The first few weeks of school are a critical time to establish routines, expectations, and layout of your class. As I enter my sixth year of teaching, I have had a lot of practice with my first week of school roll out. Even though I have immensely improved my teaching practice since my first year, prioritizing relationship building with my students has been one thing that has remained constant.
When I first started teaching, a good friend shared a quote by Theodore Roosevelt that has since stuck with me and shaped my teaching practice. “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
When I think back to my favorite teachers growing up, I remember the teachers that knew my name and made an effort to get to know me as a person. For me, it is important that my students know that I care about them not only as students but also has humans. Life can be hard sometimes, and I want my classroom to be a safe space for all of my students. The first step in creating that space is building relationships.
So, how do I do this?
During the first week of school, I am very intentional about my activities. I do a lot of ice breakers, have my students make table tent name tags, have students complete a 21 question survey, and do a lot of group team building activities. I make it a point to read all of my student surveys to learn at least one fact about every student. I use this fact as a conversation starter with students during passing periods and transitions. You would be surprised at how shocked students are that I read their surveys and remember something about them. This is one step in showing them that I care.
Another way to show someone that you care about them is to call them by their name. This part is pretty challenging because every year I gain about 150 new students. That’s 150 new names and facts to remember. I am super transparent starting on day one with students explaining that it is my goal to remember everyone’s name as soon as possible and that I am trying my hardest. I ask them to remind me if I am pronouncing their name incorrectly or if they have a nickname they would rather be called. Names are a personal, and it is important that I am getting it right.
Besides the ice breakers and get to know you activities, I also make a point to check in with my students as much as possible. This starts at the door of my classroom. As students enter class, I greet them at the door with a handshake or fist pump. This also provides an opportunity for me to check in with all of my students. Immediately, I can find out if someone is having a bad day, has a question for me, or has something to celebrate. This small action speaks volumes and is just another way to show my students how much I care.
I am a strong believer that actions speak louder than words. Hanging back after class, offering after school tutoring, and coaching soccer and cross country are just a few of the ways that I show that I care about my students and that I am there to support them. Although not every student takes advantage of these opportunities, they see that they are there. Being visible gives me more “street cred” and respect on campus. Relationships are easier to build when students feel like they can trust you.
Now that my students know that I care, we can focus on learning what I know. Strong student relationships make my classroom run so much more smoothly. When asked about my classroom “management,” my response is always, “I don’t manage my students, I have relationships with them.” It is so much easier to get all students to work hard and produce high quality work when they want to excel and do the work for you.
Have I had challenging students? Yes, of course. But these students are the ones who need just a little more work when building relationships. In the end, all of the time that I spend in building relationships is returned tenfold and makes for a much more effective, positive, and enjoyable learning environment for everyone.
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