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When you think back to your favorite teacher of all time - what do you most remember about them?
Maybe they made you feel really special. Maybe he or she was the first person – or the only person – in your life who really, truly believed in you.
Maybe that teacher took the time to actually get to know you and to make you feel like you were important.
Maybe that teacher had an amazing knack for making the content in that class come alive and used super cool techniques to teach you that content.
Or, maybe they made you really think about things in a new and different way.
There are so many reasons that we might remember incredible teachers like these – no matter if it was as early as kindergarten or as recent as being in college or university. However, especially when you think back to those teachers who you had as an elementary school student – whether it was the teacher who made you feel super special, who believed in you and made you feel important, or whose class was just super fun to be in – there is one thing that all of these teachers have in common.
In order for you to remember them in this way, something had to come first, and it’s this: You had to feel safe with them.
When you really think about it – these teachers who made such an impact on your life – these are people who had earned your trust. Who you looked up to, who you likely adored, because you knew you were with safe with them.
You knew that you could trust them. A child’s instincts are strong, and because they rely on adults for their very survival, their instincts are sharp.
Children know pretty quickly if they like someone or not. When you first meet a child, they’re measuring you up. They’re watching everything you do and everything you say to figure out if you are trustworthy, and if you’re nice.
And it’s the adults in their lives who have proven their trust – who have taken the time to ensure that a child feels safe with them, that children are most likely to bond with.
So, if we want to become that teacher that a child will never forget – if we want to make the lasting and genuine impact on young lives that we went into this profession to make - the question becomes, “How exactly do we earn that trust?”
I’ll tell you what it isn’t.
It isn’t by being super cool and fun from the very first moment.
It isn’t by letting them do whatever they want to.
And it isn’t by being soft and letting them run all over you.
Because the very foundation of what it means to trust somebody is established through small, daily, repeated interactions through which children learn about whether or not you are going to do what you say you are going to do. In short – whether or not they can trust your word.
So, let’s talk about 3 ways you can establish trust with your students from the very first day of school so they can feel safe with you and so you can learn how to make the kind of lasting impact you want to – and so you can become that teacher that they’ll never forget.
Here’s how I learned this.
I was probably in my fifth year of teaching, so I’d been teaching for awhile, and there was another teacher across the hall from my classroom who had the most experience and who everyone kind of assumed was our grade level leader, even though we didn’t really have that title at our school.
And one day, our Superintendent showed up at my classroom door – with his oldest granddaughter, who was going to be moving into our district very soon and who was going to be attending our school at my grade level.
He told us that the purpose for his visit was to just let his granddaughter, let’s call her Shannon, get a feel for this new school and meet some of the teachers, so he was taking his granddaughter around to all of the classrooms at our grade level so she could meet the teachers.
But then, he asked if she could spend some time in my classroom, and I realized that this was probably more than just “taking a look at the classrooms.” However, I assumed that the teacher across the hall would get this child in her classroom because she knew so much about teaching this grade level and she was clearly the most experienced.
And actually, I really hoped for that because it was a little intimidating to think I could have the Superintendent’s granddaughter in my classroom.
So, I decided to just relax & not take this too seriously. I decided, because I needed to take care of the rest of my students in my class, that I would give two of my most outgoing and social students the job of giving her a tour of our classroom so she could learn a little bit about what it was like to be in Mrs. Friesen’s room.
This is what happened as I overheard their conversations as they took her around the room, and I was shocked by the kinds of things they decided they needed to point out to her – the superintendent’s granddaughter.
The first thing they did was march her over to our class rules poster. I’m not kidding. They said things like, “Ok, Shannon, these are our class rules. Do you see them here? They’re right here on this poster." Then, they proceeded to read them out loud to her. Every. Single. One.
Then they told her, “We all had to sign our names around this poster to show Mrs. Friesen that we understood our class rules and so if you come to our classroom, you will need to do the same thing.”
I started to freak out. My kids were making it sound absolutely horrible to be in our classroom!
I kept thinking, this child is going to think I am running some kind of a prison if they kept this up. But then I thought, well – nothing they’re telling her is incorrect – they just sound kind of bossy. And I started to wonder if that’s how I sounded to them. 😳
But, I decided not to interfere because I was really curious about what they would say to her and how they would explain our classroom to her. They then proceeded to take her to our Class Jobs display and explained every single class job in our classroom and how it all worked in Mrs. Friesen’s room.
Next, they took her to the student supplies, which we kept at the back of the room, and explained where everything was and what they were allowed to access and what they weren’t allowed to touch. And finally, they led her over to our class library and explained to her, in excruciating detail, our entire home reading system and how to take care of the books.
Then, Shannon pointed to the treasure map on the wall and the treasure chest sitting below it. “What’s that?” she asked. My student’s eyes lit up.
“Oh, that’s our treasure map. When we help each other and are good friends to each other, and when we do our work and everything, we earn a space on our treasure map, and when we reach a gold coin,” (and now she lowered her voice to an excited whisper), we get a story from the treasure chest.” Shannon’s eyes went wide, and then she turned and looked right at me, her eyes shining.
I almost burst out laughing. These two girls, in their innocent tour of our classroom with the Superintendent’s granddaughter, had just given me a priceless glimpse into how they experienced our world inside this classroom.
Well, Shannon ended up my classroom that year, and two years later, so did her younger sister.
Later that year, I finally worked up the courage to ask her, “So Shannon, what made you feel like you wanted to be part of our classroom?” She didn’t even skip a beat. She said, “That day I visited your classroom, I just knew that this was the best place in the whole entire world.”
Because I knew Shannon so well, I know now that what she was saying was, “I was a new kid at a new school where nothing made sense to me, where everything was new and where I didn’t know how anything worked. But in a half-hour in this space, I made two new friends, everything made sense, so I knew that this would be super fun.”
So, what did I learn from that innocent tour of our classroom with the help of two of my bossy students and the Superintendent’s granddaughter? They taught me that there are three main ways that I had established a safe environment for my students:
Once you start perceiving classroom management as the hidden gold in your classroom, everything changes, because you realize – the reason that you are able to have those incredible teachable moments is BECAUSE your students feel safe and because you’ve done the work to establish that environment first.
Years later, when my past students connect with me on Facebook or on Instagram, they talk about things like how loved they felt and how much fun it was to be in my room. But what they don’t realize, until they become parents themselves, is how much focused and thoughtful work went into ensuring that they felt safe when they were in my care.
And I’d love to help you create an environment like this inside your new classroom.
It isn’t hard once you know what to do – but you do have to know what to do.
In mid-June, I’ll be opening the doors to my READY for School Academy, where I’ll walk you through, step-by-step, exactly how to set up your first classroom for success. So if you’d like to be notified when I open the doors for that program, go ahead and click here to get on the waitlist now.
In the meantime, become part of an amazing group of new elementary school educators by asking to join my Beginning Teacher Talk Private Facebook Group!
Until next week, remember - just because you're a beginning elementary teacher, there's no need for you to struggle like one.
P.S. Want some help with classroom management right away? You might want to check out my Chaos to Confidence Classroom Management System!
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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