Wednesday 26 September 2018

Building Relationships with Our Students Makes a Difference

Through a  Different Lens encourages educators to create environments where students can use their strengths to learn and show what they know in alternative ways such as through technology, filming, creating, building, comics, interviews, hands on learning etc. 

Honouring how youth learn values physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual development in a way that creates an inclusive environment for all students and removes many barriers to student learning.  

After working with hundreds of teachers and students, and taking an in-depth look at the work with over 150 students that teachers have found challenging to engage, we can say with a great deal of certainty that one of the most significant strategies that engage our students as learners is a positive relationship with the teacher.

We know that relationships are important and there is no short cut to establishing them.  Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser in the Spirals of Inquiry impress upon us that every child needs two adults that believe they will be a success in life.  We need to ensure all of our children and youth feel connected with some of us in every school community.  George Couros in his book The Innovators Mindset tells us there is no point trying out new strategies or new innovations, if we don't have positive relationships with our students. We need to know them.  We need to take the time.

For the past seven years Through a Different Lens has looked closely at teacher practice that makes the most difference for students who are at risk of not completing school. Here are some strategies teachers have used to build a relationships and a strong class community.

Strategies that support building relationships:

1. The 2 X 10 Strategy:  Choose the student that you are most disconnected with.  Spend 2 minutes of uninterrupted time with them for 10 days in a row.  Two minutes is a long time when they don't engage with you.  Persist.  Tell them a little about yourself.  Ask questions.  Listen to the muttering.  Be patient.  Smile.  Show interest.  See what happens over 10 days.    Teachers who have tried this strategy have found it to be astoundingly positive.  We would love to hear your stories.

2.  Sharing or talking circles:  Sharing Circles reflect the First Peoples Principles of Learning, and teachers who have used sharing circles to build community have found that students are amazed with how much they learn about each other, how much better they understand each other and support each other, and how much they learn about themselves.

3, Taking attendance using “would you rather?”:   During attendance, pose questions in a “would you rather” format, example, “would you rather be an astronaut or a deep sea diver?”  This is a great opportunity to connect with students and get to know each other.

4.  Class building challenges:  Use class challenges as a way to engage students and build class community.  One of my colleagues noticed one of the students that had difficulties in other tasks such as reading and writing had a strength is this area.  I had the opportunity to interview him about his year and when I asked him what he remembered and enjoyed the most during his year, he said the class challenges.  He told me he enjoyed building things with his hands and working as a team. 

Activities such as design challenges (STEM)  also help students practice and reflect on their core competencies in the areas of communication, critical thinking, personal and social responsibility and creative thinking while building community and belonging. 

Here are some easy design challenges:

Work in groups of four to build a structure within 30 minutes that would hold the most weight without collapsing. Materials: 30 straws, 2 meters of masking tape and a small cup.  
• Build the tallest structure using 30 popsicle sticks, two pieces of paper and 1 meter of tape.

The picture above shows a design challenge that was to build the strongest structure with interlocking blocks  (courtesy of Pam Rutten, grade 6, KVR Middle School).

Pompom Launcher
(From the Minds in Bloom Blog by Rachel Lynette)

This is a great challenge for students! You can build this one after a tower challenge and have your students try to knock their towers over with pompom projectiles. 
·       Material: Paper towel rolls, binder clips, rubber bands, plastic spoons, pipe cleaners, index paper, tape, paper clips, and craft sticks are all useful.
·       Test it: Have your students launch 10 pompoms and record how far they all went, and then either have your students add up their three longest distances or find the average.
·       Make it more challenging: Have a target that has to be hit, such as a hula hoop or a paper cup, or use the paper cup towers from challenge #1!
·       Remember to recognize your students not just for their final designs but for all aspects of  a successful STEM challenge. Which teams worked well together? Which students documented the steps in a clear and detailed way? Who uniquely solved the problem, even if it didn’t work as well in the end?
Here are some more quick design challenges from PBS kids.

100 Block Building Challenges
Our tech ed teacher Devin Burroughs at KVR Middle created these class challenges as a way of building community, fostering team work, and developing grassroots engineering skills and problem solving.  He credits his idea to:  There are lots of other great activities at this website as well. 
This is also a great opportunity to take students outside!

Seven Mini Challenges Using 100 Blocks
- build the tallest structure possible using all 100 blocks
- build a perfect circle in silence using exactly half your blocks.  Your entire team must fit inside the circle and it must have more than one layer
- build a pyramid using all the blocks
- build a domino effect using all the blocks that will be able to push a golf ball at the end
- build a symbol that represents each of the following concepts:  love, community and action
- group your blocks in 5 rows of 20

There are also great design challenges on the Global Day of Design Website

5.  Use Humor:

6. Tea Time:  Get to know your kids over a cup of tea.  The more ‘familiarity’ you have with each student, the less difficulties you may have when conflicts arise.  Bring in a tea kettle and cups and every day after lunch while the students read they invite one or more students to have tea with you. This is a time to sit and engage in an open-ended conversation meant to build genuineness.   It is a chance to really let the students voice be heard. (Rutten, Cargin, Korvin, Moase, KVR)
7.  Meet and Greet:  We all want to be seen.  Think about the difference it makes to you when someone greets you by name as you enter the school in the morning or even just walking down the hall.  Now imagine the difference it would make to that student who feels invisible and is struggling to feel connected.

8.  This is Me” is a great way for students to share information about their strengths and interests.  (Schnellert and Brownlie)

Thank you to Janice Moase at KVR for compiling these strategies