Building relationships with your students
In September, lots of new faces can make it tough to form meaningful connections with individual students. But after 15 years of teaching social studies at Brooklyn College Academy, an early college high school, I have learned the teacher-student relationship is at the heart of students’ success and must be prioritized. I have developed five simple strategies for building genuine and affectionate relationships with my students quickly and efficiently early in the school year.
The Blob Tree: The Blob Tree, a renowned reflection tool used in psychoanalysis, is an excellent vehicle to learn how your students perceive themselves. The blobs are human-like creatures in various poses on or around a tree. I usually either print a copy from an online source or project the image for the class. I then ask my students: “Which blob do you most identify with?” I am astounded by how self-aware my students are when they identify as introverts or extroverts or as having low self-esteem or an inflated ego. It helps me get to know them quickly. The Blob Tree also provides excellent data for creating seating charts or grouping students.
Multiple intelligences survey: I ask my students to take a multiple intelligences survey. The results are affirming for my students and tell me their individual learning-style preference. For my high school students, I use the Find Your Strengths assessment on the Literacy Works website. Students love when I establish classroom roles and create groups based on survey results. It makes them feel “seen” — a critical component of relationship building.
“All about me” survey: An “all about me” survey is a quick activity for students to share their opinions and experiences. Create a Google form with a series of questions to help you get to know your students, and if you choose, for them to get to know one another. For example, you can ask students to share their favorite song or pastime. As an extension activity, students can use Google Maps to give a tour of their neighborhood to the class. This activity helps students connect with one another (perhaps they both love the same pizzeria!).
An object that represents me: Even at the high school level, this variation on show and tell helps the teacher see the student as a whole person. For students, the practice of sharing and explaining an object encourages mindful listening and mindful speaking.
“This is me”: I ask my high school students to share a photo of themselves, from birth to age 5, to print and post on the class bulletin board. Seeing your students as babies or preschoolers gives you that little dopamine hit of affection we all get from small kids. But select a different community-building activity if your class includes asylum seekers since they may not have a photo to share.
When I commit to learning about my students and their experiences, feelings and attitudes and then adapt my practice to meet their needs, our relationship becomes stronger. And my students, in turn, become more engaged and motivated to learn in my classroom.
Linda Noble, Ph.D, is a 2023 Big Apple award winner and a teacher-educator at Brooklyn College Academy.