Mastering the 3 Rs: Relationships, Relationships, and Relationships

sparkHave you ever met someone who you just love to be in their presence?  They have that extra spark, they exude warmth, and they engage you immediately, usually with a radiant smile and a sincere inquiry into how you are doing.

I’m thinking of a few people that I love to be around and these are the actions they usually exhibit every time we meet:


–Greet me with a smileawesome


–Greet me by name

–Ask me something about my life (something they remembered from previous

–Listen intently and actively as I respond

Why do I like these people so much?  First, they are great relationship builders.  They show how much they care about me to call me by my name, pay attention to what is important to me, and inquire further.  I feel safe and welcomed in their presence.  Their actions convey to me “YOU MATTER.”

These types of people are also great at opening up and sharing about themselves.  They share stories about their lives to connect others to them on a personal level.  They often are able to laugh at themselves and find humor everywhere.  They also aren’t afraid to be vulnerable, admit mistakes, ask for forgiveness, and keep moving forward.

As educators, we are presented with opportunities for building relationships every moment of every day for 180 school days with our colleagues, with parents, but most importantly, with our students.  Do our actions consistently convey to our students “YOU MATTER”?   Do we notice them daily?

Check out this Ted Talk by Angela Maiers on the impact of noticing our students.

“The need to know you are valued is as deep as they come.” –Angela Maiers                         “I get to help people matter each day”–Angela Maiers


Here are some suggestions on how to expand your relationship building influence with students:

  1.  Let students know:


2.  Noticing—Share with them what you notice about their progress, efforts, insights, and accomplishments with a simple:  “I noticed when…..”

3.  Intentionality–Track your own interactions with students.  Be intentional in monitoring what type of feedback you are giving them and how often.  Keep track of students you haven’t interacted with as frequently and take time to get to know them more.

4.  Passion–Discover your students’ passions and help them pursue them.


5.  Celebrate successes–Seek out successes in the classroom and share them out beyond the classroom walls.

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Remember that as educators YOU MATTER a great deal as well.  As a parent (much like many parents each morning), I squeeze my boys really tight every morning, tell them I love them, and send them off to school hoping and praying they will feel safe, loved, in an environment filled with enthusiasm, positive relationships, learning, and passion-driven moments.

One year after the first day of school I asked my son …. “Did you like school?  Is your teacher nice?”  He looked perplexed, paused and replied,  “That’s a silly question, Mommy.  Of course I do.  All teachers are nice. If they weren’t, then why would they be a teacher?”  Thank you to all my educator friends for all that you do every day!  YOU MATTER!

Heart of a Teacher

Excerpts from “The Heart of a Teacher:  Identity and Integrity in Teaching”
p. 2, by Parker J. Palmer

 “Here is a secret hidden in plain sight:  good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher.  In every class I teach, my ability to connect with my students, and to connect them with the subject, depends less on the methods I use than on the degree to which I know and trust my selfhood and am willing to make it available and vulnerable in the service of learning.
My evidence for this claim comes, in part, from years of asking students to tell me about their good teachers….In every story I have heard, good teachers share one trait:  a strong sense of personal identity infuses their work.  ‘Dr. A is reallythere when she teachers,  a student tells me, or ‘Mr. B has such enthusiasm for his subject,’ or ‘You can tell that this really Prof. C’s life.’
One student I heard about said she could not describe her good teachers because they were so different from each other.  But she could describe her bad teachers because they were all the same:  ‘Their words float somewhere in front of their faces, like the balloon speech in cartoons.’  With one remarkable image she said it all.  Bad teachers distance themselves from the subject they are teaching and, in the process, from their students.
Good teachers join self, subject, and students in the fabric of life because they teach from an integral and undivided self; they manifest in their own lives, and evoke in their students, a ‘capacity for connectedness.’”

Change Magazine, Vol. 29, Issue #6, pp. 14-21, Nov/Dec 1997.

Do you agree with Dr. Parker’s assessment of what is good teaching?  Why or why not?

Building positive relationships with students

Check out this great article on how “Tough Kids Make Better Teachers.”

When I interview new teaching candidates I always ask them the following questions:
1.  Think of your top student in one of your classes.  Imagine I pull them out of class and ask them to describe you in a couple of words, what would he or she say?

2.  Now think of your most challenging student, the one who school is challenging for them. Imagine I pull them out of class and ask them to describe you in a couple of words, what would he or she say?

Would you answer the same for both questions?  Would you talk about how you built strong relationships, while maintaining high expectations for both?  What do you do to engage all students and build positive student relationships?

Demonstrate You Care

“What is learned in school depends far less on what is taught than on what one actually experiences there.”—Edgar Friedenberg.
          I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in my classroom. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or honor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or de-humanized.
Haim Ginott, child care expert in Between Teacher and Child.
Some tips for communicating to your students that you care:
  • Greet the students at the door as if you would a guest in your home. Call them by their preferred nickname.
  • Use attentive, active listening when talking to students, even during informal conversations.
  • Attend school plays, games, and other activities of your students
  • Criticize in private; praise in public
  • Acknowledge student progress, accomplishments, efforts…and birthdays.
  • Inquire about their health after an absence.
  • Use their name when writing comments on assignments. (“Great improvement, Jenn.”) (Lavoie, 2007, p. 59-60).

Discussion Question:  What do you do to demonstrate you care for your students?