
Returning papers is a perfunctory activity; it doesn’t require any preparation or expertise, so often we ask one of our students to hand back papers while we take attendance or make last-minute preparations. But there’s a good reason for teachers to reclaim ownership of this activity.
When teachers return papers, they have the opportunity to connect a student’s performance to that student. “But why not simply glance at my grade book?” you say. Sure, you can do that too, but we’ve found that handing back papers helps connect specific assignments and lessons with that particular student; this makes it easier to remember when our students are succeeding and struggling.
Many of us collect work by having students “pass up” assignments from the back row to the front. This is efficient, but it is another lost opportunity to connect with students. Walking up and down the row to collect each assignment may take another minute or two, but the payoff can be huge.
When you collect homework, you know immediately who did not complete the assignment. Instead of literally getting lost in the shuffle, now you know exactly who you should speak to after class to find out why the assignment is missing.
Commenting on your students’ work
Imagine a track runner; every time she completes a lap and passes her coach, he simply shouts, “B minus!” That’s not very helpful, is it? Based on this “feedback,” the runner is able to ascertain that she could be performing better, but she still has no idea what she’s doing wrong. Now apply the analogy to your students.
Regardless of where we teach, most of us are expected to issue letter grades. Fine, but is there a way to supply your students with more information about their performance? Where could they improve? What did they do well? All it takes is a sentence or two to encourage, congratulate and instruct.
What do your students think about their work?
Teaching our students to self-assess is an important life skill. Too often our students look to us to give them the answers or tell them what is “wrong” with their work. Having students write self-reflections and attach them to their homework gives us the opportunity to see their work through their eyes; it also gives students the opportunity to think critically about their own work, what they did well, and where they could improve.
Informal, 5-minute conferences
Another effective way to connect with students is through informal conferences. The purpose of these conferences is simply to catch up and ask your students how they think things are going. We encourage students to openly share their thoughts. We usually ask them the following questions:
- What activities do they enjoy?
- What are their least favorite?
- Where could they improve?
- Where are they succeeding?
- What are their goals for the upcoming month?
- How might we better assist them in their goals?
While you can run conferences during class, we recommend having them before or after school, or turning them into an informal “lunch with a teacher” event.