I can’t believe it’s been so long since my last post. Sorry about that.
I have been focusing much of my time on my podcast, (and my day job), and I have been neglecting this blog. Again, sorry.
In these last few months, however, I have learned so much about the effect we have on those around us, especially our students.
Speaking with the amazing educators on the podcast, along with other teachers and administrators whom I admire, I have come to the conclusion that we are all in the bridge-building business.
“What are you talking about, Sam?”
I know. I know. It sounds a little out there, but this little revelation has been life-changing for me, and I wanted to share it here with my readers, because I believe it’s a lesson that new teachers – and even some of us veteran teachers – can learn and begin to have an even greater impact on our students.
Every interaction that we have with a student is either helping to strengthen the bridge between us or contributing to making it weaker, and the strength of that bridge will determine the impact we have on that student.
Think about that student who just seems to have a way of making your day miserable.
You know who he/she is.
Go ahead and say his/her name.
We have all had him/her in our classes.
How strong would you say the bridge between you and that student is?
I would guess that it’s pretty weak – maybe even non-existent. Would I be right?
How about that student who is getting great grades, the one who is first in the door, that student who comes in with a smile, saying hello to you every morning.
You know who I’m talking about. Go ahead and say his/her name.
Same questions: How strong would you say the bridge between you and that student is?
My guess is that if you were to describe the bridge between you and this amazing student, you would say it’s pretty strong.
Why are these bridges so different?
It’s easy to blame the students. I know I used to.
“That student and I would get along so much better if he would only be more respectful.”
I’ve said this.
I have learned, however, that the responsibility to create and maintain a bridge between the student and myself belongs to me.
Amazing teachers understand this principle.
Amazing teachers recognize the power of maintaining strong bridges between themselves and all their students.
Amazing teachers understand that every encounter with a students is an opportunity to strengthen or weaken that so-important bridge.
Amazing teachers use these encounters to create a connection that reaps dividends throughout the year.
Amazing teachers know that the foundation of a successful classroom is built on the positive relationships that the teacher has with his/her students – all the students.
I have learned that the teachers with the fewest discipline problems are those who have the strongest connections with their students.
It’s all about building and maintaining those strong bridges.
Some teachers are naturally good at building positive relationships. Others have to work a little harder, but it is possible.
For those new or soon-to-be teachers who want to have this kind of success in the classroom, I’ve made a list of 10 Ways to Build and Maintain Strong Connections with Your Students.
Ready? Here we go.
1 . Listen
Take the time to stop what you’re doing and take an interest in what they have to say. It may be trivial to you, but it’s big to them.
Notice their haircut or their new shirt. Let them know that you saw them when they helped another student.
Remind them that you think they are smart, talented, capable, even if they don’t believe it.
Make a big deal about birthdays and other important events. You don’t have to make the class sing or rent one of those bouncy houses, but just remembering the student’s special day goes a long way to making that bridge stronger. Maybe the student got a good grade in another class. Give him/her a high five. Show him that you are happy for him/her. We celebrate with people who are important to us.
Be on the look out for any opportunity to give out compliments, especially for that student who you really need to connect with.
One of the greatest ways to strengthen a bridge is to demonstrate trust. Do you have to run something up to the office or to another teacher’s room? Send the student who has the weakest bridge. It’s risky, but it’s powerful.
I like to pull a student into a conversation with another teacher and tell that teacher how amazing the student is.
Show interest in the student by asking them about their weekend, what they got for their birthday, what they thought of the homework, etc. Let them know that their opinion is important.
When one of my more challenging students had a good day, I made it a point to pull him/her aside and thank him/her for doing well. “Thank you for hanging in there with me today. I know the lesson was not that exciting, but I appreciate you paying attention. I’ll try and make it more interesting tomorrow.” Try and be as specific as possible. “Thank you for being good.” becomes “Thank you for not letting your friends distract you today.”
There will be times when other students will want to put down that student whose bridge you’re trying to strengthen. Be quick to be the hero and defend him/her.
Sally: “Johnny will you be quiet. You’re so annoying!”
Teacher: “Sally, that’s not appropriate. Johnny, you’re not annoying. You’re one of my smartest students. Can you help me out by not talking while I’m teaching?”
One of my more popular guests on the Amazing Teacher Podcast was Larry Ferlazzo, and a question he asks himself when interacting with a student is so insightful:
“Is what I’m doing now going to enhance my relationship with a student, or is it going to push him away?” – Larry Ferlazzo
If we can ask ourselves this question every time we find ourselves feeling frustrated or angry at a student, I believe we can transform the situation into a bridge-building moment, instead of a bridge-burning one.
The stronger your bridge is between your students and yourself, the greater impact you will have as a their teacher.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this. Please feel free to comment below or send me a tweet at @SamRangelSITC
Until next time, here’s to your Success in the Classroom!
P.S. I have also found that being a bridge builder works outside of the classroom as well. I’ve made it a point to use every encounter to strengthen relationships with adults who I come in contact with as well. This is a little more difficult, but life is so much happier when I’m focusing on building and strengthening my bridges. Give it a try!