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Are Connections More Important than Content? (Ep. 182)

Are you a teacher that gets things started as soon as the bell rings, or are you willing to take a couple of minutes to converse before beginning instruction? In this episode, Tim argues for the latter, sharing why he thinks it’s important to spend more time talking to your kids. Listen as he discusses why you need to get to know your kids, strategies for building connections, and the benefits you will see when kids know you really care about them.  Full episode transcript below.

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Transcript

Tim: Welcome to Art Ed Radio, the podcast for art teachers. This show is produced by The Art of Education University, and I’m your host, Tim Bogatz.

Now, at this time of the year especially, so many teachers are worried, and rightly so, about how effective they are at teaching everything they need to teach. You look at this at the beginning of the year and you just become overwhelmed. As art teachers, I think it seems especially pressing to look at everything that you need or that you want to teach because our curriculum has just so much breadth and there are so many things that we need to cover. Whether you are teaching skills, or studio habits, or various media, art history, critiques, anything else, all of that creates a sense of worry that is constantly there about whether or not we’re going to have enough time to get through it all.

Tim:
But, I think it’s important that we slow down for just a second, take a break from being overwhelmed by our curriculum, and realize that there are actually some more meaningful things that we can and maybe even need to do in our classroom. I think people get so laser-focused on getting to content and getting straight to teaching, and I don’t want it to be that way. Because I think if you do that, if you spend all your time worrying about content, you run the risk of missing one of your biggest opportunity, and that is the chance to make a real and a sincere connection with your students. Honestly, the reason for wanting to make these connections is simple. The more connected a kid feels to you as a teacher, the more they feel a part of a community in your classroom, the more interested and the more invested they’re going to be in what you are wanting to teach them. If you want your kids to pay attention to your content, you need to pay attention to your kids first.

Tim:
Now, just in general, but obviously it applies to our classes as well, kids need to know that the adults in their lives care about them. Even if you are one of the greatest teachers in the world, you are going to lose a lot of your effectiveness if your kids don’t feel connected to you or they think that you don’t care about them. I want to propose something to you, and you may disagree with this, and especially when you first hear it, but I honestly think it’s a recipe for long-term success. Here’s what I want you to hear, what I want you to think about. It’s okay to give up the first four or five minutes of your class every day.

Tim:
Now, before I talk about some of the specifics of that idea and talk about how this might look in action, I want to talk to you about Art Ed Pro. There’s so many great ideas where you can dive so much deeper into topics like we’re going to discuss today and you can learn so much more than you would in a 20-minute podcast. I know we’ve been talking a lot about Pro lately, but here’s the reason. Your district can actually pay for your Pro membership, and now is a great time to ask for that. There are over 200 districts providing Pro to their art teachers because they want their visual arts team to have access to everything we have, thousands of hands-on video tutorials, thousands of resources for your art room. And you as teachers can earn unlimited PD hours and gain just all kinds of new and incredible strategies to incorporate into your art room. You can visit theartofeducation.edu/pro-in-your-school, Pro in your school, to learn more and ask your administrator if you can get Pro in your district.

Tim:
Now back to this idea of creating connections, of creating community. How does this look in action? For me personally, I love to begin with a check-in. Ask kids about the weekend. Ask what they did last night, what happened earlier this morning in another class. Ask what they’re looking forward to today or tonight. It doesn’t really matter what it is. It’s important to just check in, have a quick conversation. Because even that simple contact, that simple conversation, that puts your kids at ease. It makes them feel comfortable in your classroom. And honestly, it probably puts you at ease as well. It’s a great way to get basically every class started.

Tim:
I’ve talked before about my goal of talking to every student every day. Obviously that’s not always going to be feasible. But if you can talk to a third of your class or even half your classes as they’re filtering in during passing period, just with that quick conversation, how is your day so far or how was your last period, whatever, that that conversation can go a long way toward establishing that connection, establishing that community, and even toward your own goal, if you have that, of talking to every student, whether it is every day, every second or third day, whatever the case may be.

Tim:
Now, I also wanted to give just a few tips of to start during the first couple weeks of school, especially for those of you that are just going back right now, but also talk a little bit in terms of long term. What does this look like throughout the year? It’s not something where you need to take five minutes every day to do this. But every once in a while, it’s definitely worthwhile to just spend some time talking, and conversing, and connecting with your kids.

Tim:
Anyway, first weeks of school. First idea is basically just to introduce yourself. Obviously you’re going to need to do this on your first day, but continue to do that throughout the first few weeks. Just little things every day that you want to share with them is definitely fine. I also I love to do … It’s called the quiz about the teacher. I just give them a random sheet of questions about me. Some of them are fun. Some of them are ridiculous. Some of them talk specifically about the class. But anyway, I will link to that. There’s a really old video from the AOE site that you can check out. But, it’s a good way for kids to get to know you. It’s simple and it’s obvious to introduce yourself, but just telling kids your name and telling them something about you can help them feel so much more comfortable.

Tim:
Second thing that I love to kind of establish in the first a few weeks of school, it is handshakes or high fives. I’m not one to hug. I never have been. You definitely don’t want to mess with that as kids get older. But even just a little bit of physical contact. I love doing handshakes. I love doing a quick high five as kids walk by. A lot of times, high school kids especially will roll their eyes at you and sometimes even avoid your high five. But usually I just tease them about that, and eventually they’ll come around and give you a high five. But that simple physical connection can make a huge difference. If you have younger kids, elementary aged kids, just holding their hand for a second goes a long way. Or getting down on their level to talk to them where you kneel down or squat down so you’re face to face with them, that can make a huge difference in making kids feel comfortable.

Tim:
Third thing, you need to let them know what to expect. As adults, we want to know what to expect from a situation and our kids aren’t any different from that. Just letting kids know what’s going on in the class that day, what’s going on in that class over the next couple weeks, what’s going on in class over the long term, kids love that. It’s a great way to kind of earn their trust, to make connections, and just to help them feel at ease with what’s coming is just to give them a quick rundown of what to expect, like I said, that day, that week, that semester, whatever the case may be.

Tim:
Also, I love to tell them something about myself. I love to tell kids your favorite color, your favorite animal, your favorite food. Maybe each day you can just talk to them about that. And if you want to take some time, let them share their favorite animal, their favorite color, their favorite food. They love to tell you those sorts of things. And again, as kids come in that you spend two minutes talking about why penguins are so great or why you love turtles, and probably have one kid who has some strange facts to share about those animals. Like I said, it goes back to that main point where it seems like it could be a waste of time. But in all honesty, it does a lot to put kids at ease to help them feel like they’re part of something when you can take just a couple minutes and make those comparisons, share some of your commonalities, and kids will really, really appreciate that.

Tim:
Now, let’s talk a little bit about long-term ideas on making kids feel comfortable, taking a couple minutes out of class, and just helping kids to form this community. You may have all of these different ideas, whether you’re talking a little bit about artists, or art works, or sharing why oil pastels are so great, or even telling your story about going to the grocery store last night and something funny that happened to you, any of those things. Consistently do that. It doesn’t need to be every day. You don’t have a great story every day. But if you want to share about your weekend, or share on Monday when you come in, or on Friday share about what’s going to happen over the weekend, those are helpful. And if you want to let kids share as well, I think it’s worthwhile.

Tim:
But, it kind of goes to my first long-term idea is just the idea of persistence. It’ll take some kids longer than others to open up, to share, to talk about themselves, and that’s fine. But, I think patience and persistence will be your friend. Eventually, most kids will come around and want to join in the conversation. They’ll want to hear your stories. They’ll want to hear about you. There may be a lot of blank stares the first few weeks as you’re sharing your stories or you’re talking about your love for paint or whatever the case may be. But just be persistent with it and continue on because building community is not something that starts or not something that you can do right away. It takes a little while to establish that. Just remember to be patient and be persistent with it.

Tim:
Second thing, getting to know music, and movies, and TV that your kids are enjoying. One thing that I love to do when I’m doing interest inventories at the beginning of the school, I love to have kids giving me a recommendation of a video I should watch on YouTube, a song I should listen to, a movie or a TV show that I should watch on Netflix, whatever the case may be. Sometimes you’ll find something good. That’s always great. Sometimes it’ll be terrible. But once you watch it or once you listened to it, that gives you an amazing conversation starter with your kid like, “Hey, I know it took me three weeks to get this, but I finally listened to that song last night. It’s incredible,” and it gives you a great conversation starter to kind of do with your kids.

Tim:
The downside is a lot of the stuff that they’re going to share with you is absolutely terrible. Maybe horrible to listen to. At that point, all of those recommendations can seem really tediously, really painful. But like I said, even sitting through that YouTube video for six minutes or listening to that song for three minutes, it’s worth it because it’s an easy way for you to connect. It shows kids that you care about them. Even if you want to open that up to the whole class just to say, “Hey, I got this awesome recommendation for this video. I finally watched it last night. Have you guys seen it?” And just let kids share. A lot of times, again, that’s a great conversation starter and something that puts kids at ease.

Tim:
Number three, long term, just be yourself. If you’re a happy person, smile. If you’re not a happy person, that’s okay, too. But it’s important to be genuine. It’s important to be yourself. Obviously, having a friendly, open expression is going to help kids feel at ease. But more importantly, just make sure that whatever’s on your face is genuine. Kids are really, really good at reading facial expressions, at reading personalities, and they’re going to know if you’re not being sincere. They’re going to know, and they may call you out, too. So if you’re not having a great day, it’s okay to share that. Say, “Hey, guys, things aren’t great today because this happened.” And again, just opening yourself up, being who you are, letting them know what’s going on is something that they appreciate and they will love.

Tim:
And then finally, last long-term goal is just to listen. I think it’s huge to hear what kids have to say. I mentioned earlier just getting down on the level of elementary kids by kneeling next to them, sitting next to them. With high school kids, I love to stand face to face. I love to sit down next to them at the tables and just make eye contact and really listen to what they’re telling you. There are so many times that kids go through their entire day without any teachers or any adults really listening to them. So even just a little bit of conversation there, whether you’re taking a couple minutes and listening to them talking in front of the class, whether you’re taking time throughout the day to sit and converse with them, that really helps. And even better, if you can remember just one of their favorite things, video, food, animal, whatever, that goes a long way to making that meaningful connection. So try and do that as well.

Tim:
I don’t know. I guess to just kind of wrap things up, I would say that making those meaningful connections can make a huge impact on your ability to effectively teach your kids. And if you take a couple minutes to talk about the penguin documentary that you watched, or tell a story about your trip to the vet with your dog, or the run you went on last night, or the concert that somebody went to, it can feel like a waste of time because you’re getting pulled away from your curriculum. But to be honest, that conversation, that connection can be one of the strongest tools in your teaching toolbox. While for a lot of kids it can take longer for them to open up, it can take longer for them to become comfortable, it is always going to be worth your time to do that.

Tim:
As you know, when I first started teaching high school, I was so worried about everybody getting in, getting their seats, sketchbooks out, ready to take notes as soon as the bell rings. Still, I’m kind of a a stickler for rules. I love my procedures. I want those transitions that don’t waste time. I have changed my view on making connections. Because I think that the more you teach, the more you see and realize that the time you spend developing rapport and making connections has just so many benefits. Students get to know you better. And when they get to know you better, they feel more comfortable in your classroom. When they begin to realize that you care about them, and they’re interested in them, and what they have to say, and who they are, they trust you. And most importantly, they allow you to teach them. And really, isn’t that what this is all about anyway?

Tim:
Art Ed Radio is produced by The Art of Education University with audio engineering from Michael Crocker. Thank you for listening. We will talk to you next week.

4 months ago
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