Sunday, July 26, 2015

10 Little (and FREE!) Things That Make a BIG Difference

“Will the kids like me?  Will the teachers like me?  Will my principal like me?”  We all remember having these thoughts as we lay wide awake in bed on the eve of the first day of school as kids.  We probably never realized that our teachers were having the same anxiety-filled, sleepless night!  Going on to my eighth year of teaching, I still have these same fears… However, I have come up with some easy tips and tricks over the years that have helped me build relationships with even the most challenging students… and parents!  

Kids LOVE to show off.  (At least my students always do!)  Even in fifth grade, kids are craving to “show ‘n’ tell”.  

I don’t make a structured schedule; but when my kids come and tell me something exciting that happened over the weekend, I ask if they would like to share with the class.  

After doing this a couple times, my kids start to seek me out.  Sometimes they bring in photographs or videos they want to show; sometimes they want to show a dance or sing a song; sometimes they just want to tell a story of something they experienced.  

Regardless, I get to learn so much about my students this way, and I can relate to them on a personal level.  By intertwining their personal lives and school lives, I notice my students and I have a stronger bond.  

Easy. Quick.  Free.  FUN!

My first principal—Barb Elson—gets the credit for this one!  When doing a PD on Love & Logic she stressed the importance of having daily positive interactions with each and every student.  

Personally, I have a difficult time giving the same amount of love to all my students.  I don’t do it consciously, but there are so many students who I know don’t get the loving from me that they need… especially with my students who are typically superstars.  I expect them to always be on their A-game, so when they aren’t, I get on their case.  I’m more conscious of trying to give positive feedback to my students who do struggle behaviorally, academically, or emotionally.

My former principal gave us such a great tool for this!  She made a laminated class list for each of us, so that we can check off every time we have a positive interaction with a student.  This helped me to become aware of whom I am spending all my positive interactions on, and who needs more lovin’!  

She also told us that the ideal ratio of positive to negative interactions we have with students each day should be 4:1.  So for every negative interaction, we should have four positive ones.  I don’t recall where she got that “magic ratio” from, but I found some research and information on it at Orange County Department of Education (2011) in case you are interested!  

This one is pretty self-explanatory.  Our kids are involved with so many extracurricular activities—sports, music, dance, gymnastics, etc.  It’s impossible to make it to everything, but you will notice there are a handful of students who REALLY are persistent about asking you to come see them in action.  There are also some activities that give you the most “bang for your buck” where you have a whole group of students at the same dance studio or basketball team.  Even staying at the school a little later to see the orchestra or band concerts honestly MAKE THEIR NIGHT.  Coming to any of these events instantly puts you at CELEBRITY STATUS!  The kids (and parents) are SO excited to see you… and even more excited to brag about it the next day at school.  The bond that I have with my students after seeing them at their extracurricular activities instantly skyrockets!  

Just like the students think of us as celebs when we see them outside of school, they get just as starstruck seeing us in the cafeteria or on the playground during lunch/recess time.  Just like all teachers, my lunch consists of answering urgent parent emails, taking attendance I should have taken hours ago, helping students find their jackets, figuring out what I’m doing in the afternoon, and IF I AM LUCKY—take a bite of my lunch!  However, I try to make at least a couple days where I go with the kids to lunch or out to recess.

Aside from just building relationships with the students this way, I get to see how they interact with one another in social situations.  I get to see who are the leaders and who are friends with whom.  I get to see what the kids like to do for fun.  No matter how well I feel I know my students, I am always shocked by some of the things I find when I am with them in their natural habitat!  

Another alternative is having the kids stay in with me at recess and/or lunch on occasion.  We had a tradition last year called Friday Funday.  On these days, the kids would stay in and we would pump up the jams and have a full on dance party in the room.  IT WAS A BLAST… not to mention the best workouts I got all year!  ☺

I know social media makes some people nervous—and I also know different districts have different rules.  However, I LOVE using social media and apps to keep in touch with my students.  Here are some apps I use and how I use them:

  • BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS - INSTAGRAM - #6b.pngINSTAGRAM:  This past year with my fifth graders, I noticed Instagram was probably the most popular form of social media.  I use Instagram with my kids in a few ways.  My favorite way is by having them hashtag our team name.  When we go on field trips, I always remind them to hashtag any pics they post on Instagram to #brankebunch.  Then, I can see all the pics the kids are taking as we go.  It’s also cute to see students start to post class inside jokes or memes on Instagram.  As they do this, we bond more and more!
    ***NOTE:  If your students are private, only their followers will be able to see their pics on Instagram.
  • ooVoo:  This is a group video chat app.  I love this app because I can work with students from home when they need it.  This year, on one of our “snow days”, my students were so bummed about not having our book club that they had me ooVoo the group and do the reading group ON A SNOW DAY from home.  IT DOESN’T GET BETTER THAN THAT!  Also, I can help my kids with their homework—especially with math when they need to be able to see my examples.  
  • BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS - TEXT - #6a.pngKik:  This is a group chat app.  My students have group chats with dozens of the students on our team in it… and they love to include me!  I typically keep them on “Do Not Disturb” or else my phone will NEVER stop blowing up.  However, if I want to get out some quick information OR if I just want to let them all know I’m missing them, I shoot out a quick Kik.  I can also catch when students are being hurtful, and it leads to a good social skills lesson.  But I’m also in on most of the inside jokes.  It makes me seem PRETTY COOL—not to mention, helps to build our relationship on another level!
  • Text:  I don’t give my cell phone number out to my students… but I do give it out to their parents.  There will be times when parents are texting me about homework, and I will just have them put their kid on the phone.  Here is an example of how I use text to help students with their homework.  (I was having this conversation during a dinner party… probably NOT the best table manners… but doesn’t this text make it all worth it?!?!)

My teaching partner and I have worked hard to pretty much brand our team name – Branke Bunch.  Branke Bunch has become more of a mindset or attitude than a team name to us.  I can’t tell you how many times a day one of us says, “ONLY IN THE BRANKE BUNCH…” when we see students being silly or not afraid to be themselves or other things that set our team apart from others.  

Boy wearing a purple tutu!?  Only in the Branke Bunch!  Got a shipment of hundreds of new books?!  Only in the Branke Bunch!  Teachers doing cartwheels?!  Only in the Branke Bunch!  

Some ways we have done this is by putting our team name on EVERYTHING.  We buy team shirts with our logo and all the kids names on the back each year.  (Want to make a great custom shirt?!  Go to … they are the BEST!) We incorporate our school colors – PURPLE – with everything!!!  We also have certain traditions that are unique to our team… kind of like summer camp.  We have our own “Branke Bunch Beat”; musical transition songs; brain breaks; etc. that my students relate to the Branke Bunch and make it our own special little world.  The more we do this, the more my students feel PROUD to be part of our team… and the closer we all get!

I only do this a couple times of year… but kids LOVE it, and PARENTS love it even more!  Before a big unit test, I will have “weekend office hours”.  I will let the students/parents know which weekend I will be at the public library, and they will sign up for 20 minute time slots.  I will spend the whole day working with students one-on-one to review for the upcoming unit test.  This only takes up a couple weekends of my year, but this is one thing that parents/students will remember me for years down the road.  They absolutely LOVE it.  PLUS, I love getting to give students my 100% undivided attention without having to worry about everyone else in the room.  It’s amazing how excited the students get as well to work with me over the weekend!  (When in reality, I started doing this because I could never fit all I needed to fit into the given school days… ☺)

THIS IS KEY!  I try to make as much of these as possible.  ESPECIALLY at the beginning of the year.  

Let’s be honest… nobody LIKES making those dreaded parent phone calls about all the “poor choices little Jimmy John made in class today”.  At least I don’t!  Making those phone calls makes ME feel like a bad teacher; makes the parents feel like bad parents; and makes the kid feel like a bad kid.  There are obviously times when those calls are necessary.  However, making those phone calls after a handful of positive phone calls makes it a WHOLE LOT EASIER!  

One mistake I always make is using “I’m going to call home” as a threat.  Let’s be honest… the students who we say this to are typically NOT the students who this threat will actually work for.  Then, I have a choice… 

A) I DON’T CALL HOME… failing to follow through, losing credibility, and continuing to make empty threats… OR
B) I DO CALL HOME… and have to deal with the dreaded negative conversation, taking up my time I like to save for luxuries like going to the bathroom!

TIP:  I started being proactive.  I would pull the student aside in the morning, give them a hug, ask how their evening went the night before.  Then I say…

I can tell today is going to be a GREAT day!  I have to call your parents later, and I look forward to telling them how today went.  Think about some things you can do today that you will want me to share with them.  I can’t wait to tell them all about it!!!

After that, throughout the day, I have noticed that my students make an extra effort to have a good day in class.  Sometimes they slip… but then at least I know my conversation with them can have enough positives to outweigh any negatives that may have occurred.  It’s a win-win for everyone!

This is another biggie to get parents on my side!  By sending out regular (daily or 3x/week) emails, I win over my parents every year.  Not all of the parents read everything I send out… but they know it’s there if they need it.  And I have a handful of parents who absolutely couldn’t live without my regular emails.  

What do I include in these emails?

Homework, updates, upcoming dates/events, celebrations, testing information, fundraising, etc.  

I also often times just copy and paste important parts of my school/district listservs into my class emails.  

How do I have the time?!  Well, I don’t make my emails formal… I even warn the parents at the beginning of the year that in order to send out frequent emails, I need to be excused for typos or errors!  ☺

1.  TALK!!!

And my #1 TIP FOR BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS… just TALK!  Talk to the students.  Talk to their parents.  Talk about school.  Talk about home.  Talk about goals.  Talk about fears.  Talk about hobbies.  Talk about friendships.  Talk about life.  JUST TALK!  

~Elyse Jahnke~

1 comment:

  1. I love this and it is so encouraging to hear other teachers doing these things. :)


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