Use these Strategies Now to Develop a Sense of Belonging and Connection with Students and Families

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As the school year begins, teachers, students, and families have a sense of excitement in the air about the new school year. Especially after the last year and a half of living and teaching during a pandemic, It Is just refreshing to be able to start a new year with a clean slate. For many students and families, this summer has been less than Ideal. This past year has placed much anxiety and worry into all our lives.

Many students and families will be coming to schools worn out and tired from the stresses of life. It will be important for teachers to start the year out in a positive way to help students and their families start the year. We will dive into four strategies in which you can cultivate a foundation of a positive relationship to build on throughout the school year.

Creating Positive Interactions with Students

It Is Important from day one of the school year to build positive interactions with your students. Creating multiple Opportunities to Respond (OTRs) In a positive way throughout the school day will help cultivate a trusting relationship that will be long-lasting. We also want to create a culture where we can have not only positive relationships from teacher to student but peer to peer as well. Below are some practical ways to help start the school year off right with your students:

Teacher to Student

  • Greet students at the door– This will help you take the “temperature” of the student. You will be able to tell right away If the student Is having a good day or might be struggling. This Is a great opportunity for quick opportunity for praise or recognition
  • Get to know one another– Spend the first few minutes of a class or school day getting to know others by using some of these prompts, or come up with your own!
  • Learn student names quickly– This can be hard for secondary teachers but learning the names of your students and pronouncing them correctly will help develop a sense of being known in the classroom.
  • Be a listener– Be approachable as a teacher. Allow students to come to you with their concerns and stop what you are doing to listen. It can be easy to try and multi-task when a student comes up to your desk. Checking email, updating lessons, etc. can wait. Those few seconds or minutes during a passing period could be a turnaround moment for that student, and we get to know them a little more each day.

Building Student to Student Relationships

  • Build In time for Conversation– we were meant as relational beings. It Is Important for building a community to allow students to have a time when they can catch up and learn more about each other’s lives.
  • Show and Share– This could be a picture on the computer or an object from home, but no one Is too old to share what Is Important to them! I encourage you to try It out and pick a couple of students per week to share.
  • Shared Experiences– These could be, but are not limited to, class activities that are FUN. We could always use a little more fun, couldn’t we? These fun ice breaker activities can be used any time of the year as a shared experience to draw your classroom closer together, build empathy, and could also be used as prior knowledge for classroom assignments.
  • Intentional Student Seating– Assigned seats can be used for a variety of reasons, but one way Is to build a sense of community among a smaller group. Allow for groupings in pairs, and other smaller groups so students can get to know each other better while learning how to work with other’s strengths and challenges. One way to organize partner work efficiently Is through clock partners. This strategy cuts down on transition time and students do not feel left out because they have an assigned partner.

Start Out Positive with Families

For many families, the emails and phone calls that they receive from the school are notifying them of something negative that the student has done (got in trouble at school, missing assignments, not getting along with friends, behaviors in the classroom, etc.). The parents are often nervous to answer the phone or check their email because their first thought would be, “What has my child done now?” The Importance of starting on a positive note cannot be emphasized enough.

One strategy that I liked to stick to each year was to email or call each parent of my students within the first month of school. This could be overwhelming for a secondary teacher. For those situations, prioritizing what students and families might need some more positive feedback would be an important first step in fostering a solid relationship, especially If Issues arise throughout the school year. The parents and students need to know that you are on their side and have their best interests.

Take time to listen to parent concerns If they have any and be open to suggestions. Also, ask parents what they feel their child’s strengths are at home. The perspective that parents can bring to a school setting Is second to none. They are the experts of their child. What better way to gather additional Information than by having a proactive positive Interaction to start the year?

Open the Lines of Communication

The best way to open the lines of communication Is being proactive with a positive email or phone call home. Once that communication has been established, keep the communication going each week by sending a weekly or monthly newsletter, a quick note home in the student’s planner, or an email letting the parent/guardians know that there might be some papers coming home with their child that evening. Parents may not respond, but they might get back to you with some other Important Information about their child that will help you get to know them better.

Attend Student Activities

If possible, try to make It to some of your student’s extra-curricular activities. That Is another time in which you can support your student as well as check-In with the families to see how everything Is going at home. Your student and their family will be very appreciative that your own time to come to one of their events. It will mean the world to them!

If you want to build belonging and community in the classroom this year, it starts with fostering positive relationships with the students and their families. The year goes by fast, make each day count!

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