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Courage to Be Soft

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teacher student

During our first official day back from summer break, the staff at my school spent some time discussing the value of developing relationships with students and the positive impact such relationships can have on the academic and behavioral progress of those children. Initiating such discussion is a daring move by our administration in this age of ultra-focused obsession on assessment data. Caring about the emotional wellbeing of children unfortunately has been, of late, ridiculed as being “soft” and a waste of valuable instructional time.

We have embarked upon the right path. Most of us were already somewhere along that road. In our grade level groups, we brainstormed activities and celebrations to fortify the relationships we will, most certainly form within the 180 days we share with our kids.

But building relationships is so much more than a one-time game or a certificate for good work. Those things are indeed worthwhile, necessary, and effective. However, forming a bond with your students (or with anyone, for that matter) takes time. For that connection to last, you need to work on the relationship every day, every week, every month.

There is no fool-proof “100 Ways to Connect” book of guaranteed strategies to use. No one knows the individual students you have in class better than you. No one knows the combination of the kids you have sitting before you. No one knows all of the tiny intricacies of each and every life represented in the confines of your classroom.

After many years in this profession, as a teacher and as an administrator, I have learned that it is imperative to get to know your kids. You need to talk with your kids – not to your kids. You need to have the courage to be “soft”:

Greet each child individually in the morning.

Share a quick conversation with one or two students as you are passing out or collecting papers.

Talk in line as you are escorting the kids to specials or lunch or to the parking lot at the end of the day.

Get to know each child’s interests – anything! Food, sports, music, games, movies, superhero, anything! Bring that interest up often in your little impromptu conversations throughout the day.

Listen to the kids who are worried, unsure, afraid or upset. You don’t have to have all the answers. Most of the time, they don’t want any adult wisdom. They just want to be heard.

Share your own interests and fears and worries with your class. Let them know that you are a human being.

Acknowledge each child’s birthday.

Eat lunch with a group of students. Hear what is on their minds.

Joke with your kids. Don’t take yourself so seriously. Don’t be afraid to be the butt of your own jokes! Laugh when you fumble with something!

Be aware of the silent children. Ask them how they are doing. Ask them what you can do for them to be successful.

Praise the positive! Somedays you will have to look pretty hard to find something, but you will always be able to identify at least one ray of light. Celebrate that light! Acknowledge the student and make sure you share the positivity with his parents.

Interact with your kids outside of the classroom. Volunteer or simply observe an afternoon student activity – sports, student government, art club, etc. Students and teacher alike will develop a much better understanding of and appreciation for one another.

Building relationships with kids will take time. It should be something we do all the time. Our efforts, however, will definitely be rewarded as students become more engaged in their learning - as they become happier human beings.

Teachers truly make a difference. Kids may or may not remember every poem they analyzed, every math formula they utilized, or every important date they memorized. But they will most definitely remember the way you made them feel during the year that they spent with you.

Guaranteed.

Copyright, Tim Ramsey, 2017.

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Tim Ramsey has been an educator since 1983.  He taught middle school and high school for 15 years and served as a school administrator for 15 years before retiring in 2013.  He returned to the classroom where he now teaches writing to seventh graders by day and reading to college freshmen by night.  Tim is an avid writer and has been featured in five Chicken Soup for the Soul compilations.  In addition he has received first place honors from the Arizona English Teachers Association for its annual “Teachers as Writers Contest.”

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Guest Sunday, 22 October 2017