Monday, September 2, 2013

Building a Community while Breaking Down Walls

At the beginning of the year it's important to build a community with your students as a group. It's also just as important to learn as much about each individual student as possible. During the first week of school, we ask a lot of opinion type questions, complete fun get-to-know-you activities, etc...

I know that it's very important to build relationships with your students. Genuinely ask the students questions. Show them that you honestly care about them as a person. Take time to get to know what they care about!  When building a classroom community it's important to emphasize respect, trust, honesty, and transparency.

So what do you do when you're told you are asking too many personal questions about the students? 

What do you do when you're told that some students are private and don't want to talk about their interests, their families or their talents?

What do you do when one of the most important things you do daily is questioned?

This past week, someone questioned my tactics. She was being honest. She didn't mean any harm. But it affected me, because I see building a strong relationship with each child as the most important thing I can do during the school year.  Not only is it important to begin building the foundation of a strong relationship from Day 1, but it's even more important to show the students through the remainder of the year how much you care about them as an individual.

However, I may have to rethink my approach for some students.

The thing I learned from this conversation was something that I already knew, but I never thought about in this type of situation. EVERY child is a unique individual. Typically, our teaching strategies work for the majority of students, but not EVERY student. What do we do? We differentiate. We look at each student's learning style. We look at each student's strengths and interests and gear the lesson to them.

Therefore, when establishing a relationship with each student, we must differentiate. Typically, most questions and activities will work for the majority of your students. But there may be one or two students who don't want to open up with both the adults and other students in the room.

If this happens, maybe we should change the questions that we typically ask or have the students ask US the questions first. Create a game to play with the students where they determine what type of questions are asked. We can ask the students to draw or write. We may even pull out play doh or other objects that they are comfortable using. Invite them to have lunch with you. Try to even connect with them outside of the classroom if necessary (attend a football game, etc.)

Will this take extra time? Yes. Is the extra time worth it when building a relationship? ABSOLUTELY!

Building relationships with some students may be very difficult. Building a relationship with some adults can be very difficult.  This is just another example that what occurs in the classroom IS the real world. However, like any other situation, we must find a creative solution.

Every day we must show RESPECT to the students in our classrooms. Hopefully, over time the students will open up, but we may have to do some research. Talk to the parents or previous teachers. See if this is typical behavior at the beginning of the school year. And realize that by NOT opening up, in actuality, they are sharing a lot about themselves.

Are they shy? Are they afraid? Do they lack confidence? Are they not responding to you as a teacher? Are they not responding because of another student in the classroom? Did something happen to them in the past leaving them scarred? There's always a reason behind every behavior.

When reflecting on this situation, I keep coming back to two special words that I learned this summer: YOU MATTER. Angela Maiers said it so perfectly in her Ted Talk: "Mattering is not an ego thing. It's a DNA thing. EVERY person wants to feel significant. Every person wants to matter."

Students who don't know they matter, need to hear it more than anyone else. Students who lack confidence or who are scarred need to be surrounded by positive people in a positive environment who remind them daily that they are an important individual in an important community.

The year is long, so if you have difficulty building a relationship with certain students, don't give up. Persevere. Have patience. Respect the boundaries that they have established, but slowly start chiseling away at the walls they have built.

Because, if anything can make those walls's two simple words spoken by someone with a genuine heart: You Matter

Lesson #30: I'm not telling you it's going to be easy. I'm telling you it's going to be worth 
it! - Art Williams

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