Connecting with students is not a new idea; we know, as research shows, that strong connections and relationship building leads to greater student success both in and outside of the classroom.  But with a heap of new content, a myriad of remedial skills to catch students up on, and state test results from the previous year as a daunting reminder of what lies ahead for this new group, teachers feel mounting pressure to start with content right out of the gates.  Below, we have included research to consider the reason why intentional connection-building is vital for classroom success of the teacher and students and some simple examples of how to carve out time to seek these connections with students.  

🔸Students learn more when they have access to positive relationships with their teachers and other adults.  For example, a program designed to improve the relationships of high school students with at least one teacher resulted in these students having higher grade point averages. (Roorda, Jak, Zee, et al, 2017)

🔸According to the National Center on Safe Supported Learning Environments, "students who feel connected to school are more likely to succeed-- they have better school attendance, grades, and test scores and stay in school longer. Students who attend classrooms with higher emotional support are more likely to exert effort to understand difficult concepts."

🔸The relationships formed between students and school staff members are at the heart of school connectedness. Students who perceive their teachers and school administrators as creating a caring, well-structured learning environment in which expectations are high, clear and fair are more likely to be connected to school. (Blum, R., 2005)

🔸Second only to family, school is a stable environment in the lives of young people. The school environment provides an opportune setting to foster positive relationships among students, adults and peers. Building positive relationships within the school environment involves certified staff, classified staff, students, community, and family members. (Cook, Coco, Zhang, et al. 2018)

The inevitable question from teachers is understandable:  How do I designate any time for relationship building when I have all of this to do?  The first part of the answer to this question is reframing and reminding yourself of the purpose of your role: in loco parentis.  In loco parentis is the Latin expression for "in place of the parent."  It means that teachers have the legal obligation to care for their students as if they were their parents.  And it certainly stands to reason, most teachers feel this way already, as so often teachers will refer to their students as "their kids."  So if you have a room full of your kids, you would feel an immense amount of responsibility to teach them good skills, whether those are academic or social skills.  No matter the grade level, kids need space to practice social skills as much (or more!) than academic skills.  Giving this space, with intention and care, is the first step in creating a positive learning space filled with students who feel connected.  Here are some additional ideas for intentionally developing relationships with students:  

✔️Build regular check-ins with all students:  Bellringer time, exit tickets, or surveys are great opportunities to "get a pulse" on what's happening with students.  Developing circles are richer pockets of time for students to develop empathy and compassion for their peers as well.

✔️Design your classroom around culturally-relevant pedagogy:  CRP is based on four inclusive pillars are: (1) that teachers are empathetic and caring; (2) that they are reflective about their beliefs about people from other cultures; (3) that they are reflective about their own cultural frames of reference; and (4) that they are knowledgeable about other cultures.

✔️Include parents️ or the adults at home:  Bring the parents "back to school" with their students!  While many schools may still have limited access with safety and health protocols, there are still creative ways to include parents, regardless of the grade level you teach.  Send home regular newsletters keeping those at home up-to-date on events in class.  Take time to send/make positive calls, notes, or emails home.  Develop online games and give times and access codes for parents to participate.  Invite parents (when able) into participate in special days, like exploration, project, or laboratory days.  

✔️The 2 x 10 Strategy:  Notice a child who is disengaged?  This strategy is intentional one-on-one time between the teacher and student.  At its core, the 2x10 strategy is about consistently building relationships with students. Educators (or school leaders) select a particular student and set a goal to engage in a 2-minute conversation with that student for 10 consecutive school days.

✔️Continue the conversation about student connections and relationships beyond your classroom walls.  Find schoolwide initiatives that promote inclusiveness, strengthen student connectedness, and promote a positive school culture.  

Rachel Patton is the Director of Operations at BehaviorFlip.  She is responsible for the daily operations and account management, while working closely with the executive team to ensure the mission of BehaviorFlip is at the core of all operational activities.  Transitioning from a classroom teacher role into operations, Rachel has the unique ability to merge experiences from the classroom to working with schools and administrators implementing the BehaviorFlip software.

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