Three ways to have awesome relationships with your students
The end of summer is upon us, and your students will be returning to your classrooms any day now (if they haven’t already). The first few weeks of school can be stressful for teachers – among other things, you’re setting up your classroom, finalizing pacing schedules, attending professional development days, and meeting with colleagues. It’s a lot to take in!
But, we encourage you to take some time at the beginning of this school year to think about your relationship with your students. For some of your students, you might be the sole adult in their lives who encourages them and teaches them that they deserve to have relationships that are safe, happy, fun, kind, reliable, gratifying, and authentic.
The way you treat your students and what you believe about them can have a huge impact on their life. We’d like to help you create a classroom space where every student feels like they can be themselves with these three suggestions:
1. Recognize what you value and your own biases.
We are all human. And we bring our own beliefs, values, and life experiences to everything we do. That means we all have our own biases. Depending on your outlook, dealing with a kid who appears to be an overachiever can be a pleasure or a pain. The same could be said of any characteristic of the students in your class. It’s important to sit down and take an inventory of what you value.
We have a short activity to get you thinking (this activity is an adaptation of an exercise created by Dr. Susan Turell). This inventory is in no way comprehensive. Of course, to do this activity, you have to be completely honest with yourself – no holds barred. We suggest you do the activity with a close friend or colleague who can help you see your values and biases without becoming judgmental or negative.
Rank the following students from 1-12, with 1 being the student you would have the least problem working with and 12 being the student you would have the most problem working with.
_____ Josh is almost always late to school.
_____ Sophie speaks English as a second language and sometimes meanings get lost in the conversation.
_____ Oliver comes from a family where he gets whatever he wants and he sometimes argues that he shouldn’t have to do things simply because he doesn’t want to.
_____ Emma’s parents come from a different faith background, and they don’t want her reading a particular assignment.
_____ Dylan has Asperger’s Syndrome and rarely makes eye contact when he talks to people.
_____ Holly always blames her inability to finish her homework assignments on the environment or others’ behaviors.
_____ Luke’s school supplies all have bright, cheerful, flowery, feminine designs on them.
_____ Abigail’s clothes are often ripped and other students complain about her body odor.
_____ David is very proud of his Native American heritage and he often wants to contribute extra information pertaining to his tribe to history lessons.
_____ Bianca’s parents hold strong political beliefs opposite to yours, and she regularly shares them with the class.
_____ Will can be very rude to other classmates as well as to you – often for no obvious reason.
_____ Jessica is constantly talking during class.
Now, go back and see if you can identify the value you associate with the student and the origin of that value for you. For example, you may have a hard time dealing with Josh because you were taught that tardiness is disrespectful. Therefore, you value timeliness. For a list of values to help you think, visit http://www.chelseaannebaugh.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Core-Values.jpg?2ff9e6.
The point of the exercise is not to beat yourself up over your values. The point is to be able to realize when you might be judging or treating a student unfairly because they are not adhering to a value that you hold in high regard. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t hold students to high standards – you should and can. But, sometimes our responses can be unwittingly harsh for students who already push our buttons. It is important to recognize the things that drive us crazy in order to be able to step back from them and bring empathy and compassion to our student interactions.
2. Set personal goals to take care of yourself.
School is a grueling schedule for teachers. Trying to balance doing the best job you can for your students, your family, your community, and yourself gets difficult. We think it’s good at the beginning of the year to set a few personal care goals.
We encourage you to set goals that will re-energize you, revive you, and keep you healthy and happy. We invite you to set goals about things that bring you joy, not just things that you feel like you should do. Most of us know that regular exercise and sleep make us happier, healthier, better people. However, getting down on ourselves for not meeting our regular exercise goals isn’t necessarily helpful.
That’s why we want you to set at least one goal for yourself that is all about refueling your batteries. Maybe it’s giving yourself permission to not do the dishes one night a week. Or maybe it’s making an effort to go to a movie once every couple months and letting yourself enjoy it even in the face of ungraded papers and looming parent-teacher conferences. Maybe it’s joining that local basketball league or taking up painting – we want you to set at least one goal for your school year that is all about bringing joy into your life.
When we have joy in our own lives, and we feel like we’re able to be ourselves, it’s much easier to bring that compassion to our students.
3. Remember that we all make mistakes.
You will have your days when you snap at a student who doesn’t deserve it. Or you might overreact even when a student does deserve a reprimand. You’ll have days where you feel overwhelmed, or days where you’re suffering from a cold (or worse!) but you go to school anyway because it’s easier to deal with the sickness than to make sub plans. Oh, yes, you will have your bad days.
We all have those days, hours, or moments where we screw up. And it’s part of being human. We all make mistakes. At those times, it’s important to learn to give ourselves (and by extension, our students) grace. It’s important to acknowledge when we’ve done something wrong, try to learn from that failure, and then pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and go at life again.
You’ll also have days when you are the Best Teacher Ever and your students are the most brilliant people on the face of the planet. You’ll have days where everything will click. You’ll know that they learned amazing things and so did you. You’ll see your students do things that will make you enormously proud – both as scholars and as human beings. Oh, yes, you will have your good days! And these occurrences happen in spite of our mistakes.
There is no such thing as a perfect teacher, but there is such a thing as a great one. Acknowledging your own imperfections can lead you to be more forgiving of imperfections in your students. A classroom full of the knowledge of human fallibility should also be a classroom full of grace and compassion. Those kinds of classrooms breed healthy peer relationships because all the students know they will be accepted for who they are – warts and all.
Teaching is one of the hardest professions in the world. It can also be one of the most rewarding. As this school year starts again, we at Power Up, Speak Out! want to remind you that we believe you can change a culture of violence into a culture of peace. You are changing the world one student at a time. So, step boldly into this new school year and enjoy a year of healthy relationships with your students!