We did not get into education to raise test scores; we do what we do to make a difference in the lives of kids. Without a doubt, we are committed to increasing academic achievement, but our success is predicated on forming meaningful relationships with our students. When we are intentional about connecting with kids, we remind ourselves and all those that we work with, what we're really about.
What follows is 5 simple activities to connect with kids. I'm a principal, so that is the perspective from which I'm coming, but the concepts here are easily transferable to teachers.
1. Wall of Dreams - We had all our students write their dream on a white board that we mounted in the hallway. We used sharpies, so they wouldn't rub off easily.
Some of the dreams that stood out to me included these:
"I want to get better at math."
"My dream is to be a loving mother."
"My dream is for my sister to get out of the Air Force alive."
"I want to do something that MEANS something."
"My dream is to go to Paris, go to UAB, and get my first kiss."
When a student is sent to my office for some reason, the two of us can walk down to the wall of dreams and find their own. We can talk about their dream and how their current behavior is helping or hurting their long term goals. Every time any of the adults in the building walk by this wall, we are reminded of the awesome role that we play in helping our students reach their goals and achieve their dreams. This activity can certainly be adapted to a classroom.
2. Take over a lunch class for the day - Periodically, take a teacher's lunch class. If there is a study hall that accompanies the class, use the time to play a "name game" with the students to learn their names. It means so much to students when you take the time to learn their name. Tell the teacher to enjoy a lunch off campus. You are the teacher's hero that day ... cause they love a break ... and you get to know a few more students.
3. Birthday selfies with the Principal - Run a report of every student's birthday. On the morning announcements, give a birthday shout out to those celebrating that day. At some point during the day, find those students and take a selfie with them. I use an app called "Word Swag" to dress up the pictures. I text the pictures to the student's mom or dad right after I take the picture. The kids feel special, and the parents absolutely love receiving the pictures. I have received so much positive feedback from this one activity.
4. Positive phone calls home - I just started this last week. I asked the teachers to email me if they had any students they wanted to brag on. I have been calling these students down to my office and then calling their parents while they sit in my office. I relay to he parents the awesome things the teachers have reported. It is hard to describe the joy that these calls bring to parents. Many parents have never received a positive message from the school. The smile on the student's face while I brag on them to their parent is priceless as well. My goal is to make 100 positive phone calls home by the 100th day of school.
5. Invite different students to lead the pledge - Allow students to sign up each day to lead the pledge of allegiance over the intercom. This allows you to meet a new student each morning in the office, and it gives students "voice" in your school. It makes them feel valued and connected.
These activities are simple, but can have a profound impact on kids and on the culture of your school. People know what you value when they see how you spend your time. Being intentional about connecting with students keeps you grounded in the core mission of the school, and it communicates to the rest of the school community what your priorities are. Try some of these strategies. You won't regret them.