November 21, 2021

Building Relationships

Recently I was facilitating our New Teacher Experience monthly live session and was thrilled to have 100% attendance. I was overjoyed with possible ways to connect and here is what I landed on: tell me something boring about yourself. I recently saw a post on @Create-Abilities on Facebook from a teacher saying he asks his class boring facts about themselves. I learned someone has a real attachment to their shoehorn, is allergic to mushrooms, and doesn’t like seafood. YAWN but also, oh my golly, I am obsessed! We all laughed, on a Friday afternoon, with a group of people that didn’t know each other well and had to sit on zoom together! It was so much fun and sadly I know my brain will never forget these amazingly boring facts.


All I have heard this year is “Relationships! Build them! This will solve your behavior problems!”. I actually have known this for a hot minute as my time in the classroom was spent with close student relationships. Special education tends to tighten bonds quickly. I found that the more I knew about the student and the more they knew about my husband’s facial hair the better my weeks went (Mr. Larpenteur grows a beard in winter but shaves when it gets warmer and wow the kids loved Mo-Vember and seeing pictures of his mustache to beard progression. Listen, I don’t get to choose what kids find interesting!).


But I was on to something sharing tidbits about my life with them and asking for tidbits in return. According to Visible Learning Plus, when rating over 250+ influences on student achievement, student-teacher relationships rated as “potential to accelerate student achievement” which was the second to the highest rating. It came in above, one-to-one laptops, teacher’s personal attributes, ability to group students, classroom management, and individualized instructions. That means you as an educator can be still working to develop your practice on the previous influences and still chat with your students and have a huge impact. Talk about bang for your buck.


Ms. Larpenteur, I get what you are saying but how? I am SO glad you asked. One of my all-time favorite books is The First Six Weeks of School from Responsive Classroom. Some main themes of the book are setting your students up for success through routine and relationship building during the first 6 weeks of school to set your students up for success for the rest of the year. “But, Ms. Larpenteur, it’s November.” Yes, I know but you can start YOUR first six weeks of school today. I have been on two parental leaves that have impacted the start of my school year relationship building. The first return was a mess, the second, I had tools and awareness that time spent connecting and building relationships was well worth my time (even when I felt the pressure to get going!).


Here are some tangible ways to build relationships in class:

Talk about things that interest you or are boring about you and post them on the board each day. Have students come in and write their boring or interesting facts on the whiteboard or a piece of paper (I think they still have paper in school but also a Google Form with a results graph would be super cool too). Have 30 students in your class? Assign them days of the week based on last name or first name or color of the sky that morning. “Everyone with a pink sunrise is their favorite, to the board!”. 


Have Fun Fridays! Or Tuesdays or any day that ends in Y. No, this tip isn’t just for elementary students! Have a day of the week where you earn time to play board games, play Kahoot or read a book to the class (find a great list of books here). The impact of reading out loud to students doesn’t stop in middle school according to EdWeekly. Please just make sure you do the voices :). Ask your students who you never get anything out of what their favorite board game is, or what genre or book they love or loved when they were younger. “I know nothing about anime, is there anything in our library you could bring in to show me? Maybe I could read some to the class when we are done with our math quiz”. Email me directly if that kid’s face doesn’t turn up in a smile. 


Invite others to join you/or join them! I would have never known any general education students had I not wormed into classrooms and made my presence known. Did I go in during standardized testing? No way. I went in during Morning Meeting or Silent Ball and inserted myself into their classroom culture. A lot of former 4th graders know a lot about my Monday morning feelings from many years ago. When it went down in the hallways, bus, lunchroom later, I knew those kids and they knew me. I could level with them even though they weren’t “my” students. This cost me nothing but being willing to sit cross-legged and listen and share with 9 years olds and it benefited me for years. 


I also think about all the times I modeled relationships building between myself and another teacher. I would ask other teachers to join my room all the time (because I love my teacher friends) but how cool would it be to bring in the principal for Friday Fun or the Lunch Attendant for a game of Kahoot. These people are dying to make connections in your school setting too. Everyone is “busy” but people will make time for fun activities (and will be flattered if you thought enough of them to be a spotlight guest in your classroom). These spotlight guests will become your allies in the great mystery of what happened at lunch or in the office and your alliance will ultimately impact students positively. “We all know you, we are here for you, and we all are on the same page.” That is a powerful message for students to see and feel in their school community.


Finally, here is a don’t. DON’T GIVE UP! I was near tears in 2018 when I saw a perfect Kindergarten class, in June, six days before school ended. That Kindergarten class almost brought me to tears many times before but finally, six days before they were first graders, they were the PERFECT Kindergarten class. They only revealed themselves as the Pinterest version of themselves that they were because their classroom teacher never gave up on relationship building with them. They were a tough class but you could see them melt over time. Their teacher cared for them, their teacher accepted them, and their teacher showed up for them. That glorious intimacy and trust finally let them melt off their hard and “spirited” herd mentality to reveal the soft pedal of a butterfly class they always were meant to be. Even with only 6 days left of school. *Please note that the teacher was a BOSS the next year and took a lot of what she learned into the following year where she was granted only angels on her classlist. 


So here is me, someone who doesn’t like jelly but likes plain BORING peanut butter sandwiches, giving you the a-okay to stop your really well-constructed standards-based lesson to do target relationship-building activities with your students. 


Tell your administrators that a lady on the internet said you could so you did. If brought in for questioning, I have loads more boring facts about myself I would love to share with them during interrogation.


– By Ariel Larpenteur 🙂

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