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Part 3: Building a Classroom Community: Using Classroom Immediacy

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In this excerpt from The First-Year Teacher’s Survival Guide, you’ll learn the significant impact that the daily interactions that you have with your students can have on the classroom community that you want to establish. Using classroom immediacy to create a positive relationship with each student is one of the most successful approaches that you can take to relate well to all students on an individual level as well as to the group as a whole.

“Classroom immediacy is a broad term that refers to the different ways that teachers can lessen the emotional distance between themselves and their students. Behaviors that create classroom immediacy tend to engender positive attitudes in students because they believe that their teachers like them. And it’s only common sense that students will be much more willing to cooperate with those teachers who clearly like them and are interested in their welfare. Let your actions reveal that you are a teacher who is approachable and enthusiastic about your students. Although there are many, many different ways to relate well in a classroom, in the list that follows you will find ways to create a sense of immediacy and connectedness with your students that you can adapt to fit your needs.

Don’t forget that the class is about your students and not about you. Be careful not to overpower your students with your knowledge or authority. Instead, be gentle and inclusive in your approach.

Smile. As simple as it may seem, this is one of the most important ways that you can relate well to your students.

Be polite. Good manners smooth the way for positive relationships.

It may seem obvious, but take the time to tell your students what you like about them. Make it a point to compliment them whenever you can.

Be relaxed. Take a few deep breaths and focus on your students. Stressed out teachers tend to transmit that negativity to their students who will in turn respond negatively.

Be prepared for class. When you are prepared, you will not have to worry about what you do or don’t know. Instead, you can just teach.

Have fun with your students. Playing together will make it fun for everyone.

Make frequent eye contact with everyone when you address the whole group.

When you speak with students, lean towards them slightly. Let your body language indicate that you are interested and accessible.

Greet your students courteously as they come into the classroom. At the end of class, stand at the door and speak to them as they leave.

Vary your tone of voice as well as your speech tempo. Make it easy for students to want to listen to what you have to say.

Laugh at yourself! When you show that you have a bit of self-awareness of your own foibles, you show students how to laugh at themselves, too.

Be aware of the gestures that you make. Do they indicate that you are open and friendly or the opposite?

Model how to do routine tasks correctly so that they become manageable for students. You’ll avoid conflicts this way.

Take the time to reveal a bit about yourself. For example, a brief story about a silly mistake you made or how you learned a lesson the hard way will make you much more accessible and appealing to your students than if you are always right.

Ask questions and wait expectantly for answers. Let your body language signal that you are interested in the responses that you may receive.

Move around the classroom. Every part of the room should be part of your circuit. Be part of the crowd instead of staying in the front or at your desk.

Use inclusive pronouns such as we, our, or us instead of ones that exclude students from ownership in their class.

Find out your students' goals and dreams and help them work toward achieve them.

Provide opportunities for students to share their opinions and beliefs with you and with each other in a non-threatening way.

Be empathetic and sympathetic. Acknowledge it when a student is having a bad day. Offer to help when you can.

Ask students to help you and to help each other.

When you point at a student, try doing so with your hand palm up instead of using a closed fist with your index finger extended.

Be fair. Few things destroy a relationship between teacher and student faster than a student’s suspicion that he or she is being treated unfairly.

Keep disruptions to a minimum whenever you can so that the potential for relationship damage is also minimized. All students will judge your performance when you have to manage a misbehaving classmate.

Be tactfully honest. Students know when they are being lied to and those lies will destroy the relationship you may want to build.

Show respect for all of your students as well as for their families, neighborhoods, and cultures.

Pay attention to the emotions behind your students’ words. When you know your students well enough to be sensitive to their feelings, you will find it easier to relate well to them.

Use your students’ names frequently and with a gentle tone of voice.”

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Julia G. Thompson received her BA in English from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg. She has been a teacher in the public schools of Virginia, Arizona, and North Carolina for more than thirty-five years. Thompson currently teaches in Fairfax County, Virginia, where she is an active speaker and consultant. Author of Discipline Survival Guide for the Secondary Teacher, First-Year Teacher’s Checklist, The First-Year Teacher’s Survival Guide, and The First-Year Teacher’s Survival Guide Professional Development Training Kit, Thompson also provides advice on a variety of subjects through her Web site, www.juliagthompson.com; on her blog, juliagthompson.blogspot.com; and on Twitter at https://twitter.com/TeacherAdvice. Her online course, Survival Skills for New Teachers, will be available at https://youtu.be/Aq2aSpne0aQ .
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