Is building relationships with students at the secondary level important? When you see 100 – 150 students everyday, how can you manage it? How do you get to know them on a personal level and still find the time to get through your curriculum? Is it even worth the time?
The answer is yes, absolutely. Building relationships with students at the secondary level has benefits. First, it will benefit your classroom management. Students are more likely to participate in a positive way when they feel seen and heard. That, in turn, will benefit learning.
So, how can you build relationships in middle school or high school when you have so many students? In this blogpost I am going to give you a few ideas that don’t take a lot of your time but that will pay off exponentially.
Learn their names.
This one might seem like a no brainer. However, I once observed a teacher who kept repeatedly calling his students “Sir” or “Young Lady” because he didn’t know their names. And this was after two months or more of school. Did it affect his classroom management and the learning taking place? You betcha.
The sooner you learn your students names, the better. And make sure you are pronouncing them correctly. I always tell my students during those first few weeks of school to please correct me if I mispronounce their names. Otherwise, I’m likely to call you by the wrong name all year. Sometimes I even need to write out a name phonetically on my attendance sheets until I get it.
You can use a seating chart with pictures to call on students. You can make flashcards for yourself and practice. During the first few weeks of school when students are working independently I test myself. They might think I’m kind of weird because I’m going around the room whispering their names to myself. But they always smile when I get their name right.
Greet them at the door.
Building relationships with students at the secondary level can be as simple as greeting them at the door. You don’t have to do some fancy handshake or dance with them as they enter. A simple, “Good morning, Maya,” said with a smile can work wonders. If her parents left for work before she woke up, you might be the first person to speak to Maya that day.
During the first week or two of school, I use this time at the door to practice their names. If I don’t know it, I ask them to tell me their name and then I repeat it back to them with a “Good morning” attached.
Compliment or comment.
Notice them. That time at the door is a great place to compliment them or comment on something you notice about them. “I like that shirt.” “Wow your hair looks great today!” “You like Stranger Things? Me too!” Even as an adult, walking into the staff meeting, if my administrator greets me and makes a comment about something, it makes me feel good. I feel seen, perhaps even appreciated or liked.
Some teachers I have mentored in the past, have said to me. “That’s just not my personality.” My response, “It doesn’t have to be. Do it anyway.” Pretend you’re an actor playing a role. When you walk into that classroom you are an actor on a stage. You need to be upbeat and on fire if you want your students to be enthusiastic about your class or what you’re teaching. After awhile it will become natural for you.
Talk to their parents.
Talking to parents is often overlooked as a means to build relationships with students at the secondary level. Why? Because it takes time. I am not recommending that you call every student on your roster the first week of school. However, if there is a student that is struggling or being disruptive and you can’t get a read on him or her, call the parent.
Calling parents can feel awkward or intimidating. So, here are a couple of suggestions. First, don’t wait until it gets so bad that you have to give the student a consequence. Second, try to start the conversation by saying something positive about the student. Maybe they are always on time for class or they have a great sense of humor. Then, ask the parents’ opinion. You might say something, like “You know your child much better than I do, is there any advice you can give me on what works with him or her?” This tactic has never failed me.
Many times the parent will give me information that helps me to understand that student better. Information that I can then use to begin building that relationship.
SEL Check In.
Doing some sort of SEL check in helps to build relationships with students at the secondary level. Some subjects lend themselves to this more naturally than others. A journal prompt in language arts class would obviously be applicable. But what does it look like in math class? It doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be as easy as a quick ice breaker question at the beginning of the period. Anytime you are eliciting responses from students in a way that is going to help you learn about them you are building relationships.
This is one I implemented during distance learning and which I plan to continue post pandemic. I sent a lot of emails during distance learning simply because opportunities for communicating with students were so limited. I was amazed at how often students sent back a lengthy response that felt pretty close to a conversation.
For example, I sent emails to students who had been absent for a few days. “Hi Lily. I noticed you were absent the past three days. I’m just checking in. Let me know you’re okay and if you need any help with the assignments that I posted.”
An email can be more private than pulling a student to the side during class. They might be more apt to share something significant with you. So, emails are a great way to build relationships with students at the secondary level.
Open your room at lunch.
Another way to build relationships with students at the secondary level is to open your classroom at lunch. Now, this one is not for everyone. Some teachers need that 30 minutes of quiet time to just reboot and recharge their energy level or to be around adults. I get it. However, you don’t have to do it every day. You could maybe do it once a week on Fridays.
Many times students come in at lunch to get extra help with an assignment. Sometimes, they come in because they enjoy the quiet and the lunch area is too overwhelming for them. Occasionally, a student will come in to avoid being bullied at lunch time.
I don’t usually set any expectations for this time other than they have to be seated and keep the noise level down to a dull roar. I usually play music and eat my lunch at a table or my desk while they eat. Sometimes they ask me questions about an assignment and sometimes we just chat. Every now and then, I even have students come in who aren’t mine but they’ve heard it’s a safe place at lunch time. I’m okay with that but you have to do what’s comfortable for you.
Talk about yourself.
In the process of building relationships with students at the secondary level sometimes you have to get a little vulnerable with them. They are more likely to see you as a caring human being if you take a minute or two now and then and share something about yourself.
I am not recommending that you bare your personal life to your students. It can be simple things. I keep pictures of my family in my classroom and students like to ask me about them. If I am not feeling well, I might let them know I have a headache and I’m struggling that day. They know I like to read so even though I teach math, we talk about books and they give me recommendations for books to read.
Building a relationship means that not only are you getting to know them but they are also getting to know you.
Attend an event.
Finally, if you have the time, attend one of the school events. Band concerts and sporting events after school are easy ones. You don’t have to go to every one of them. Just pick a couple different ones throughout the year. You might be surprised when students want to sit next to you and chat. Even if you don’t stay for the entire event, students will notice that you took the time to show up for them.
Those are just a few of the ways that I have found to build relationships with students on the secondary level. I hope you found them helpful and realistic. If you have some other ones that you really love to use, drop it in the comments. I would love to hear from you.