Developing a positive classroom climate is something that has the potential to affect almost all areas of your teaching career. For me, developing stronger teacher-student relationships has increased student engagement in class and made classroom management easier. It has helped me to look forward to coming to work each day, and it has made me feel more confident as a teacher.
There are small steps that you can take to building a stronger classroom community, even if you only have a few minutes! It doesn’t always need to take time out of class, but it doesn’t need to take your entire planning period either. Small actions of student recognition can go a long way, and to prove it I want to share my favorite quick ways to strengthen my teacher-student relationships.
1) Positive Communication Home
I start with this one because it is honestly the one that can make the biggest difference in the shortest amount of time. You don’t have to make 20 positive phone calls at a time to make an impact. If you notice that you have an extra few minutes at the end of your prep period, make one or two quick phone calls. Choose one or two students that have stood out to you lately, whether it be for academic or behavioral/social reasons. Make that call home, and after the parent gets past their surprise that a teacher is going out of their way to call for a GOOD reason, tell them a little bit about why you’re proud of their child.
I say do it at the end of your prep period if you feel cramped for time, because you can limit your phone time. If the phone conversation starts to run long, you have a firm end coming. “That’s the bell and I have students coming in! I wanted to make sure you knew how impressed I was lately with ________’s effort. Have a great night!” I forget who gave me this advice, but it’s four stars golden advice. I have been on parent phone calls that run 20 minutes if I call at a time where I have no firm end. And I’m not trying to be rude, but we do not always have time to risk that. Sometimes there is a need for lengthy conversations, and sometimes a 5 minutes phone call is absolutely all that is needed.
If you make a positive phone call home, I can almost guarantee that the next day your student will thank you, whether it be out loud or just with a nod and a smile. Some students won’t be able to wait to see you to tell you. “My mom was so proud of me! She was so happy all night!” Sometimes it’s even a few minutes later. “My mom just texted me! She said we can go out to dinner. This is so awesome. You’re the best.”
I often try to make these calls during the day, but sometimes I do make them on my own time after school. When you do that, you take a good chance that the student will be WITH the parent, and you can hear the happiness spread between family members. One time, I was speaking with two parents on speaker phone for a few minutes about how wonderful their daughter was. At the end of the phone call, the dad casually said “The reason I put you on speaker is because Jeanne is in the car and I wanted her to hear how you’ve been noticing her efforts. She has been smiling from ear to ear for the past 5 minutes. Thank you so much for making our evening; we are on our way to dinner and now we have reason to celebrate.” It made my night. Maybe my year.
When you make these calls, and how much time you dedicate to the task is completely up to you. 5 minutes can absolutely make a difference. Please don’t feel like you have to spend hours on the phone to be a good teacher, because it’s not true at all. You do what works for you! And I promise even a few phone calls will make a big difference in your relationships with your students.
2) Recognition Certificates
Yes, even high school students like these. I promise.
At the end of each quarter, I will scan my plan book and see if any students stand out for certain reasons. Just a quick glance! It doesn’t have to take more than 5 minutes total for all 5 classes. Did someone participate every single day, more than once per day? Is there a student who has a 100% homework average? Is there someone who used to be late often, but was on time every single day this quarter? It doesn’t always have to be grade-related, and it doesn’t always have to be the same award. Also, I try to choose students who don’t usually receive recognition daily in class. I choose students that I think will really appreciate some sort of small recognition.
Once I choose two students from each class block, I quickly print out a little reward certificate I have made up. It’s very simple; just a cute chevron background that says “RANGER PRIDE” with a line for a student name, and a line for my signature. I have 10 printed in my desk drawer at all times. Once I have picked the students, I’ll write their names and get them ready on a Friday morning before school. During each class that day, I give them to the students so that they can start the weekend on a good note.
This next part is kind of hard to explain. Depending on the student, I may give the certificate in front of the class or I may give it to them quietly before or after class. It all depends on the student individually and whether I think they’d appreciate the more subdued recognition. Students love receiving recognition, but they don’t always appreciate it being a big deal.
3) Check-ins at the Door
I have talked about this in another blog post, but it bears repeating. I will leave my thoughts on this below, but you can skip to #4 if you’ve heard this already 😉
Each day I try to be outside my classroom door to greet students as they enter. It is a school-wide expectation at my school that teachers be visible in the hallways between classes, so that was an easy reason for me to start this tradition. We are expected to be in the hallways for the 5 minutes in between class blocks to supervise and be available to students. I teach in a school of almost 2,000, and hallways can get crowded! Teacher visibility helps to keep students moving toward their destinations.
At first, it felt like *just one more thing I had to do.* OK GREAT, I can’t use those few minutes to organize my desk, catch up on attendance, or write the warm-up. I was frustrated! It felt like wasted time. So I tried to find a positive way to use this time in the hallway. Instead of just standing there in front of my door staring off into space, I started to engage with the students as they walk by. I’ll talk to students I don’t know by asking a question or paying a compliment. If they’re wearing an athletic uniform, I’ll ask who they’re playing that day and wish them luck. It feels good to make connections!
As my own students trickle in, I make sure I greet them by name and ask how they are doing. It is actually a great way to check in with students without them knowing what you’re actually doing. If someone who is usually very talkative avoids my eye contact, I’ll know to take it easy on them that day. If my student who works at night looks really tired, I can assume she worked last night and I won’t give her a hard time about the homework. If a student seems upset in any way, I can assume they may have a lot on their mind and I will remind myself during class that any reluctance or hesitation isn’t because of me. And conversely, if a quieter student smiles and gives me a confident answer, maybe I will try to push them a little bit outside of their comfort zone that day. That first connection can really help you be mindful of your class environment that day.
Sometimes, these small interactions make a much bigger impact than we might think. Last year, during my “Hola Aiden, ¿cómo estás?” moment… my quiet freshman boy opened up to me. “Miss, I think you’re the only teacher that likes me. You’re my only teacher that talks to me.”
Now there are mornings where I’ll be chatting with my neighboring teacher as we greet our students. Even as we talk, I will stop mid-sentence with her to greet each of my students by name. She may think I’m a weirdo for wanting to do this, as sometimes I am stopping to say “Hola, Casey” every 30 seconds… but I really do think it’s a valuable way to check in with my students before class has even started.
4) Seeking Student Input
Asking students their opinions is a great way to show them that you value them and their feelings. I give participation rubrics 8 (yes 8) times per year, where students have a chance to reflect on themselves but also give me input on activities at the bottom. You can see my example here.
I also give student surveys throughout the year. I ask them for their feedback, and I take what they say into consideration. These surveys helped me decide to have my students sit in groups. They also helped me develop my corrections policy and participation policy.
These surveys take just a few minutes out of class, but provide really valuable insight into how our students feel about our class, and what they expect to see.
5) Homework Passes
If I ever notice a student going out of their way to help another student, I try to pull them aside on their way out of class. I have homework passes printed in my desk, and I will quickly grab one and write their name on the back, then initial it. I won’t make a big deal of it and I make sure no other students are around, but I’ll quietly say “I noticed you went out of your way to support __________ today, and I really appreciate you. I wanted to give you this to say Thank You.” Students don’t always enjoy praise in front of others, but they almost always appreciate positive feedback 1 on 1.
6) Positive Recognition Notes
One final quick way to recognize students is with quick positive notes on their desk! I have some pre-populated notes that I can print directly on sticky notes and keep in my desk, so that I can grab them at a moment’s notice. All I have to do is write their name on the line, and then I can quickly drop it on their desk without a word. If you want to see some examples, click here!
Students will love whatever you do to show that you notice them and their efforts, no matter how you do it and no matter how much time it took you to put it together. If you spend two hours putting together awards, they will appreciate you. If you take 5 minutes putting something together or making 1 phone call, they will appreciate you. Showing students that we notice them and what they do each day is one of the best ways to show them that we care about them.