Hooray For Monday: Building Relationships

By Aleta Margolis, Founder and President, Center for Inspired Teaching

Hooray for Monday is a new blog series we’ll be posting each week with questions, ideas, reflections, and actions we can all take to remodel the school experience for students. 

A number of years ago Inspired Teaching partnered with a school here in DC that was striving to turn around its student achievement, and student and staff morale. While the work was significant and complex, we knew the place to start was with relationships. Many students were in crisis, having already experienced myriad traumas in their young lives, and we knew the research shows that having the support of a caring adult can make a big difference in how children navigate through trauma. So each student was assigned one adult in the school to check in on them a few times each week. This adult could be anyone other than their teacher, in other words anyone who was not in charge of evaluating or grading them. All adults in the school from specials teachers, to school administrators, to custodial staff and classroom teachers were assigned a handful of students with whom they did not regularly interact. 

These adults had the job of engaging casually with the students on their list, greeting them in the halls, making sure the students were seen. The adults said hello in the morning, asked how family members were doing, asked students about their favorite subjects, discussed events in the community and the country, asked “How are you doing today?

The one rule was that they could not ask questions like “Are you going to behave today?“ or “Did you do your reading last night?” In other words, the adults had the sole job of letting students know they were seen and valued.

While we invested many hours over 3 years into our partnership with the school, this one initiative played a significant role in turning the school around. Children and adults began looking forward to seeing one another, looking forward to coming to school, because they knew they’d be appreciated when they got there.

By the end of our partnership, not only had student achievement gone from among the lowest in the city to among the highest, attendance and morale – for students and staff – had increased significantly. 

A friend and colleague recently asked me how we might replicate such an approach in an online setting. According to a recent article in Education Week, How to Build Relationships With Students During Covid-19, “A common feature among children who show resilience in the face of adverse childhood experiences is the presence of close and supportive relationships with adults.”

Strong relationships are essential in the growth of children, and that’s ever more important now when their circles of relationships have grown smaller.

How might we find opportunities to let our students know they are seen, to engage in low stakes conversations (“Did you watch the football game this weekend?” vs. “Did you get all your homework done last night?”), to remind them that we are interested in knowing them not only because we have to, but because we want to?

Here are 3 concrete things teachers can do this week to deepen relationships with their students: 

    1. Create opportunities for them to share who they are with you and classmates using google slides / flip grid / padlet / etc. 
    2. Try to set up small group meetings where students can share more about who they are. Consider activities like, 2 truths and a lie,  a set of interesting questions that everyone answers, or an opportunity for each student to share an object that means something to them. 
    3. Connect with families via a questionnaire / a phone call home / a letter from you explaining who you are and an invitation for them to send you back the same.

We invite you to share your ideas, the things you’ve tried and the things you intend to try, to build relationships with your students. We’ll collect and share these ideas so everyone in our teaching community can benefit!

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