Updated: Jul 24
Cultivating authentic relationships moves to the forefront of our classrooms more than ever this year, with modern students facing serious threats to their mental health and well-being. Showing them that you’re in their corner and truly care about them as individuals gives them someone in their life who is constant and capable, whom they can respect and emulate in the future. It also shows them that you’re a part of their educational team instead of a dictator in front of the classroom with a pointer. Modern educators have more responsibility than those of the past, but we truly have the ability to influence the lives of our students positively.
In this two-part series, we’ll discuss small ways you can make a big difference in their lives. These tips come from comments by students who remember the teachers who’ve made the biggest impact in their lives.
Set Expectations Instead of Rules
When students are given guidelines and expectations instead of hard-fast rules, the classroom feels less rigid and more comfortable. They can be themselves within a set of expectations without feeling like they will forget and disappoint at every turn. Try discussing things like respect, effort, and deadlines for work. Consider taking a mastery approach instead of hard-fast deadlines, ensuring students are learning the concepts you’ve taught. Inviting students to suggest more expectations can create camaraderie within your classroom and everyone contributes to a common goal.
No Red Pens
It may go without saying, but the era of the red pen is gone. Get yourself some colorful school supplies with which to grade papers. Students of all ages still love stickers, so consider putting that into your repertoire as well. Find little ways to make a big difference, making personal comments instead of a generic “Well Done” on their papers.
Highlight Strengths when Grading
Underline words that speak to you in their writing and share them with the class the next day. You can do this anonymously to appreciate the words themselves, but the individual who wrote it will know that you value their craft. Highlight inventive thinking or creative ideas both personally and with your class. Kids thrive on positive commentary that reinforces their sense of self. If you have a positive comment in your mind, share it!
Ask them, “Why Is This Relevant?” or “When Will You Use This Knowledge?”
Helping students to make a connection to the real world enables them to be more invested in the learning process. If they feel like you’re wasting their time, they won’t give you their best effort. The more connections you can make to their futures or the outside world, the more of their attention you will garner.
Never Underestimate a Positive Note Home
For the most troubling students, a positive note home can be a game-changer. Finding that one quality that speaks to you in the classroom and highlighting that in a note home to their families shows that you truly care and that they have something to contribute to the educational environment. Most students have never received a note home from a teacher, so try to send an email or handwritten note home each week, beginning with the ones who challenge you the most. Just watch the difference it will make in their classroom demeanor!
Stay tuned for the second part of this series!