In the coming weeks, millions of students will return to school. Standing in front of those students will be thousands of teachers who have received the advice to, "Be firm," "Show them who's in charge," and "Don't smile till Christmas." Fortunately, most reasonable educators realize that the admonition to refrain from positive facial expressions for several months is ill-advised, counterproductive, and downright incorrect. However, what about the advice to "Be firm"? Is " Be firm" the new code for "Don't smile till Christmas?"
The "Be firm" advice is typically given in the context of establishing the rules, norms, and expectations of behavior in the classroom. Many teachers will begin the first day of school with a review of the rules with the “Remember to be firm” advice echoing their mind. However, an overdependence on rules to keep order is bound to backfire. After all, aren't rules made to be broken? In addition, most students (particularly older ones) pretty much already know the rules of school. But then again, as adults we know all kinds of rules that we choose to ignore. (I don't always drive the speed limit, and I don't floss as much as my dentist wants me to.)
Knowing that most kids already know the rules, teachers are wise to spend time establishing connections, relationships, and rapport with students. Once the right relationships and connections are established, a review of the rules and expectations takes on a different light. In the big picture, it is much easier to follow a rule when there is already a positive rapport developed. Teachers can be "firm" in their resolve to connect with and know each of their students.
Fortunately, establishing positive connections and relationships with students is easy. Here are four strategies that make it easy to connect with students.
- Greet and Read: Stand at the classroom door every day, and greet each student with a smile, high five, or word of encouragement. Read their facial expressions and body language, and be ready to respond to any student who needs a little extra support.
- Use Questions of Concern: When a student seems out of sorts, needs to be redirected, or is simply struggling to behave appropriately, privately ask genuine questions such as "Are you OK? You don't seem yourself right now. How can I help?"
- Communicate with Home on a regular, consistent basis. Parents and families truly are partners and teachers should use multiple methods to keep in touch with families. Sending a newsletter home once a quarter isn't sufficient to establish and maintain positive relationships with students or families.
- Use Compliments and Congratulations: Increase the use of specific compliments about personal attributes and congratulations about personal achievements. Compliments and congratulations tell students that they are noticed, valued, and important.
How are you "firm" in your resolve to connect with and know each student?
Post submitted by Bryan Harris, director of professional development for the Casa Grande Elementary School District in Arizona. He is the author of Battling Boredom, published by Eye On Education. More information can be found at http://www.bryan-harris.com/.