This past week was the Global School Day of Play. In our school, we formatted the day as a choice day. Teachers shared activities that they would be hosting throughout the day, students were able to see all the options and then select the classes that they were the most interested in.
As I walked around the building, watching teachers share things that they are passionate about, watching students participate in fun activities that they had chosen, the smiles were everywhere! I heard multiple comments from students throughout the day of “Best Day Ever!”
One of the other awesome things that I saw happening was our students were able to connect with new adults around the building. Many of our students chose activities with teachers that they did not know, they never had met, but who offered something that interested them. Those students chose to be in the room of our teachers because what they were offering sounded fun to them. This makes me think of a line from Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess. The book is all about student engagement, and in it, Burgess asks “If your students didn’t have to come to your class, would you be teaching to an empty room?”
That’s a challenging question to consider – I can tell you for a fact that with the model of our day of play, students did choose to be exactly where they were. The lessons and activities that teachers were doing may have been outside of the normal classroom environment, but there was so much amazing learning happening.
I have heard (and earlier in my career may have even said) “my students don’t have to like me, but they will learn from me.” In my experience, if your students don’t like you, they probably aren’t going to learn very much from you. In her famous TED Talk, Rita Pierson talks about the value and importance of human connection, of relationships. I think we all know that we learn much more from people we have a meaningful relationship with. Sometimes we have to be reminded, our students are people too, just like us, and they want to feel loved, cared for, and supported.
For true teaching and learning to happen, there must be a relationship between the teacher and the student. There must be a connection between the people involved in the transaction.
Now here’s the reality – I know that there are some kids that were easy for me to connect with. I also know that there are some kids that seemed to want to hide from any adult interaction. And, there are some of us who have a hard time connecting with certain personalities. I know that when I was in the classroom, it was easy for me to connect with kids who were into sports, because I was into sports. On the other hand, there were students who I sometimes struggled to connect with because we didn’t share common interests. One of my favorite strategies with those kids was to just ask questions – what did you do last night? What do you like to do when you have free time? Do you like to play any games? Eventually, after asking enough questions I would normally find something that we could chat about, that we could connect with. And the amazing thing… Once I made a connection to that kid on a personal level, it seemed like the teaching and learning transaction between us was suddenly supercharged!
I recently read an awesome post by Aaron Hogan with 6 ways to build credibility with students (you can find it here). If you’ve got a kiddo that you’re struggling to connect with, there might be an idea here that would work for you!
Here’s the challenge I have for you – what did you learn about your students on Global Play Day that you could leverage in your typical classroom lessons? Is there some passion that they have that you could bring back? Is there some interest that you found in common with them that could be part of a lesson? Seek out ways to bring your students interests and passions into your daily class, and you will see increases in the relationship building immediately!