I borrowed a book from a friend and colleague that I’d like to share a few tidbits from. They are particularly relevant for these first few weeks of school, no matter your student population or make-up. Poor Students, Rich Teaching: Mindsets for Change by Eric Jensen is full of classroom strategies for student success that he places under 4 categories: relational mindset, achievement mindset, rich classroom climate mindset, and engagement mindset. I’m still reading, but finished the chunk on relational mindset with a list of ideas to share.
As we know, building relationships with our students early in the year will lead to more positive experiences in the classroom all year long. Jensen says this about the “relational mindset”– “We are all connected in this life together. Always connect first as a person (and an ally) and then as a teacher second.” Here are the 3 big ideas from this mindset:
- Personalize the learning.
- Connect everyone for success.
- Show empathy.
To put these ideas into practice, Jensen describes a number of activities and strategies to use in your classroom. Here are just a few that I found relevant and timely–
Name Learning Strategies for Teachers & Students– This is always tough at the beginning of the year, isn’t it? Check out a few of these ideas.
- Introductions– have students say their name before asking a question or making a comment for the first few weeks of school. You’ll eventually tie the name with the face.
- Desk Name tags
- Alliteration– create a connection to the student and their likes by making an alliteration of their name (I love the idea of students creating these for you!) like “Chelsea chatty.”
- Interviews– Partner students up for 2-3 minutes to find out something about the other person that is hard to forget. Each partner takes turns introducing the other to the class.
- “Me” Bags– students fill a lunch sack with items that tell about them and their interests. Teachers create one, too. Share a few each day. Could be done with tech instead of using actual objects, as well!
Icebreaker Questions– Also check out this post on WeAreTeachers.com for a month of icebreaker questions to use with your students. The calendar is cute and has some great questions to help you get to know your kiddos!
Cooperative Learning Groups– Another part of building relationships early in the year involves students working together. There are many structures out there for cooperative learning and reciprocal teaching. Give students the tools for a positive experience with a few of Jensen’s tips–
- Allow groups to create team names, slogans, cheers, or logos for their group
- Provide students with unique and valued roles
- Create class norms for group behavior
- Allow for some occasional down time
Showing Empathy– This passage from Poor Students, Rich Teaching really was a powerful one for me to read. Take a look and see what you think. I can imagine how this would “change the game” for some of our students.
“If a student is late for class, remember the first of Stephen R. Covey’s (2013) seven habits: seek first to understand. Listen more, and talk less. Before anything else (like a reprimand for tardiness), check for safety. “Are you OK?” Ask what happened without judging. Instead of reprimanding the student, talk privately when you have a chance. Say, “We missed you. Are you OK? Can you talk about what happened?” A lecture about tardiness is unnecessary; make sure students know you miss them and want them in your awesome class. This is what gets students to show up: when someone cares!”
For me, this really struck a cord. What would have happened all of the times that I reprimanded a student for doing something they shouldn’t have if I had approached the situation like this? He goes on to explain that many of the behaviors and reactions we see from students are a result of them not knowing how to respond. Modeling calm, appropriate responses and then talking students through the correct behavior not only keeps the situation from escalating, but teaches the student a life skill.