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February 23, 2015

How to Connect with Your Students

Do you want to connect with your students? Beyond the paper and pencil part of their lives, do you really want to impact them personally? Before I became a mama, I was an elementary classroom teacher. This post includes ideas that I found to be great for connecting with the students in my classroom. 

Connect with Students

Attend their events! 
Most kids are involved in some type of extracurricular activity - sports, drama, music, etc. Reach out to their parents and ask if there is an upcoming event that you could attend. I never had a family say "No way! We don't want you there!" They were always excited to pass along football schedules, Nutcracker performance calendars, piano recital dates, and more. In many situations, I coordinated with the parents to surprise the child at their event, and it was so much fun for everyone. It was amazing to see students absolutely shine in their individual elements! In the morning (on the school day following my attendance to their event), I would usually have a note waiting for them on their desk: 

"You were incredible at your swim meet! I am so impressed by your diving!"
"Your art show was out of this world. God has gifted you with such amazing artistic talents."
"I loved watching you sing in the Christmas play! What a gift you are to all who know you!"

Oftentimes, more than one student was involved in the same event, and that made it nice to see multiple students in one place!

Just in you leave notes on your students' desks? Wow! I can not tell you what an impact these kinds of gestures can make! Start giving it a try and see for yourself. Many of your students will begin to respond to you in a whole new way. Why? Because they know that you are for them...You are cheering them on...You see more than just their test scores. You see them.

Write notes on their papers!
In addition to leaving personalized notes on their desks, add genuine comments to their graded papers. Don't just put the number score or the letter grade. Include meaningful comments such as:

"I can tell you've been working really hard on your multiplication facts. Keep up the hard work!"
"I am so proud of the way you stayed focus during this test. Way to go!"
"Your handwriting is absolutely beautiful! Keep striving for excellence!"
"I see big things in your future, because you always give your best!"

Once again...this kind of positive reinforcement can impact your students in a tremendous way!

Just a side note on this: When I was in college, I had a professor who literally covered all returned papers in red ink...When you would receive a test or project back from him, it would look like he had bled all.over.the.paper....even if you had received an A. While in his class, I made a promise to myself and my future students that I would never, ever, ever grade with a red marking pen. On the day I met my student teacher mentor, she informed me that she only graded with green felt-tip markers - in an effort to appear less negative on student papers. I knew right then and there that I was going to love learning from her. What tool did I usually use for grading? Green felt-tip markers.

E-mail the parents!
When parents hear from you, they should not immediately think, "Oh we go again." You want your communication with parents to be more about the positive than the negative. When their child shows outstanding kindness on the playground, e-mail them and let them know. When their child reaches their Accelerated Reader goal, e-mail them and let them know. When their child makes a good choice in the lunchroom, e-mail them and let them know. When their child wins the classroom Spelling Bee, e-mail them and let them know. These e-mails don't have to be long....just simple, short little e-mails that build powerful partnership pathways of communication between home and school.

E-mail pics to the parents!
You know what parents really love? They love seeing their child in their element at school. If you've snapped a picture of their child, include it in an e-mail to them. *See disclaimer below*

Allow kids to call their parents!
If you haven't already decided that I'm crazy, this may be where you make your decision. Yes, I said allow kids to call their parents. Okay, hear me out...You must use common sense here...and you may even want to ask individual parents if this is a good idea for their specific work situation, etc...but I found it to be a great reward for a number of students!
For example, I once had a struggling student who had worked for MONTHS to get a perfect score on his spelling test. He (and his parents) knew that the day he reached his goal, he would call them and immediately let them know! One Friday morning, it happened! This kiddo not only earned a perfect score on his test...but he also earned the bonus points for the extra credit vocabulary words. That child and I immediately stepped away to call his parents. Let me tell you...I was crying...the parents were remains one of my top ten favorite classroom moments. 

Send snail-mail!
Now that you've already decided I'm a little wacky, I'll just keep the ball rolling! 
Send festive postcards.
Send birthday cards.
Send mementos of praise for good behavior.

Include them in your life!
When I would go away on a trip...or following a weekend away from school, I would usually return with stories, pictures, details, etc. to share with my students. They loved hearing all about anything and everything. Why? Because I was including them in my life...sharing with them what was going on with me personally. They would remember the most random details...and this is what they would share over the dinner table later that evening. In addition, I loved pulling individuals aside and saying things like:

"I thought of you when I went horseback riding this weekend. I know how much you love horses."
"I saw the prettiest black lab while out walking in my neighborhood last night. Isn't that the kind of dog you have?

When I got married, the kiddos were included. They gave their best ideas for honeymoon destinations - hilarious! The families threw a beautiful bridal shower - so, so generous and thoughtful. And are you ready for this one? I invited all of them to my wedding! Yes, you read that correctly! I not only invited that year's class of students, but all of my former students as well. I wanted all of them to be involved in our special day. Prior to the ceremony, I held a "Photos & Treats with the Bride" session for all of them. Yes, they saw my dress early; Yes, I had celebrated a little bit before I even walked down the aisle; But how could I leave out so many special people who still to this day hold such an important place in my heart? Greeting them...taking pictures with them...chatting with them...definitely one of my favorite memories from the day!

The next class of students was among some of the first to know that we were expecting our first baby! They witnessed my belly getting bigger and bigger...They saw ultrasound photos...They voted on baby names...They threw me the sweetest baby shower...It was so much fun. You may find yourself uncomfortable with such excitement, but I loved sharing this with them! 

When it comes down to it, your students are probably not going to remember all that you taught them about state history...or how to classify animals...or how to compare and contrast geometric shapes...When I cross paths with former students, they remember the moments where we connected about things that have nothing to do with academics.

Disclaimer: Before implementing any of these ideas, please check your school's policy manual - especially when it comes to communication with families, photographs of students, etc. Also, use common sense - never finding yourself in a situation that may compromise your safety or professionalism.