In a room filled with 25 7th graders, I asked students to write two to three words that described their favorite teacher. Not surprisingly, all 25 responses contained the descriptors “fun” or “funny” to some extent. Whether it’s the sense of humor a teacher has or the ability to make learning fun, a teacher who builds a sense of community and connectedness will stand out forever.
Do you ever think about how much we know about our students? We ask them about their families, hobbies, interests, and even what they ate for breakfast. Sure, we don’t know everything about them, but part of our job description is to simply take an interest.
We ask tons of questions to get to know our students, but how often do we openly share similar information about ourselves?
If your students are like mine, they are observant creatures. They notice when I’m drinking from a different coffee cup or when I’m not eating oatmeal for breakfast (oh, and they’re always the first to tell you they don’t like your new haircut). But how much do we actually share with them? More importantly, what are we willing to share? Cultivating a real sense of community in your classroom requires the courage to open up and let your students get to know the real you!
Here are five things your students wish you would tell them.
1. How old are you?
Age. Why is it such a big deal and why are we so reluctant to share? When students ask my age, I like to turn it into a guessing game. Eventually, students will spend days trying to connect your age to a parent, grandparent, or sibling. Pretty soon, your relationship grows!
2. What are you like outside of the classroom?
I find one of the best ways to engage students is by telling an interesting story from my life. This is one of my favorite things to do while students are working. They are rarely related directly to art, but these stories allow students a glimpse into my life. It certainly sparks a conversation and can create some pretty incredible memories in the classroom.
3. What are your hobbies?
Our students get it, we LOVE art, but what else makes us tick? Take the opportunity to share your interests. You never know which students will connect. You might find you share a favorite sports team or movie with the most unlikely person. Often the most stubborn student can be reached this way.
4. Do you know the latest trends?
We’ve all been around for awhile and we’re well aware that a new trend comes around every five minutes. Don’t be afraid to use this to your advantage. I’m not saying you need to do “The Whip” necessarily, but it sure wouldn’t hurt. Surprise your students with what you know about a current trend. They’ll always be waiting for more.
5. How are you feeling today?
Don’t forget, even art teachers are human beings (and some days are better than others). As much as we’d like to, sometimes we can’t help when our feelings come out. Rather than taking a lousy day out on a student trying to make a basket with their paper towel in the trash can, try being honest. It may be as simple as saying, “I’m not having a very good day, let’s do our best to work and stay on task.” You’ll be surprised how compassionate and understanding your students really are!
Student-teacher relationships are vital to creating educational success. There will certainly be elements of our lives that we want to keep private, so stop and take a minute to think about what you are willing to share. You might just be surprised to see a new relationship bloom!
How much are you willing to share with your students?
What strategies do you use to connect with your students?
Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.