Building Relationships – Treating Students Like the Important People They Are in Your Life

March 23, 2021

Just working the phones on an average day

Today was my monthly call day for the week.  In my virtual teaching world, I have to have a monthly call to check in with my students and families working at home. It’s just what we do.  I always thought that what I did was the same as everyone else—until today.

I was talking with a student this afternoon. I teach a middle school career and technology course and always chat with them about their life, other classes, what’s happening in my life—you know, regular conversations we’d be having if they were in my classroom or passing in the hallway.  Last month, she had been assigned to read a book I hadn’t had a chance to read, and I asked her about it. She hadn’t gotten far, so I told her we’d talk about it on our next call. I made a note for myself and, today, when we were just chatting about life and school, I asked about the book, the assignments, and her thoughts.  We talked about her course work, too, but at the end of the call, she said something that caught me off guard.

I’m really going to be sad when I finish your class because I enjoy our conversations. None of my other teachers have ever talked to me every month like you do.

Whoa.

Really?!

I mean, not even factoring in this crazy Covid life we are living right now, how is having a real conversation with students not a part of our calls?

Then I realized, as teachers, we have so much to do, many are probably so overwhelmed and just trying to get it checked off and done.  Very much how students approach our assignments—get it done and move on to the next thing.

Several years ago, I made a shift in life to be more intentional in how I live. As a parent, a spouse, a human, a citizen, a Christian, and a teacher. That meant having real conversations with everyone. Making sure our chores and tasks we do at home, school and work were essential to forward progress and served a purpose. Designing lessons and presenting the assignments in a way that it showed the benefit it would present in life—and if it didn’t, finding a way to change that.

That fed into the phone conversations I have as we have shifted to a highly virtual world. Sure, we could talk shop and in 5 minutes I could be off the phone and log that we discussed their progress, grades and what needs done. But, instead, I block off 30 minutes for my calls. I text on Mondays to let my families know it’s Monthly Call time and send my calendar link to schedule it for a time that works, and I wait until Tuesday or Wednesday to cold call. And when I do, I ask if it’s a good time or if we need to schedule for another time. Most schedule and like being able to prepare thoughts and questions.  But we all thoroughly enjoy that chat with parent and student on speaker phone with teacher, chatting about life stuff, sharing stories and experiences, laughing, and connecting like friends or long-distance family. Sometimes, we talk for longer than that half hour window because we are enjoying the conversation.

I look forward to these talks.

They look forward to these talks.

Moms, dads, students—they all thank me for chatting and for taking the time. They ask about my family when I call.

These connections are vital to their social and emotional development. Not just the teens and tweens on my roster. Yes, they need to learn about how to have a conversation, plan and manage their time, and ask questions about what they are learning.  But the parents need the social and emotional connection. They need to know they will survive their child’s shift from child to adult. They need to hear the good their child is doing.

Even on my large group Zoom calls with some of my courses, I still strive to chat them up and make the connections. I post a joke of the day and a fun fact of the day.  I call each of them by name and ask how they are doing, what’s new, if they have some insight to share or question to ask.  Many don’t engage, but some do.

So, the next time you talk to your students or their parents, make it meaningful. Make it personal. Make notes and follow up.

I’m blessed to have these connections with students.  This is my 14th year teaching.  Some of my friends in life, were once students in my classroom, and I value the roll they have evolved into in my life and the small part I played in theirs as they grew into adults.

Make those connections. Even if it is only one a year—I promise, it’s worth it.

I’d love to hear your stories about those teacher-student connections, both as the student and as the teacher.

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