Institute Tips: How to Quickly and Authentically Build Relationships with Students

This post was originally published on TeacherPop.

(Photo credit: Alice Combes)
(Photo credit: Alice Combes)

“This is really important, so I want to be sure everyone is remaining engaged. I know we’re tired, but you’ll need this through your two years of teaching!”

During Institute (and Professional Saturdays), this phrase was invoked time and time again. Often, it cued a silent ugh in my head as I struggled to stay awake. The thing is, I didn’t think the session I was sitting through was unimportant, but I just struggled with the fact that everything was given A-level status. As hard as I wanted to be a great teacher, I couldn’t make all of the advice and strategies I got a priority.

But two years later, while reflecting on my time at Institute, there’s one thing that I do wish I had given A-level status. Interestingly enough, it was one thing that wasn’t given very much exposure during my two years as a CM:

Building relationships with students.

Building relationships with kids is SO important, especially when you’re working with Institute students for just a few short weeks. When I was going through Institute, we had the one-off anecdotes about contacting parents, or ideas for team-building activities, but that was about it.

I’m here to tell you that to get kids to work their butts off for you during their summer, there HAS to be a relationship. Think about it: if some random person came to you and demanded hard work during your summer, how would you feel? Probably weirded out. If students know you as a human being, and know that you care about them, they’re way more likely to put in said hard work.

Pause. When I say relationship, I don’t mean, “This student will love me and smile when he thinks of my name forever more.” That’s not practical in a few short weeks. Furthermore, you’re probably not going to be in your kiddos’ lives after Institute, despite your best intentions. Trying to get super-close to your students on a personal level only to leave isn’t going to help anyone.

When I say relationship, then, I mean creating an environment where you learn what your children need and how they work, and then providing the best setting for them to learn and grow.

While I am not an expert on this matter, here are some of my personal must-do’s (along with when they should be done) to give you and your students a great start!

A Guide to Building Authentic Relationships…FAST! 

  • Give a survey to your kiddos ASAP on Day 1.
    • Obviously, this will look different for each grade level, but you should push beyond the basics. Some thoughts:
      • When you’re frustrated, what helps you to calm down?
      • When you do something awesome, who can we contact to celebrate it with?
      • What do you want to do for your career?
      • What’s your favorite snack? (hint: you may be getting this for excellent classroom performance)
      • How do you learn best? Listening, reading, group work, etc.
      • What’s one thing that can help me be a better teacher for you?
  • Show signs of caring, and infuse them into your routines, lessons, and behavior management, all day e’ry day.
    • If you create student jobs, think about your students’ skills and interests in the survey you gave. What would they enjoy most?
    • Think about your students’ learning styles, interests, and backgrounds (aka, culturally competent teaching) as you create your lesson plans.
    • Be aware of being an “authoritarian” teacher who is overly controlling, and break down such barriers. You shouldn’t be BFFs with your kiddos, but you should also show authentic care in ways that fit into your personality. Even when you are giving a consequence, it should bebecause you care about their success. Let them know that.
  • For every choice you make, have a reason behind it. Kids are going to want to know why they do X activity, why you are calling home, why they are getting a consequence. You don’t need to engage in an extensive dialogue, but explaining the WHY behind each activity helps give even more evidence that you’re doing things to help students.
  • Admit when you’re wrong. This may seem like a no-brainer, but you’re going to make some mistakes as a teacher. Maybe your directions were unclear. Maybe a student got a consequence unfairly. When this happens, own it. Apologize, and move on. You’d be surprised by how few adults may do this in children’s lives.
  • See them outside of the classroom. While it may be harder during the summer to go to a football game, you can definitely eat lunch with a kiddo or even do a home visit. One of my favorite parts of Institute was sitting on a bench outside of the school as I ate my lunch. My high school students would slowly mill out, sometimes with their parents. It was nice to see them outside of the classroom and just see them as humans.

This obviously isn’t a definitive list of all the great ways to make your students love you. Nor should it be. A relationship isn’t something that develops overnight, and your relationships will look different in your placement school than in your Institute school. However, these are a great start in creating a welcoming, respectful environment for you and your scholars.

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