Last week, we talked about building relationship-driven classrooms and covered five simple ways for teachers to connect with their students. Because this topic is so important to us, we’ve decided to share five more of Allen Mendler’s tips with you.
5 More Ways to Build a Relationship-Driven Classroom
Send home birthday cards
Think about the last time you sifted through your mail and found a handwritten card in the pile of mortgage payments, cell-phone bills and pizza coupons. It felt pretty good, didn’t it? It was nice to know that a friend took the time not only to pick out a card that made him or her think of you, but also that s/he handwrote a message, sealed it, stamped it, and dropped it off at the post office instead of sending you a text message or “Facebooking” you.
Now imagine how your students will feel when they receive a handwritten birthday card from their favorite teacher.
Keep pictures of your family or friends posted in class
In seventh grade, one of my teachers had an entire bulletin board devoted to pictures of her friends and family. Whenever she went to a movie or a concert, she’d save the ticket stub and pin it to the board; over time, we got to know her friends’ names, what they did for a living, what their talents were, and what our teacher did over the weekend.
Every Monday morning we’d arrive to find that the bulletin board contained a new piece of ephemera. After a while, we developed a Monday morning ritual centered on the bulletin board: Our teacher would tell us about her weekend, grab pictures off the wall, pass them around, and ask us to tell her about our weekends.
Reach out to a student who rarely speaks up in class
In graduate school, I took a course on Romantic poetry. Out of the 15 students enrolled in the course, I was by far the quietest. I saved my opinions and “close readings” for the two-page responses we submitted each week. My second response essay was returned with a personal note from the professor that said, “I’ve been enjoying your responses; they offer a unique perspective and I think our class discussions would benefit from your opinions. I don’t want to put any pressure on you, but I’d like to encourage you to share these insights in the upcoming weeks.”
This simple gesture not only impacted my self-esteem, but inspired me to contribute.
Share how you work through ideas and conflicts aloud, especially when choices aren’t clear. This works with both academic and interpersonal conflict. Say, for example, that you hear students using inappropriate language, you might say,
“Whoa, when I hear words that sound disrespectful, there is a part of me that wants to argue and yell, and another equally strong part that wants to try to understand why it is that we sometimes forget where we are and what is appropriate. It’s upsetting to hear this kind of language, but I think it would be more productive to get back to the lesson.”
Engage Students in a How-Can-I-Help-You? Approach
We’ve mentioned this one before, but think it’s worth repeating: When your students aren’t focusing on what they are reading or when they submit careless work it is bothersome—but many of us are bothered for the wrong reasons. We’re bothered because we’ve taken it personally; we’re bothered because WE wouldn’t have done it that way.
When you engage your students in a how-can-I-help-you approach, your frustration manifests through care and respect. Next time your student disrupts class or fails to turn in assignments, catch the student on the way to lunch and say, “Hey, I’m worried about X. Am I seeing this correctly? I want to do everything I can to help you. Do you have any ideas?”