As teachers start the new school year, many will be armed with long to-do lists of all the things they hope to achieve over the coming months. Very near the top of that list should be something on which almost all success will hinge – forming the strongest possible relationships you can with students.
As you prepare for the new semester, try to have a plan for how to best relate to and empathize with your class. Surveys for students and parents are something you can have ready for day one.
Forging a relationship with parents may not be easy. Not all will respond to surveys and questionnaires. But an early display that you are interested in their son or daughter; asking them what they think you should know about them; finding out what their child likes or dislikes about school and what they do outside of school hours will help.
It will also help you learn about their expectations of you as a teacher.
Student surveys will vary by grade level, but in any case, you need to find out what they are interested in and what they like and don't like about school. Consider asking them what they liked the most about their favorite teacher.
If you have time and cooperation from administration, you can go beyond planning what to do when school starts. With class list(s) in hand, you can start to learn students' names. Ideally you will have access to student information like previous grades, teacher comments, test scores, and perhaps a recent photograph. If you can access food service information, you will know which students qualify for free or reduced meals.
There is a lot of data regarding how poverty is related to various stresses, so these are students who are more likely to have behavioral and/or emotional issues. Such students may be the ones you want to focus on first. Since poverty is not evenly distributed, some teachers will have all students from disadvantaged homes while others will have few or none.
Take a look at student addresses to find out where they live. If you aren't familiar with their neighborhood, you can hit the road and see what it's like where they live. This may not work for everyone, but try to walk their streets if you can. You may run into some former students and parents who can help you get to know the incoming crop. Knowing where they live will also provide fodder for conversations that can build relationships.
This kind of effort is more practical for elementary teachers who only have 25 students or so to develop relationships with. For secondary teachers, this process is much more daunting as they are likely to have 100 students or more. In this case I recommend that you gather your class lists and book a meeting with administrators. The goal here is to learn what they know about the students they know best. They are likely to be students with discipline issues. These will be the students that you want to focus on first as students you have good relationships with are less likely to act badly in your class.
Certainly, teachers who had your incoming students will know more than administrators. Reach out to them when you can. Anything they can tell you should help with relationship building.
I always believed on giving even the most difficult students a fresh start, but it helps to know as much as you can going in. This will allow you to have high yet appropriate expectations for all of the young people who you will soon know and care for.
Douglas Green is a former school principal, administrator and university lecturer, who runs the www.drdrouggreen.com website and can be found tweeting at @drdouggreen
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