A quick browse through any social media newsfeed can produce a feel good story about a teacher making a difference. These stories are often the springboard for making others strive to achieve equally impressive gains with their own students. Whether the end goal is academic, social, or emotional in nature, helping students find their best self is a huge motivator in building those student-teacher relationships.
While some relationships may be easier than others, every student needs to know they have value and are worth the investment. When students come to us from similar backgrounds to our own, finding ways to make those relationship-building connections can be second nature. When the relationships doesn’t come as easily, it’s often those students that occupy our thoughts and need our attention the most. Breaking down the barriers with these students can be our biggest challenge, but it can also produce the greatest rewards.
Ramy Mahmoud shares his 5 Epiphanies for Reaching the Unreachable Learner in an article on Edutopia. He shines a light on some basic revelations that make a big difference in building relationships with hard to reach students. While he shares the story of building a relationship with one student, the epiphanies revealed can be just what teachers need to extend their reach and make a difference in the lives of any number of students that need it the most.
- It’s not his fault.
- I cannot relate to him.
- He’s not mad at me.
- Fair is not always equal.
- Thank him, every day.
There’s relating and there’s empathizing, and Ramy discusses the importance of differentiating between the two. A teacher can’t act like they get it when they haven’t walked in those proverbial shoes. Struggling to make a connection where one doesn’t exist is simply counterintuitive. Showing acceptance and compassion regardless of differences is relationship building. In James Sturtevant’s chat with Cool Cat Teacher Vicki Davis, he terms this concept, radical acceptance, and encourages teachers to meet students exactly where they are.
As teachers, we also need to be quick to forgive and to be aware of the fact that our students may need to come to a place where they can forgive us. Not necessarily for something we’ve done, but for the group they have placed us in that consists of the countless other adults that have failed them throughout their lifetime. When we distinguish ourselves as falling outside of that circle of failure, we foster relationship building.
To step outside of the circle, teachers need to step up and be a consistent presence. Hard to reach kids are experts at pushing others away through their words and actions. While a teacher’s first inclination may be to remove the student and have disruptive behaviors addressed by the office or other support personnel, handling situations in the classroom when possible goes a long way toward relationship building. By investing the time and energy to work through behavioral issues, a teacher is showing all students that they are valued members of the classroom.
Building relationships and breaking down barriers begins with recognizing and accepting our differences. As teachers, we make a difference by embracing each face in the classroom. Our time, attention, empathy, and efforts make all of our students feel valued. The relationships that stem from these emotionally-vested interactions are the hidden rewards of teaching.