Take Time to Learn About Each Student

Teacher with children in classroom, boys and girls in school

In today’s classroom the student-teacher relationship is something many teachers worry about. You want to be close to your students but not too close. You want to learn about them without learning too much. It is a tough balance to keep as a teacher.

A recent twitter conversation started by Tom Loud revealed some of the worst advice given to teachers. In this thread were some of the worst pieces of advice I have read in a long time in regards to interactions with students and relationship building. Two of them that I found particularly terrible were “good teachers don’t smile till Christmas” and “if your student’s like you then you’re doing something wrong”.

These ideas are outdated and are worth discussing due to the fact that people still believe them. I believe that both of these opinions or pieces of advice exist based on the idea that you shouldn’t and can’t get too close to students. Though there is a point of caution in building a relationship with your kids, the reality is that a healthy, appropriate relationship is vital to true learning. Let me give you an example.

How I Learn About My Students

Last year I started a weekly tradition with my classes that I felt would increase my relationship with each student. The goal was to connect with them beyond the classroom and the curriculum. On a random Monday I asked the class how their weekend was. I sat in front and simply said “Hey guys! What did you do this weekend?” The initial response from them was not overwhelming but some students spoke up and talked about what they did. Then on Friday I asked them what they had planned that coming weekend. Again not an overwhelming response but a few kids said something.

After several weeks the amount of responses increased from my students and they were excited to tell me all about the things they had planned for their weekend. Then it became fun to follow up with them that following Monday and see how things went. Through this small but important interaction with my students I learned that many of them had quite the social life and some very exciting hobbies. One student was a singer for a band who played in fairly large venues several times a month. Many of them skateboard, play sports, play an instrument or paint. I began to see my students as more than just kids I need to teach, instead I started seeing them as unique individuals who had great personalities and personal interests worth knowing.

How My Students Learned About Me

In addition to me learning about my students, they began to learn about me and who I was outside of the classroom. They started asking me about my weekend and I would happily answer them about whatever activity I had going on such as a family party, or taking my wife on a date (it’s never too early to teach them what a good relationship looks like!). The student’s learned who I was and what drives me everyday to show up and keep working with them and teaching them.

During the school year my wife and I went through some very tough and exciting times. About half way through the year my wife and I decided to buy a house and so we would go on the weekends and look at potentials homes that we might like. Well when the students would ask about my weekend I would tell them a little about looking for a house. Before I knew it they were asking me about it all the time and they were genuinely interested. In addition to the home we also were blessed to experience the birth of our first child. She came a little early so she spent some time in the hospital in the NICU. This was late in the year and at this point I had a great relationship with my students. I was open with them about the trials we went through and the great stories of success that we saw as our little girl grew stronger and was ready to come home. My students were genuinely concerned for my family and I felt that with the way they interacted with my and each other in the classroom.

What Results Come From This?

As you already see the main result was, we all learned more about each other. I knew about my students and what they had going on and what drives them to be who they are. They learned about me and what challenges my family had as well as how much I sacrificed to be their teacher everyday. Among all of the improvements I saw in class and the outcomes from out weekly chats about their weekends, the following list are the three things I felt were most impacted.

  • Integration of Personal Experiences Into Lessons

As I began to learn more about each student I was able to reference their stories and experiences into our lessons. Sometimes I would be able to retell a student’s story as it related to our lesson or activity. This impacted not only the student who’s story I used but the entire class since they were connected to the examples I used as well.

  • Respect in the Classroom

It wouldn’t be true if I told you I never had problems in the classroom, however, I did see an increase in respect that students had for the classroom. Our improved relationship as a whole turned into better respect for each other. When I took time off when our baby was born I was able to relay to them what happened. On those days I had the absolute BEST sub reports saying how amazing the kids were. I believe this is due to their understanding of my situation and the respect they had for me as a teacher.

  • A More Open Classroom

As we started to learn more about each other, students started feeling more comfortable around each other and in the class as a whole. I told the story in a previous post about the student who came into my class crying when he was faced with a family hardship. He simply said that my classroom is where he felt comfortable and that he felt he could talk to me. I believe this is a direct result from us having weekly conversations about what they have going on in their life and what is important to them.

With all of this said my main point that I hope you take from me today is to learn about your each student and find out more about them personally. Challenge yourself to learn about their hobbies, weekend activities, sports they play etc… This can be done in a variety of way. I accomplish by doing a weekly check in with our conversation about their weekends. Some might have an activity at the start of the year where they survey students on these interests. Whatever it is that you do, make sure that you actually do it and follow through with the information you gain from it.

When you take a genuine interest in each student and show that you care about them as a person you will see far less classroom behavior issues and you will see the student buy into you and what you are doing in the classroom. It is amazing the impact you can have on someone simply by showing that you care about them as a person.



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