For the vast majority of us, the school year has ended for 2019/2020. While it’s impossible to know what experience each individual has had, I feel comfortable saying, “this year has been more stressful, anxiety-filled, and challenging than most of us can ever remember.” For me, this is year 30 in the field of education! I can’t recall a time frame when so many questions have remained unanswered. Three consistent ones that I’ve thought about and heard from others are:
- When is it appropriate for children to go back to school?
- What kind of grading policies work best?
- How can we make learning equitable for all kids?
Even with all of those challenges, we often miss that one thing that seems perfectly clear: The Power and Necessity of Building Relationships with Students!
When I was in high school, and even in college, there were only a few meaningful connections that I made with teachers. Luckily though, those relationships shaped my view of why creating lasting memories for students is so important. I recall, Mrs. Gold, my college Calculus professor, making learning interesting, fun, and I dare say, inspiring. But even more importantly, she truly loved her job! No matter what obstacles she faced, (I was part of many of them), she always smiled, showed patience, and was able to laugh when so many other teachers would have never understood the fact that we were still adolescents. Watching her and other outstanding educators teach, helped me to see the value in building those connections with students. I’m sure many of you feel the same. We realize the true benefits of connecting with children and teens.
Of course, the drumbeat of how do you measure those positive relationships? How can you apply data to something as simple as a greeting in the morning? What measuring stick do we use for watching our students laugh and smile is always present. Even though it may be hard to quantify in data terms, it doesn’t have to be! You see, all the studies that are being done about kids being away from school are showing the deep value of relationships with their teachers. Here is a great example!
Being with our students, whether virtually or in-person helps to create those lasting memories that are often spoken about when seniors graduate. Even with that knowledge, we must build social, emotional, and physical skills that we know are imperative for EVERY student. Covid-19 has helped us realize, and not take for granted the true value of being connected with our students. No matter what situation we get sent our way when school starts, we need to think about ways we can help our students to love the school experience. While there are many factors that can contribute to this, here are three things that can ensure we all flourish.
First, we have to make those connections no matter what the situation. Sure it will be harder to make this happen if we are in a virtual setting. But it isn’t impossible. Using technology has allowed us to see and hear students and their families over the internet. While this may not be an option for every school, even sending letters home with a personal message will make a huge difference. For educators who can reach out personally, those initial chats will do wonders that go far beyond the short period of time spent. Again, data has shown how much learning and even wellness is affected by the loss of the teacher and student relationship.
Maybe we are lucky enough to go back to some kind of traditional setting. If that’s the case, the relationships we form will be a cornerstone to how the year plays out, even if we happen to have a second wave where students are forced to go home. Once we start to get students comfortable in class, the second step is setting those really high expectations around effort, respect, trust, managing time, and other “soft skills”(never understood that term!) that are tremendously important for the building of a successful school year. Again, this isn’t unique teaching. You probably do this already!
As of this writing, many states are seeing another increase in outbreaks of Covid-19. That can’t make any of us feel confident about what the immediate future might hold. This is why the third step will be so critical for students, their families, and any person in an educational setting. It’s simply being consistent, with positive messages of praise, positivity, and sharing a passion for teaching. I’m going to quickly go back to Mrs. Gold’s example. While she was very knowledgeable about her content area, organized, and detailed oriented, what made me and others in her class want to learn was her constant praise when work was done well. She maintained an aura of positivity that made us want to be better!. Finally, and what I consider most important of all, was her passion for teaching never wavered. Each one of us knew she wanted to be the best educator. All of us are capable of those same qualities. Our students and their families are counting on us to bring that positivity, passion, praise, excitement, and enthusiasm to school. I believe we can do it together!