Building relationships with students, going beyond the interest forms
Updated: Apr 9, 2019
In this guest post Rebecca Krupp shares about the impact of forming relationships with students can have in a classroom. As a recent college graduate, life has been exciting and busy! But even though I completed my student teaching, I will never forget the lessons I learned there. In fact, as I look back, I am realizing that I probably learned more from the experience than the students learned from me!
One element of teaching I was able to really dig into was forming relationships with students.
Most times when we talk about forming relationships, the advice we get is all about getting to know students, asking them questions, and learning alongside them. We talk about interest forms and get-to-know-you games and going to their extra-curricular activities. But in my first student teaching placement, I was in a classroom of kindergarten – 2nd grade students diagnosed with autism. They were smart, sweet, funny, and so honest! And because most of them were nonverbal, they used ASL or communication devices to talk with us.
There was one student in particular I know I will never forget. Along with communication devices, my cooperating teacher and I were encouraging our students to use ASL. We had a sign of the week that we practiced with them, and we tried to sign as we talked. Despite the supports, this student was having trouble communicating his needs and wants to us. I worked one-on-one with him often, and had learned a little of his unique ways of communicating.
One day, he was throwing food at lunch, so we helped him clean up and went to the sensory room. I knew he hadn’t had much to eat, and I could tell he was upset. While signing “eat”, I asked him if he wanted to eat. He watched me, then tried to leave the room. I stood in between him and the door, and asked again. We repeated this interaction a few times and I could see his frustration rising, but just as I was about to give up, he looked me right in the eyes, and angrily signed “eat”. I was stunned and overjoyed. It was the first word he had said during my time there!
We went back to the lunch room and I gave him something to eat. When he had finished, he looked at me and signed “eat”, so I gave him more. As I did, I watched the ah-ha moment for him. From that day forward, he and I had a deeper relationship. He trusted me, and would come to me when others were struggling to understand him. He would take a risk and attempt challenging tasks I gave him. He cautiously signed to other teachers, and slowly grew his vocabulary. Once he knew we were listening, once he trusted that his voice had value, he blossomed.
The lesson I learned from that student is simple. Knowing you are heard is powerful. So when you’re looking for genuine ways to get to know your students, listen. Communication is the key to any healthy relationship, and I guarantee you they have a lot to say.
Rebecca has her degree in elementary and special education from Grove City College. Her favorite color is brown, and she loves the mountains. She is the founder of @thegeniuscorps, a program for middle school students that partners local colleges and universities with middle schools to provide high quality, accessible science experiences that help students realize and develop their potential.
Wow I don't know about you but this story is powerful and beautiful. How have you listened, really listened to your students today? this week? this month? Did you have a similar experience as Rebecca? How can you work to encourage students to trust and share with you?