If location, location, location is the key to real estate then relationships, relationships, relationships is the key to fulfilling students’ potential. Everything I read lately ends up returning to this important aspect of instruction. Whether it’s Doug Lemov’s technique of warm/strict or Zaretta Hammond’s description of a warm demander or my mentor’s description of rigorous caring and caring rigor, the importance of relationships on academic growth keeps surfacing for me.
So how do teachers do this? There are blogs and articles that recommend strategies such as welcoming students at the door, asking them to write you a letter or attending events outside of school. I think these are wonderful suggestions for getting started, but there’s something missing. Students are smart and they know when you’re authentic and when you’re not. To build relationships, you must connect from your own experiences and personality. There isn’t a formula.
I definitely saw it with my own son. On one of the first days of school, one of his high school teachers commented on his AC/DC t-shirt and mentioned his favorite song. Asking about his latest music finds became an ongoing conversation throughout the year. The teacher wasn’t a huge heavy metal band fan, but he asked my son about his interests and listened to him. My son worked ten times harder for that teacher than any other one. The other teachers weren’t unkind, but there just wasn’t an authentic relationship.
If you want to build relationships with students, you have to stop, listen and engage. There are no easier or more authentic strategies. It’s all about the relationship.