How teachers can create a relationship with students in this new, unusual school year

As relieved as exhausted parents are to be sending kids back to class this school year, this comes with concerns and challenges. Beyond health and safety, parents, kids and schools alike are all wondering about connecting during this time of wearing masks and social distancing. And for those families opting to keep children home for remote learning, the need to find creative ways of connection is even more crucial.

Rabbi Ephraim Hochberg of YTT and ATT’s Rabbi Avrohom Moller addressed educators from across the ATT system to discuss ways to proactively pursue a relationship with each student. 

Relating to students as a teacher or rebbe is always a key factor in learning and in helping kids have a positive association with school. The concern that we could revert back to remote learning makes building relationships early on even more critical.

Two prerequisites of relationships

Any strong relationship between a student and teacher is based upon safety and trust. Only once these conditions are met, can a teacher move on to build the relationship.

Creating a safe space for learning: 

A teacher has a responsibility to make sure his classroom is safe, everyone is respected and has a role and everyone will be defended against bullying and other aggression. This means a teacher has to be empathic and really try to understand the child’s perspective. He has to be authentic and open rather than aloof and controlling. A teacher should never use sarcasm because many kids cannot process it.

  • A classroom feels safe when learning and the schedule are predictable and clear
  • The teacher is consistent, cheerful and fair 
  • A teacher can admit when she makes a mistake to establish safety and trust
  • A teacher can be vulnerable and show that he is also human 

To build trust, a teacher must listen well and be there for students when they need problems solved. It means to forgive and forget without bearing a grudge. Trust happens when a teacher spends time thinking about solutions for a child’s challenges and gets back to him. Teachers who demonstrate trust will have students who reflect it back. It’s a tall order, but this is all the job of an educator.

Building the relationship with students:

Connecting with students takes effort. In the beginning, it can be as simple as using a child’s correct name and spelling. Or it can be something specifically personal for a student who needs it (e.g. a coin for student’s collection).

Teachers have to be masters of offering genuine and specific praise. They have to tout a child’s achievements to others, including their parents and grandparents. They have to notice what students need even if they haven’t asked for help.

Most importantly a child should feel that her teacher is happy to have him in class.

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