In schools all over the world, there are students who are willing to work hard for some teachers but not others. Why is that?
I think it comes down to the relational capital that some educators develop with their students. Teachers who have it can get some students to play when others can’t.
Sometimes this seems like some teachers just have an “it” factor that others don’t, but I believe that there are some purposeful steps we can build into our time at school to truly create the connections with students that convince them we have something valuable to say. This operates under the premise that we can’t assume all students respect teachers on principle. That’s just an observation. This post isn’t about whether that’s right or wrong, nor is it about how widespread this feeling may or may not be. What it is about is the reality that we will miss some opportunities to reach students if we don’t take the initiative to reach out.
NOTE: Anytime we address developing meaningful student-teacher relationships, it’s worth adding this clarification: I’m not at all advocating that students and teachers should be friends. That’s not the relationship I’m suggesting here at all. But there is a real need for educators to find ways to develop credibility with their students. Furthermore, I won’t claim that these are magic bullet options that are sure to work for every student (or in the same ways with different students), and I absolutely realize that academic issues surely play a central role in our work. Relationships alone will not do much to equip our students for success today or in the future. Still, I don’t believe it’s an exaggeration to see these connections as lynchpins in our overall success.
What I do believe is that there are educator behaviors that put some on the fast track toward developing a trusting relationship with students. For them, everyday interactions become moments where credibility and trust are created and fostered. Not only that, I don’t believe there is much middle ground here (i.e. “the teacher who sort of cares about me”). Either we’re engaging with students, or we’re not. In a time where “kids these days” attitudes are all too commonly held, I think it’s our job to be the educators who develop meaningful relationships in a way that benefits our students long term.
Here are a few of the educator behaviors that fast track the relationships that help teachers truly make a difference for students.
Six Ways Educators Can Earn Credibility With Students
We all know that we make plenty of mistakes as educators, but there is some inexplicable hesitation among too many educators to own up to mistakes–especially those with students. A sincere apology is one of the quickest ways to create a connection with a student. As I’ve heard Jimmy Casas share, “Want to double your credibility with a student? Offer a sincere apology when the time calls for it.” When you make a mistake, take time to model how to come back from that the right way for your students. Name the mistake, take responsibility for your actions, commit to learning from that mistake, and do all you can to prevent it from happening again. It’ll create a lasting impression on your students.
I often expected my students to make the connection from what we were doing in class and why it was important for them that day and long after the year was over. Explaining why something needs to be done in class gives students the perspective its importance for the long haul, and it’s a great way to recognize that need that many students have to understand the meaning behind their work.
Model what you are asking your students to do
If you are going to ask your students to do something in class, be willing to do that yourself. If they have to work problems they’ve just seen, be willing to do that yourself. English teachers–think about your practices around reading and writing. Are you asking your students to follow the same rules you follow? Pernille Ripp has written this wonderful post about this that is absolutely worth your time. Getting this right is sure to establish you as an educator who is worth listening to.
Extend an unexpected invitation
I came across this video recently for the first time. In it, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson shares about how a simple interaction changed the course of his life forever. At the center of the interaction is an apology (this time from student to teacher) and an invitation to an unknown kid to come play football. Johnson claims the invitation changed his life. The invitation is powerful in any context, but the more unexpected the invitation, the more powerful the impact may be.
Ask for feedback from students. Actually use it.
Ask your students for their input on what you are doing in class. Certainly there is much about what you are teaching that must be included, but how you go about teaching offers a great deal of opportunity for personalization and creativity. I’m sure you’re doing great things in class, but do you have a sense of what is really getting the results and reactions you are hoping for in all those extra hours of planning? Ask your students for some feedback and find a way to include some of their feedback in your future plans. There’s no way they’ll miss the effort you’re putting in.
Show up at their events
If your students are old enough to have school sponsored extracurriculars, take a little time to go see them doing what they love. It does take a little time, but that time is always well spent. Students spend time talking about what we love in our classes, and I never regretted the choice to go and spend time at a play, concert, or game.
Again, we know that there are no magic formulas with relationships, but that shouldn’t mean that we throw our hands up and act like some students simply connect and others don’t. I’m hopeful that these will help you continue to create connections, but I’m sure there is more to add to this list. What else do you do that really builds credibility with students?
If you like what you’re reading here, you might like my book, Shattering the Perfect Teacher Myth: 6 Truths That Will Help You THRIVE as an Educator. The book highlights six truths that will help you THRIVE as an educator, including one–everyday every day–that talks about how big an impact our everyday actions really make. Get the book on Amazon or read more about the book here.