Every day, it starts over and we get a chance to shape the lives of our children.
In our day to day work in schools we need to slow down and connect with each child within our classrooms - it matters to them - so we need to make it a high priority in the work that we do in our with our children. The relationships we form with our children is the greatest factor that impacts upon their learning. If we are going to create a community of learners - each child needs to feel connected to their teacher and and peers in order to develop a classroom community. We can make such a difference in their learning if we focus on the quality of the relationships we form with them.
So how do we nurture the relationships we have with the children in our classrooms?
We begin by really knowing each of their stories.
How well do you know you children? What are the ways that you have come to know their stories? What are their stories?
Every child has a story to share - just ask them - sometimes we do not even need to ask them as they are so willing to share. However quite often we only know them as the "student" through the identity that has been created for them by others within their schooling experience and these come in the way of labels. 'Student', 'learner', 'difficult', 'challenging', 'at risk', 'gifted', 'ESL','exceptional', 'good', 'creative', 'average' etc. - the labels that we place on students are many and often they become the barriers for children. They become not only the barriers in terms of learning but also the barriers for teachers to fully develop their relationships with children. It is only through the development of our relationships based on trust, respect, compassion and understanding with our children that we see beyond the labels.
The classroom is indeed a busy environment so how do we nurture our relationships with our children that moves beyond the labels of school identities and invests in knowing every child's story. Classroom dynamics are inherently complex, as multifaceted as the personalities in the room, so where should a teacher begin?
Here are 5 ways to foster your relationships with the children in your classroom:
1. Engage in Meaningful Conversations
Let's make the difference by having lots of meaningful conversations so that our children feel that they have made real connections with their teachers and are feeling perfectly understood by them. This requires that you enter each conversation assuming that you have something to learn from each child.
You set aside your own thoughts as the child is talking and go with the flow of the conversation and engage and extend the conversation with them through asking lots of open ended questions - what, where, who, when, why, how. Additionally you don't need to equate their experience with one of your own experiences when you are talking to them - as they need to be at the heart of the conversation. Engaging in meaningful conversation also helps each child in your classroom build their own knowledge and skill about holding a conversation that is sustained, coherent and confident.
At the end of your school day - reflect upon who did I have meaningful conversations with today in my classroom? Even tracking these is a simple way to ensure that we are getting to know each child - it doesn't need to be elaborate way of documenting - but in doing so we are developing an in-depth profile of each child in our classroom through knowing their stories.
2. Listening to Children's Voices
Let's listen to our children's voices by taking the time to invest in developing a pedagogy of listening where we search for meaning & understanding in our interactions with children. In such a pedagogy we have the opportunity to discover each child uniqueness by listening to:
1. How they think
2. How they question
3. How they reflect
4. How they respond
5. How they interpret their learning experiences.
This requires teachers to suspend their judgement and enter into listening with curiosity, openness, compassion & sensitivity. In doing so, provides us with the possibilities of having deeper conversations with our children as the "listening produces questions not answers" (Rinaldi, 2001). Additionally listening also requires teachers to recognise and value children's voices in the many languages that they use to communicate their knowledge and understandings of their learning:
"The child is made of one hundred. The child has a hundred languages a hundred hands a hundred thoughts a hundred ways of thinking of playing, of speaking. A hundred...."
Loris Malaguzzi (1996)
In listening to children we are searching for shared meaning and understanding in what children are doing, encountering and experiencing within the process of learning. In prioritising listening to children voices in our classrooms we are building a community of learners.
3. Being Mindful of our Communication
This quote by Peggy O'Mara really says so much in so few words. We need to be mindful of how we communicate to our children in the classroom. Our tone, our body language, our expressions, our words say so much to our children and can have such a significant impact in their day in the classroom. Being mindful helps us to understand what feelings we are projecting when we are communicating with our children. Being mindful helps us to recognise the importance of communicating clearly. So in our planning of the learning sessions we need to consider how our message will be communicated to the children. We need to plan for the different levels of support that is required for all learners - do we need visuals supports, do we need written supports, do we need to break down our steps in our instructions, do we need to use prompts - there are many strategies that can support how we communicate in our classrooms - the important consideration is being ever mindful of how we communicate to our children.
4. Building Opportunity in Routines
As they enter the classroom at the beginning of the day, during their breaks from learning, during eating times, as they are learning and as they are leaving for the day, in every day we need to look for the opportunities in our daily routines to engage in meaningful conversations with our children. Consider your day in the classroom and find the time to talk to your children:
1. How do you begin your day?
2. How do structure your sessions?
3. What is your role during the learning sessions?
4. When can you conduct learning conversations?
5. How will the children be organised during the learning session?
6. How do you end the day?
7. What are the times in the day when you can catch up with individual children?
8. When will you check in with each individual child across the sessions that your teach-
9. When in your day are you able to develop real dialogue about what matters to them as individuals and as learners?
In designing the learning, consider the times where you will engage in learning conversations with children, plan and track these conversations, use digital technology e.g. iPads, to record these as this provides great opportunities to monitor and assess children's thinking and understandings about the learning to inform where to next in the learning sequence. Think about the way in which children will be grouped throughout the sequence of the learning session whole group to small group/pair/individual to whole group - who will you focus on during the session - these are all important considerations in building opportunities to develop your relationships with children during the daily routines of the classroom.
5. Being Present in the Learning
The most difficult aspect of a teacher's day is being present when there is so much to think about - so much going on in the classroom, so many distractions, so many personalities, so much to teach in the session or in the day, so many things that still need to be done, so many other facets of the work that need consideration - with 1500 educational decision made by a teacher on average per day & 4 education decisions made on average by a teacher - where does that leave time to be present when teachers are so busy making all of these decisions. However if we are so busy making these educational decisions we could assume we have to be present in the learning. So being present in the learning includes -
- slowing down, noticing and responding to our children
- celebrating the moments of joy & success
- asking the question "what am I doing right now?'
- listening without responding
- being aware of using all our senses
- allowing other concerns to float away in our mind
- coming back to our breath
- coming to the learning of the children with curiosity and wonder
The true nature of learning can only be understood if one perceives it with feeling - we need to be present so that we feel the learning of the children that occurs in our classroom - in being present we are there for our children and in being present we not only engage their minds but also the hearts and souls.
How we develop our relationships with the children in our classroom matters...
So let's foster our relationships with our children where they feel engaged and inspired that they have made real connections with their teacher and in doing so they feel that their teacher knows their stories and they feel perfectly understood by them. It makes all the difference to the children's experiences of learning in our classrooms.
Every day every child
"I see you
I know you
I'm connecting with you
And you're important to me"
Such an important mantra for every educator as our relationships drive learning in our classrooms.
Malaguzzi, L. (1996) The Hundred Languages.
Rinaldi, C. (2001) The Pedagogy of Listening: The Listening Perspective from Reggio Emilia.
Terada, Y. (2018) Welcoming Students With a Smile.
💠Some professional reading recommendations:
Engagement by Design: Creating Learning Environments Where Students Thrive
(Fisher, Frey, Quaglia, Smith & Lande, 2017)
Engagement by Design gives teachers a framework for making daily improvements and highlights the opportunities that will bring the greatest benefit in the least amount of time. The focus is on relationships, clarity, and challenge that can make all the difference in forging a real connection with students.
Listening to Teach: Beyond Didactic Pedagogy
Leonard J. Waks (Editor)
Listening to Teach features the leading voices in the recent discussion of listening in education. These contributors focus close attention on the key role of teachers as they move away from didactic talk and begin to devise innovative pedagogical strategies that encourage active listening by teachers and also cultivate active listening skills in learners.