Getting to know your students is one of the keys to a successful school year, because positive learning environments are built upon good relationships. By creating strong connections with your students, you create the perfect environment for risk-taking and collaboration. Also, by knowing your students well, you will be better equipped to create learning experiences that match their interests and abilities. This, in turn, will result in students being more engaged in their school work. Finally, as you get to know your students, they will get to know you. This leads to mutual respect which leads to easier classroom management.
Following are 7 simple strategies for getting to know your students. We hope you find them useful.
What’s in a Name?
As obvious as it sounds, there is nothing more important than learning your students’ names. Make it a goal to learn each child’s name in the first week. When you’re dealing with a big class this can be somewhat of a challenge, but there are ways to deal with this. Have your students wear name tags, play name games, use their names often, and keep practicing. By quickly learning students’ names, you are taking the first important step in getting to know the children in your class.
Remember to Talk!
There is no better way to get to know someone than by talking to them (and really listening to what they have to say). Make it a habit to walk round the classroom at the beginning of the day and greet each student individually. This practice will serve two purposes: first, it will help you remember names; and second, it will allow you to assess each child’s mood. If you notice someone is having a bad day, you can offer some words of sympathy or encouragement. Ask the student if they’re okay and suggest they come talk to you later if they need to. They will appreciate your efforts. When students know you care about them, you’ll reap the rewards of a happy and connected classroom.
Sharing Goals and Aspirations
One great way to find out about your students is to get to know their goals and aspirations for the school year. Have them share these with you – they can be anything from academic to social goals. Having students fill out a questionnaire is one way to do this. Another way to go is to create a board in the classroom and have students write their goals on Post-It notes. This will help you on your journey to understanding your students better.
Understanding Family Dynamics
Interestingly, learning about your students’ families will help you get to know your students better as well.
Try to connect with your students’ parents within the first few weeks of school. Start by sharing something positive about their child. Next ask the parent to share any pertinent information about their child that could help you teach them better. You could even ask parents to fill out a questionnaire listing their hopes and dreams for their child’s school year. Families will thank you for your interest and support you during the school year.
In Yardsticks, his amazing book about child development in the classroom, Chip Wood describes an activity which he calls the ‘”Birthday Cluster.” This activity can help you understand the developmental tone of your class. Create a list of all your students’ birthdays from youngest to oldest then examine the results. You will see a “cluster” of students who have birthdays within a few months of each other. This information will give you a good estimate of your class’s overall maturity level which in turn can help you gauge the appropriate level to use when planning and delivering lessons. Of course, maturity levels don’t always correlate to a child’s age, but this technique gives you a good rough idea of your class’s overall level.
Share Personal Items
Ask students to share simple personal items that showcase their hobbies, interests and passions. Create a space in your classroom where these items can be placed so that everyone, including you, can gain insight into students’ lives. Once again, understanding your students’ personal interests will allow you personalize lessons to make them more engaging, interesting, and fun.
Don Graves Activity
Don Graves is an educator who helped reshape literacy instruction. He suggests the following
activity to see how well you know your students. Try it once you’ve completed the other activities in this article. It’s a very interesting activity; here’s how it works:
- On a piece of paper or on a simple spreadsheet, create a chart with three columns.
- In the first column, write your students’ names in the order you remember them.
- In the second column, write one positive attribute for each student.
- Place a check mark in the third column if you’ve talked with the student about the information you remember.
This activity is the perfect test to see how well you know your students. If you struggled to remember students’ names or to come up with a positive attribute, make it your personal mission to get to know those students better!
These are, of course, just a few ideas. There are many other ways to get to know your students and build positive relationships with them. What have you tried and how did it work? We would love to hear from you.