5 Simple Ways to Improve Student Rapport Today

With the three-day weekends over and a long stretch until Spring Break, this time of year can be prone to being a slump. If the foot-dragging and daily-grind brooding are on the rise for you and your students, you’re certainly not alone! But instead of just accepting the drudgery until the next break, how about hitting the refresh button on your relationship with students? Here are 5 simple opportunities for teachers to build rapport and revitalize their why for teaching.

#1: Make eye contact with every student as she or he enters the classroom. Greeting students at the door is a tip that shows up in almost every classroom management list. However, by this time of year, it often gets set aside for competing reasons, or even just forgotten. But it can be the key between knowing that Johnny had a rough morning at home, or that Amanda is nervous about a project due today–or missing those kinds of cues altogether.

#2: Keep a clipboard of how many students you personally interacted with on the day. If you are feeling distant from certain students, perhaps a small but concrete investigation might be in order. For one day, try tallying your interactions with each individual. You might even try videotaping your your room for a day to gain a sense of who might be slipping through the cracks.

#3: Do one out-of-the-ordinary thing based on student interests. If you have a class of basketball fanatics, how about collecting March Madness picks and displaying brackets on a bulletin board? Or for a class obsessed with selfies, try inviting them in a fun, simple way during an upcoming lesson (really make it dynamic by asking the class for their suggestions)!

#4: Start a Whole Child Assessment Sheet and fill in as much as you can. Last year, MindShift shared a post on holistic child data. With columns like “Family” and “Skills,” their sample assessment sheet goes well beyond subject areas. Make this a simple exercise to sit down and fill out as much as you can. Then discover where you might be missing opportunities to really understand your students. Don’t feel like you necessarily have to revisit the data sheet after that–just use it as a springboard to inform your future interactions with your students.

#5: Start writing Morning Messages to your students. As I explained in my recent post, “I’d say that the morning messages became an instrumental way we built rapport, authenticity, and empathy in our classroom–because being real with our students is one of the most precious gifts we can give them.” Find out for yourself if this is an opportunity for you to enrich your relationship with students.

What are strategies you have used to strengthen rapport with students?

featured image: Howard County Library System

The Unexpected Outcome of Morning Messages

My introduction came early in my teaching career. A visiting professional development speaker invited us to maintain “small daily doses” when it comes to modeling quality writing, emphasizing consistency over complexity. One of his recommendations was the Morning Message. Working on improving visual imagery? Add an example to your morning message. Having some confusion with certain homonyms? Toss ‘em in. Intrigued by the concept, I portioned off a space on my whiteboard to give it a try.

The results were as he described. I often modeled very specific writing skills in my morning message that we sometimes dissected as a whole class. Other times, I just let students notice them on their own. Soon, they were grasping the idea that writers employ specific tools with great purpose, and that they could identify and use those tools, too. They added techniques to their toolboxes. They openly discussed their strategies. And slowly, they came to see themselves as capable authors, too.

But there were certain other results that were quite unexpected. Wanting to be authentic with my students, I wrote those daily 3-4 sentences about my real-life experiences and feelings–and what much of my life revolved around at that time was my new baby girl, Lizzie. Her first year of life was my first year of teaching, and morning messages became a window for my students into my world with her.

Mostly, I shared moments that made us laugh. Like the time Lizzie tripped and then insisted that the floor pushed her. Or the time she instructed herself to smell a dandelion (and not to eat it) and then did so for 10 minutes. Or the time she combed her hair with a syrupy fork to be like Ariel in The Little Mermaid.

Occasionally, I shared moments of sadness. Like when she woke up from a nap helplessly covered in vomit. Or the morning she told me, “Mommy no bye-bye.”  

Whatever I shared, it was real. And my students came to see me as a real person, experiencing the ups and downs of real life.

Morning Message
Morning Message from November 26, 2012

But that wasn’t the end of the surprises that morning messages brought to our class. Eventually, I realized that it would be fun to capture those little memories for my daughter to enjoy someday. Quietly, at the end of the day as the students cleaned up and did classroom jobs, I’d snap a photo of the morning message and email it to an account I’d created for her.

My students started to notice.

And then they started asking to take the photo for me.

And then they started fiercely safeguarding the message from getting prematurely erased before it could be photographed.

I started to hear them swapping “Lizzie stories.” Former students came in and reminisced about them. Even parents expressed how much their students looked forward to those stories.

In hindsight, I’d say that the morning messages became an instrumental way we built rapport, authenticity, and empathy in our classroom–because being real with our students is one of the most precious gifts we can give them. For you, that may be better achieved in other ways, but if you’d like to give morning messages a try, below are some tips to keep in mind.

Tips for Morning Messages

Keep them brief. For younger grades, maybe even just a sentence. For older ones, just a few. Don’t bog yourself or your students down.

Keep them optional… At first, we tried reading the messages aloud together, but it just felt so awkward for all of us that we decided to skip it. Maybe it would be suitable to read it together with younger students, but for my fifth graders, I didn’t want to burden them with another “to-do.” The only time we read it together was when we were evaluating specific writing techniques as part of our unit.

…but make them engaging. Make it something your students will want to read, even if you don’t require it.

Tie in current writing concepts... Though it was always a small dose of modeled writing, sharing my thought-process with my students on how exactly I decided to craft my sentences was always a powerful teaching opportunity.

…but keep them authentic. Don’t sacrifice authenticity for an overly-contrived teaching moment. Share your true experiences and thoughts. If it doesn’t feel natural and helpful to weave the morning message into your writing instruction, don’t force it for that particular message.

Cursive? I always wrote my morning messages in cursive simply for consistent, but small exposure. As I told them, I didn’t want anything to limit their able to read any text, because cursive does still show up now and then.

What about you? Do you do morning messages? Please share your experiences below!

Featured image: Jack Amick via flickr