The beginning of the school year can bring many challenges, especially when it comes to developing individual relationships with each of your new students. This school year might prove to be particularly difficult with virtual or hybrid learning involved, but there are still many ways to build those important bonds and develop connections with your students, no matter where class is taking place.
Having a strong foundation with students boosts their willingness to learn and stay focused during class, and it promotes their overall social-emotional wellbeing both in and out of the classroom. Read on to discover five simple strategies to get students of all ages to open up and start the school year on the right foot.
1. Start with hello.
This tip might sound obvious, but it is one of the most critical steps you can take to getting to know your students better. A simple morning greeting encourages natural conversations outside of academics to occur and offers a glimpse into students’ lives.
For remote learning, this one-on-one time might be less easy to come by. Consider making an effort to email, mail a card, or even call students once a week to check in with them before class. Your effort won’t go unnoticed, and students will start to look forward to hearing a familiar voice.
2. Read books that offer connections.
Find books that target the age of your students that might have relevance to their current experiences. Literature can have a powerful impact on students’ self-perception, and it can give them time to reflect on their personal goals and progress in this stage of their lives.
Include comprehension questions or reflection prompts for older students to help them understand the message the story is trying to portray, but also to draw connections between themselves and the characters. This activity can help you gain insight into their personal identities, and will even give you ideas of ways you can support them on their journeys.
3. Share your story first.
An easy way to get students to share their lives with you is if you open up first! Sharing your background, life experiences, and imperfections can give students a glimpse into who you are, and make them feel more comfortable around you. Pictures of children, pets, and hobbies are a fun way to show more about your life outside of school.
When students reciprocate, consider jotting down some details in a notebook about the interaction. These small reminders will help you develop closer bonds because students will see that you care when you are able to talk about other parts of their lives that might be important to them.
4. Try 15 minutes of friendship activity.
The 15 minutes of friendship activity is a great way for classmates to get to know each other. Students will partner up in breakout rooms with a list of questions that they take turns asking one another. The link above offers some examples, but use your judgment to make a list that best fits the needs of your classroom.
Try using silly “what if” questions like “If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?” or “If you could wake up tomorrow having gained one superpower, what would it be?” Keep the questions lighthearted and fun. Once the students have finished sharing with one another, ask each student to share one thing they learned about their partner with the class.
5. Create a community discussion board.
With COVID-19 still affecting in-person learning, a lot of students are missing out on the social aspect of the school day if they are learning in a remote setting. Socializing is incredibly important to student development, and there are easy ways to create a sense of community and connection through an online discussion board.
Offer a virtual community discussion board space where students can talk with each other about their interests outside of academics. Consider posting a weekly question that gets conversations rolling and encourages students to respond to one another. This is a simple way to foster a positive classroom community.
At Participate Learning, we are passionate about uniting our world through global education. We believe that no matter how far away we are from each other, there is still so much to learn through building connections and relationships with others. Learn more about how to cultivate a healthy classroom community online by reading this blog post.