We often hear about the importance of a strong connection between a teacher and a student. We know through research and common sense that stronger relationships between students and teachers result in better outcomes. We can probably recall when we were students and the difference it made when we knew our teacher cared about our future.
In his research on Visible Learning, John Hattie cites an effect size 0.52 on positive student-teacher relationships. This research demonstrates that student achievement outcomes are well above the average growth over a year. This should make us take notice of how important these relationships are and why we need to have an idea of exactly what we are looking for when we talk about this.
Understanding Student-Techer Connections
I believe many educators understand the why behind this concept, but they might not always understand the what or the how. Along the same lines, it might be hard as a school leader to specifically articulate what student-teacher connections actually look like. Principals may say that teachers need stronger connections with students, but it might be hard to explain what that actually means.
Here are some visible indicators that help us to observe student-teacher connections:
The ability to joke around: Humor is a great way to connect with kids. Not all types of humor gel with all types of students, but it is a good way to get students loosened up and smiling each day—or at least trying to.
Following through on what we promise: As we start working with groups of kids, we need to follow through on what we tell them. There are many times when my own kids come home from school and tell me their teacher forgot a reward or started some incentive program that only lasted a week. As teachers, we have so many great ideas that we sometimes try to do them all. We can’t, so we must make sure that we only promise what we can follow through on.
Sharing common interests: Teachers can’t be friends with kids, but they can connect through common interests. Even simple things like the teams we cheer for or the activities we like are good methods for connecting. This TED talk about what makes good teachers great hits on this point.
Compassion and understanding in both directions: Teachers recognizing that students have needs outside of the classroom goes a long way in developing relationships. Teachers being willing to let their guard down with students shows that this trust can work both ways. Again, teachers aren’t friends with students, so there must be boundaries when it comes to sharing. But compassion is a great trust builder and can make a huge difference with relationships.
Knowing that every student counts: This one sounds really simple, but it is surprising how often teachers miss students in their classroom. Some students are easy to connect with, while others are not. These are the kids that we must work at building a relationship with. Teachers who go out of their way to really know all of their students are the ones with the best connections.
Body language and active listening: I think most professionals know how to be good listeners and how our body language can impact how others see us, but we don’t always demonstrate these skills. Teachers who connect with students build relationships through eye contact and minimizing distractions. Students who feel listened to will work hard for their teacher.
The sense of being in it together: Teachers with strong connections with students feel like they are rowing in the same direction. This can be observed in a variety of ways, but it really can come down to curriculum and instruction. Teachers who give choice and create relevance with students provide an avenue for building connections.
We do want to guard against all educators feeling like they need to do the same things in the same way in order to be most impactful with students. The suggestions listed above help us to think about all the different ways we can build connections, but it is not a checklist that every teacher must go through in order to bond with their students. Some teachers naturally connect with students through humor, while other teachers are much more comfortable making connections around common interests. In the end, teachers need the freedom to connect in ways that are meaningful to them.
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