Imagine a new classroom full of students you don’t know and you’re given a guide to teach with, lessons to utilize, and given the green light to start your new year. Now imagine a classroom full of students that don’t know you and struggle with learning. This was me in late elementary and early middle school. A struggling learner too shy to speak up and too afraid to mess up over and over again. A learner who craved to learn but didn’t want anyone else to see me struggle. I had teachers that didn’t catch my learning difficulties and I struggled to trust the next teacher.
The classroom environment can bring anxiety and stress to so many students. Students that struggle with someone new knowing their story and understanding how to teach them. Students that have had bad experiences and are cautious to let someone new in. New teachers understanding that their lessons may not fit students who are struggling academically, emotionally, socially, physically, or within a few of these. When students are given something to do and are already uneasy about the situation, escalation of emotions can occur. It’s not personal; it’s a reaction to what the student is given. It’s a response to the situation. While it may not be appropriate, it happens.
As teachers, we are told to get to know our students. We are told to character build and include all students. Inadvertently though, we can cause a fire storm right in front of our eyes. Providing activities that we feel will strengthen the classroom environment can cause students to doubt if they can succeed in this classroom. The struggle is real for so many of our students and we have to remember relationships over content first. We are in the heart business and must educate the hearts of our students to educate with content second.
What does that look like? It starts with investing in our students through love. Love to be included in their classrooms, love to feel safe, and love to trust you. Can it be a long road? Absolutely! However, your students will know you love them as your actions and words bring them back to your room day after day. If you pour out love to your students, it will make a difference and build your relationship with them.
We’ve all heard the phrase “relationships first” and go with the flow. However, relationships are the foundation for having students learn the content in your area. If there’s no relationship, no trust with your student, the content won’t be grasped to the capacity needed to obtain mastery. You will be spinning in many directions without the relationship first. You and the student will endear many frustrations that could have been avoided if the relationship was build upon first.
Looking back, I had a few superhero teachers who did it right and some that didn’t. Being a struggling learner who had a multitude of learning challenges, the teacher that made the most difference on me built the relationship first. They talked to me and listened, they noticed when I struggled, they encouraged me to keep going, and they cared.
Build upon the relationship from day one, listen, and be apart of the student’s journey as a learner and not just the teacher of record.