Building classroom relationships is an important topic in education. Last week, Rebecca Gettelman shared her strategies on building a classroom community through conversation. This week she shares 5 specific strategies to use when working through important conversations with your students. You can read that blog post here.
These methods all have their benefits and drawbacks. Regardless of how you approach these conversations – keep these five things in mind.
- Be specific. If you want to address a specific topic, make sure you give your students a specific topic or scenario. Once the problem is established, ask for specifics about how students think themselves, their classmates, and their teachers ought to react. If you want specific discussion prompts to use and need a place to start, you might check these discussion starters.
- Genuinely listen to what your students say. When you have a whole-class discussion going on, focus on your students. Don’t be shuffling other paperwork or have your attention elsewhere. Be sure to look at students when they share their thoughts. Don’t interrupt. If students are in small groups, walk around the classroom and listen to what the different groups are saying. You might sit with a group for a while—not commenting, but simply observing. You might ask a pertinent question to spur further discussion or steer a conversation back on track. Regardless, put on your listening ears and make sure your students know it.
- Respond to what your students say. Even if you think that what they have to say is wrong, validate that you hear them. Comments like “I hear what you are saying,” and “So if I understand you correctly, you are saying ___________,” are very useful. If students responded to questions in writing, make sure you demonstrate to students that you have read and thought about what they wrote. Write personalized comments on their papers. Talk to the class about what was written when you hand the papers back. Be sure not to put any student on the spot or share a student’s thoughts without asking for permission first.
- Apply what your students say. You don’t have to do it for everything students suggest or even regularly, but make sure to at least occasionally apply what the students have said in your classroom. Refer back to what they said at a later date when it applies to a new situation. If they are the ones to set classroom rules, let them be the ones to create a poster of these rules. If they make the suggestions about what appropriate behavior is, call them out on it when they go against what they said is appropriate. You won’t be able to do this all the time as some of their suggestions will not be in accordance with school policies and you are still the adult in charge of the classroom – but when you can, apply students’ thoughts, opinions, and suggestions.
- Share your thoughts too. Don’t hesitate to insert your own thoughts and opinions into the conversation. This might be as simple as making sure the conversation stays respectful and asking pertinent or leading questions. You might even share a story from your own life, but when inserting your own opinion, make sure that you don’t dominate the conversation or lecture the students. Sharing an opinion is a powerful tool, but it is also important to remember that as teachers it is not our job to share our opinions about religion, politics or money with our students. We must make sure to remain neutral on this issues as every family has their own personal belief system.
Remember, when students feel valued by you, they are much more likely to value you.
When students are respected, they are much more likely to be respectful.
When you listen to them, they are much more likely to listen to you.