Wednesday, December 30, 2015

10 Ways to Connect with Your Students! CONNECTIONS!

CONNECTIONS are a vital part of relating to curriculum, learning, people and our world.

Making, maintaining and building CONNECTIONS with our students is a vital part of the LEARNING PROCESS in our classrooms.

We all know that we need to HOOK our students, GRAB their attention and ENGAGE them in their learning. Here are 10 Ways to Make CONNECTIONS with your students so that when you speak...they want to LISTEN.

Over the years I have had dozens of Student Teachers observing and teaching in my classroom. Let me start out here with what I always tell them. These are 10 things that "Work for Me". Feel free to incorporate and share any of the techniques that I use into your own style. Always remember though that you have and will develop your own style and you always have to be YOU. So, think about it, try it out and if it does not feel comfortable or natural to you, modify it or don't use it at all. Just think about what might be YOU. So much of what I will be talking about deals directly with personality and style. So, that being said, here are 10 things that make CONNECTIONS in my classroom and help me establish and build a rapport with my students that can lead to lasting relationships for years to come. (Many of those Student Teachers have been former First Graders of mine that came back to hang with me while studying to be Teachers.)

  • 1) LISTEN:  When your students come to you and want to share something. Stop and LISTEN. Sometimes it's very hard because you have something in your hand, you are in the middle of doing something and that voice just has something that they want to share. Whether they are bursting with excitement or nonchalantly mentioning something. Take a moment and LISTEN. It can mean the world to a student to share an idea or experience or comment with their teacher.
  • 2) REMEMBER:   This goes hand in hand with the LISTEN. REMEMBER what your students have shared with you. They are letting you into their lives a bit, letting you discover who they are. Treat it as an honor that they care for you to know. Remember little things that they have told you. Maybe it was their brother's birthday, or Grandparents were visiting from far away. Maybe they love trains or legos or superheroes, remember it and MENTION it sometime. Their faces big and small, light up when you casually mention something about them that they have shared with you. It might be in a simple conversation one on one, or you may fit it right into a lesson that "Troy will love this book because there is a train in it and I know that Troy loves trains!". If you have never had a chance to do this, give it a try and watch how you just made an ordinary day become a memory for that student. They may always remember what you said, or like the saying goes, they may only remember HOW YOU MADE THEM FEEL that day. BUT, they will remember. Mentioning something special that a student has shared at a parent-conference can also build connections with them. Parents have a lot more confidence in teachers when they hear that you really know their child, and that you Care to know their child. More on that in another blog post.
  • 3) TELL STORIES:   O.K. this one is the converse of LISTEN. YOU SHARE. Tell some stories to the whole class or even individuals that let your students know WHO YOU ARE. Let them see that you are a person, with feelings, likes and dislikes and favorites. Show them that you have a brother or a pet or a best friend. Share with them that you knew a bully when you were their age, or  that you play piano or tennis or you love the Mets. They will love it and they will soak it in. When they realize that they share a common interest or family characteristic with you, they feel connected. When they feel connected, they listen to you and they remember. I have so many little stories that I tell each year. Many times they fit into specific lessons or topics and other times they work in spontaneously. I tell them about when I was their age, stories about my "little brother", my pets and all their goofy adventures, friends from elementary school, high school and college. When you tell your little side-note stories, it can be effective to really slow down your speech or whisper, even. Let them know that something special is coming. Sometimes I will even think of a story and I look at the time and tell them that I have a great story, if we have time. That can be an incredible incentive for good listening and work habits too. Many times my "stories" have been a topic at parent conferences. Many parents have told me that it's their child's favorite part of the day if I share a story. One parent told me that asking about my stories was part of a bedtime ritual and would be a way to share about their day at school. I loved hearing that, that remembering and sharing little stories, could help them remember and share with their parents what we were learning about in school.
  • 4) HAVE YOUR OWN LANGUAGE:   This was something that a Principal pointed out to me many years ago. She said that when she came in to observe my classroom, that it was like we had our own language in there. She said that I would be mentioning these little catch-phrases and she did not always know what I was talking about. I wasn't quite sure how to take that, but then she followed up with, "...but all the students knew what you were saying and they understood exactly what they needed to do.". Phew!! What a relief, it was a Positive thing.  Anyway, in a classroom community we need to be able to communicate quickly and clearly and coming up with little names for things and places in the room can really help. For example, we have 2 rugs that define areas where students can go to or find things, the ABC Rug and the Zoo Rug. We have a Hand-In Bin and a Homework Box, which are the same box, just turned around to find the other to conserve space. Our "biggest enemy" is "Mr. Clock". A "Sammer" can be a nick-name for a Silly Sam Award or a Student that is earning a Silly Sam Award. I could go on and on, and I will in another blog post. Simply though, coming up with names for things and places and having systems that run in your classroom can help your daily functions run smoothly. They create common connections with your students because THEY understand what you are talking about. They are part of a shared community and it can be kind of cool, that other people do not always know what you are referring to, but THEY do. They are connected.
  • 5) MAKE THEM LAUGH   Here is a personality thing and a grade level thing. Although, I have taught Pre-School-9th grade and for me this works in all settings, but you have to be YOU. Make them laugh. Make them laugh whenever you can. Make them laugh! Use a different voice, make a face, laugh with them when something funny or goofy happens. When I drop something, we laugh, sometimes I make it look like the lunch bell was my stomach growling, or that they scared me when they put their hands on their head for the next letter when we are alphabetizing, anything! Tell a joke, let them tell jokes. I actually have a funny face that I teach them how to do. Once I show them, it makes a nice little incentive for staying on task and finishing on time because they will ask me to do the face, or "Can you show us the face again?". Sometimes I just surprise them with it out of the blue, but it always makes them laugh. Just Laugh!
  • 6) FOREVER BOOKS   Each month and with each unit that I teach, I have a collection of "Forever Books" to read to students. They are my favorites of the season or topic that we are in and covering. Every time I'm about to share one of my special books, I tell them that this is one of my very best favorites and ask them to try to figure out why, as I am reading it to them. Believe it or not, this simple little technique has really allowed them to get to know me. They have great insights as to why I love certain books, whether it is the illustrations, the setting or the subject, they make wonderful predictions. It's just another way of connecting. By the way, I highly recommend reading children's books to older students as well. I still love reading them, and I am way older than H.S. Well, a little older.
  • 7) SHARE YOUR OWN PASSIONS   Are you a sports fan? Do you love animals or specifically elephants or giraffes or manatees, like me? Are you a music, art or theater enthusiast? Do you love boating or dogs? Do you have cats or a garden? Whatever your passions are that make you happy, share it with your students. Let them know what things are special to you. These things make for wonderful connections. Some students will relate to you because they share an interest, or know someone else that does. They may just appreciate the things you love just because you love them. Knowing these little things about you and sharing them once in a while allows for many opportunities for connections. When we got two kittens, I would tell stories about all the cute and crazy things they would do. My students would stop bustling around and unpacking just to hear about how Olea stole a sock out of the laundry basket. One student was so thrilled with all of the stories, that he asked to get a kitten that summer. Not one, but two! We still keep in touch and I get to hear about his kitten adventures now. Telling about a spectacular play or exciting game or the lilacs are blooming, whatever it is, it's a little glimpse into your world beyond the classroom. Get to know your students and let them get to know you.
  • 8) GROUP EXPERIENCES   We all know about the Group Experience Charts to brainstorm about an experiment or an event that the class has been through together. Just keep in mind GROUP EXPERIENCES when creating any lesson. Every Science Experiment works for this, but think about infusing experiences for many more lessons as well. For example; for teaching The 5 Senses in Health, we take a Nature Walk around the school in the Fall. We notice and discuss what we see, hear, smell, feel and taste (I bring a little treat to give out with their eyes closed). When we return to the classroom we brainstorm things that fit into each sense category. We make it rain in our classroom, Silly Sam's Water Cycle World,  we act out the Earth, Sun & Moon with blow up balls, outside, we build our own community, Liberty Town USA Build a City in Your Classroomwe create an interactive bulletin board to learn about the world Underground, What Can Be Found Underground? we delve into the Polar and Plant world, Polar Pals Integrated Science UnitPlant Power Nature Magic Poem, and many more. So, just think about your lessons and what little or big thing or twist can you add that makes it an EXPERIENCE and not just a lesson. You will be building CONNECTIONS.
  • 9) PRIVATE JOKES   This one just kind of happens when you have all these other components in place. Your own classroom PRIVATE JOKES are made, each time you LAUGH because you stumbled on your words and something came out funny. Now, the new word that you made, becomes a PRIVATE JOKE. It happens when you have your OWN LANGUAGE and you and your students know what you are talking about and where it is, but "outsiders" might not. Making mention of any of your GROUP EXPERIENCES with a key word or two, makes those things your own PRIVATE JOKES. When you refer back to funny things, engaging things, things you have experienced together, each time you mention them, brings that connection close again. Students love to share these little things with you. It means so much to them to feel a part of something and to belong and to know exactly what you are talking about when you say a goofy word. They are in your CLUB. I promise you, they will always remember that.
  • 10) MEMORIES:    This is my perfect kicker ending to this post. MEMORIES! Make them, share them, refer to them, keep them, cherish them. All of the pieces above describe simple ways to make your time with your students MEMORABLE. They are engaging, they are having fun, they are using ALL of their senses. They are tapping into the chemicals in their brain that lead to higher order thinking, memory and meaningful learning. For so much more on these topics, I highly recommend visiting this TpT store  Ellen Weber Brain Based Tasks For Upper Grades and this website  BRAIN LEADERS AND LEARNERS  for comprehensive guidance in the effects of teaching with the brain in mind. Building and cherishing memories with your students is truly CONNECTING. These CONNECTIONS are what lead to lasting relationships and inspired learners. I mentioned above that many of my former first graders have pursued education as their profession. The amazing thing about them staying in touch, coming back to visit and reminiscing with me, is that I get to feel the absolute power of making these memories and connections. Even in their twenties, they can recall the funny times, the laughing, the experiences. It means the world to me. I have a former student that is a professional writer and she claims that she knew she loved writing in my first grade class because of our writer's workshop. She came to me already brilliant and talented, but I am honored to be remembered in her writing memories. Some of my former students that have become teachers, and have told me that they knew that's what they wanted to do since being a part of my first grade class. They have said, "That's what I want to do." , even as a 6 year old, and then followed through! I have no words to describe the incredible feeling, none. 
  •      So, I hope you enjoyed this little blog post, I hope that you picked up an idea or recognized yourself, related to something, or just looked at something you already do in a different way. Thank you for sticking with me till the end here too! If you are a newer teacher, meaning anything less than 30 years in a classroom, (haha), maybe this can let you know that you are on the right path. If your former students are not old enough to come back and visit you as adults yet, then please let my experiences validate the incredible work that you are doing each day! Keep making those CONNECTIONS. I promise you, that you will not regret it.