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Teachers, I have a question for you.
Why is it so important to build a connection with the students who seem like they don't even want a connection with us at all?
Well, according to the authors of the book Positive Discipline In The Classroom,
"Strong scientific evidence demonstrates that increased student connection to school predicts school success. It decreases absenteeism, fighting, bullying, and vandalism while promoting educational motivation, classroom engagement, academic performance, school attendance and completion rates. Connection is the belief, on the part of the students, that adults in the school care about their learning and about them as individuals. In other words, in order to succeed, students need to feel they belong in their school.”
Wow. That’s pretty powerful information, right? There is a direct correlation between a student’s belief that we care about them and their academic success. Our students need to feel connected to us, and we need to feel connected to them. In fact, I would go so far as to suggest that this connection with students is why so many of us went into teaching in the first place.
Now here’s where things get tricky. How exactly do we create that kind of a connection with our most challenging students? Well, the answer is the same as when it comes to success in anything else that we want to have success with: we need to stay consistent with it.
Part of the reason I think we find it so difficult to connect with our most challenging students (and I'm speaking from my own experience here), is because when we try once or twice... and we get shut down, it's really hard to keep going.
But working on establishing this connection doesn't have to mean grand gestures. It can be super simple. Like, maybe you make the effort to greet the student at the door every morning to personally welcome them into the classroom. Or maybe you invite that student to a lunch bunch because you know it will make them feel special and cared for.
However you go about trying to make connections, there are students who will inevitably push back. They’ll completely ignore you or give you a rude response. You’re met with pure disdain. That doesn’t feel good. It's enough for you to just stop and throw your hands up in the air and feel like you have no idea what else you could possibly try.
But here’s the important thing. When a child responds to you in this way, it's usually an indication that this child feels like the adults in his or her life really don't care. Whether or not that's actually true - that a child has nobody who really cares about them - or whether it's the way a child has interpreted their parent's or caregiver's actions, it doesn't really matter.
When a child pushes us away like this, it's a test. It's a question. It's their fear on display that this is yet another adult who's going to let them down. It’s heartbreaking to see.
So, while it surely isn’t fun to repeatedly be shut down, you never know what a child is secretly dealing with. Usually when you get a full and accurate picture of the story behind their actions, it's so much easier to act compassionately towards them.
I want to encourage you that if you have a student, or multiple students, like this in your classroom right now, it's definitely possible to turn things around with them. It just may take a little longer than you would like it to take. Stick with it!
To help, I am giving you 15 practical ways that you can connect with some of your most challenging students. This topic has come up time and again inside our Beginning Teacher Talk private Facebook group, as well as inside our R.E.A.D.Y. for School Academy. So, this episode feels like it's long overdue! These are very practical strategies that you can grab and run with as soon as tomorrow in your classroom.
I hope this information is helpful as you prepare for your first, second, or third year of teaching. Until next time, remember, just because you're a beginning elementary teacher, there's no need for you to struggle like one.
Dr. Lori Friesen | Beginning Teacher Mentor
Creator of the R.E.A.D.Y. for School Academy, Dr. Lori Friesen has mentored thousands of beginning teachers across the country through her workshops and courses. Host of the popular podcast, Beginning Teacher Talk, and creator of the innovative literacy program for 1st and 2nd grade, Dogs Help Kids Read and Succeed, Dr. Lori is dedicated to serving educators and inspiring learners. Learn more at drlorifriesen.com and at howdogshelpkids.com.
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