Monday, March 4, 2013

Six tried-and-true Ways to Show You Care About Your Students

Students will want to learn more from you if they know that you care about them as people. Just because you do care about them as people doesn't mean they know you care about them! You have to make sure that your actions and words convey that caring. Here are six ways I have been successful in communicating to my students that I care about them.

1. Find Extra Minutes
One great way to show your students do you care about them and to build relationships with them take advantage of the non-academic times in the school schedule. When students come in and out of class, chat them up! Doug Lemov of Teach Like A Champion calls this "Threshold." Instead of shuffling papers or checking email, utilize the precious time between classes to ask students how they are doing. Find out the latest on their extra curricular activities.  These little moments of interaction add up to knowing a lot about the students and to them feeling that you care. Although there's often plenty to distract you as students are coming in and out of the class, your priority during these times should be the opportunity to develop relationships with your students. If you have an effective structure of using "Do Nows," or "Bellringers" or another type of warmup activity, you should be able to take care of some of that pesky paperwork while your students are engaging in those tasks.

2. Open Classroom Lunches
Another great way to buy extra minutes with your kids is to have your classroom open at lunch at least a couple days a week. Although there are times where understandably we need a break from the kids or need to focus on grading or planning, an open classroom during lunch is a powerful way to  connect with your students. Many students appreciate an escape from the chaos or drama of the lunch room. And you'd be surprised what you'll learn about your students while they are hanging around in your classroom, not doing academic work. Sometimes during these open classroom lunches I would be working on my own business and peripherally listening to their conversations. Other times I would engage more actively in conversation with them. In both situations I would learn a great deal about what my students were interested in and pop culture that is so important in their lives. Sometimes I had students who would come to my classroom for lunch who were not all-stars in my class. But during lunch I could get to know them even if perhaps in class they were not as extroverted. When I had learned more about them through their presence at lunch, I was then able to better connect classroom content to their lives and interests and then draw them out more. 

3. Attend Extracurricular Events
Although your class is obviously THE most important thing in all of your students lives, they may also be participating in some other activities at school that mean a great deal to them. So the caring teacher needs to attend some extracurricular events in your school. Now, there's only so much time in your busy schedule, so I'm not suggesting that you attend every event on the calendar. But over the course of the year, hopefully you can attend one event for most of your students who are participating in school-sanctioned teams, bands, theater productions, etc.  Be strategic, and try to attend events where more than one of your students are involved, or you know a lot of students will be in the audience with you - you'll probably get at least a little indirect credit for caring from those fellow audience members.  Also be sure your students (and maybe parents) see you are there. If you are putting in this extra time, be you sure you get full credit!

4. Wall of Fame
Even if you can't attend oodles of after school and weekend events, one alternative way to show your students that you care is to follow local media and draw attention to when your students are in the news. For students, it's a huge deal when they make the news for sporting achievements or other extracurricular or academic success. If you draw further attention to these achievements with a Wall of Fame, you will find that you have many of these students eating out of the palm of your hand!  Put up newspaper or website articles highlighting their achievements, and they will love it. Nowadays there are websites that follow many prep sports teams, so you should be able to find some clippings or printouts related to your student athletes activities. Plus, thanks to your efforts to show you care by other means, you'll know other activities to keep an eye out for related news.

5. Talk Past & Future
Another way to show you care about your students is to not just talk about what's going on currently in their lives; find ways to ask them about their pasts and their futures. This communicates that you are interested in their lives not just for the single year or semester they are in your class. A favorite assignment of mine was at the mid-year point, having my students write me a letter in which they told me something I didn't yet know about them, either about the past or their plans for the future. This assignment often elicited interesting information. Halfway into the year, they usually trusted me enough to reveal more of who they were. And it was good for me to learn things about the students that broke the mold into which I may have begun to place them. This assignment was often the key to opening the door to a more meaningful teacher-student relationship.  Although you can decide to change the particular details of such an assignment, the point is to somehow give opportunities for your students to share more of who they are with you part way through the year when they've had a chance to develop more trust.

6. Learn from Them
Another great way to show students you care about them, particularly in our increasingly diverse schools, is to have them teach you things. I had great success with this with my immigrant and refugee ELL students. It's easy to learn 10-20 words in a language, and when I would use those extra minutes I found (see #1) to be their students, they loved it. Students love the opportunity to be your teacher and also usually find your butchering of their language quite hilarious. Proverbs exist in just about every culture, and having students teach me proverbs from their cultures was another guaranteed winner. Typically, I usually did learn something interesting, and the students perceived that I cared about who they were and where they came from - I wasn't just trying to teach them English.

Remember, many students won't care about what you know unless they know you care about them.



  1. Replies
    1. Fixed! Lol, where's my editor? I'm doing these thanks to the Dragon Dictation app on my Iphone, but it's not perfect. This is my excuse ;-)