We’ll be starting school a week from today but many teachers have already begun. Relationship building can (and should) happen all year. That being said, carving out the first two days for connecting with students sends a clear message: “You matter to me and we matter to each other.” After all, no student runs home to share their excitement over learning rules and procedures on the first day. Let’s give our students something that will make them excited about the school year and looking forward to tomorrow.
But how? Let’s consider a few ideas around relationship building:
Teacher/Student Relationship Building
Share YOURSELF! Prepare a short presentation that includes your interests, family members, love for teaching, and most recent learning experiences. Share PICTURES. Share a time when learning was hard for you and you persevered in it. Share your personality and quirks. I used to tell students that my daughter thought the word “adorkable” best described me. It is amazing how disarming it is to students when teachers admit their humanity, struggles with learning and genuine passion for teaching.
Focus on getting to know your STUDENTS! I’ve done this many ways over the years. There were times I had students fill out an personal inventory index card that I could then use to keep in hand as a way to make sure I call on all students. I love that Google forms can offer an efficient way to survey; but I find, personally, that it’s hard for me to associate the information with the face from a spread sheet–perhaps you are better at that. A written survey can do the trick as well. I’ve asked for the following information in the past:
- Your Name
- Your interests (How do you spend your free time?)
- Your feelings about math (What words do you associate with math?)
- I learn best when…
- One thing about me I think you should know is…
I LOVE these 5 questions to ask your students at the beginning of the year from George Couros. They really probe into the heart of students!
- What are the qualities you look for in a teacher?
- What are you passionate about?
- What is one BIG question you have about this year?
- What are your strengths and how can you utilize them?
- What does success at the end of the year look like?
In addition to surveying your students, COMMIT to getting to know their names and saying them CORRECTLY. I know this can be challenging, especially if the students in your classroom come from a tradition other than your own. But, your effort to know the name by which they’ve been called their whole lives speaks volumes. Name tents can be helpful with that. Teachers have also used the inside of name tents for students to provide some feedback like Sara Van Der Werf, high school Math Teacher from Minneapolis. You can find her example here.
Build COMMUNITY through relationship building!
Generating Norms One of my favorite activities on the first day is to put students into groups of four and give them an envelope of icebreaker questions. In doing this activity, I explain to students the procedures for getting into groups and we begin the discussion on group norms. The best way to arrive at student generated norms is to ask students, “What makes group work horrible?” Have students work in their groups to write down each idea/problem on an individual sticky note. Students then can place sticky notes on the board, placing ideas that are similar together. From there, the class can generate a list of positively stated norms for the class to follow. For example, the complaint “One person ends ups doing all the work” can be avoided by the positively stated norm “Everyone will contribute to the group work.” If you have more than one class (as in middle school or high school) you can take the sum of all the norms from your classes and generate a list for ALL of your classes, to avoid your own personal confusion. I would also suggest that you make posters like Sarah Carter’s (aren’t they amazing?). While I advocate for explicitly teaching and modeling rules and procedures, I believe they are best demonstrated in context. By that I mean, when you need them. Want to teach the paper passing procedures? Wait until you have to pass out or pass back papers, etc.
Small/Whole Group Bonding Activities
Plotting Personalities I believe I learned this from Dan Meyer and I LOVE this for math, science or even social studies (any subjects that use axes to graph information). Have students create an x/y axis and label them with personality traits as they’d like. Perhaps the x-axis measures “Structure” and the y-axis measures “Sociability.” Students can graph a point with their name on the coordinate plane they feel their personality would land and then, explain WHY! It makes for a great conversation.
3-2-1 Biographies Students write a biography using six words. For example, “write three descriptive traits about yourself, two hobbies you have and one thing makes you unique.”
Two Truths and a Lie I love this one, because I use it for content related material throughout the year. Have students create three statements about themselves–two are true and one is a lie. The other students guess which is the lie. The goal is to make all three statements seem viable or not-viable. In doing this, we learn interesting, perhaps even unbelievable, things about our students.
Me, too The first student gives a fact about themselves—I love basketball, I have two sisters, etc. If that statement or fact is true about another student, they stand up. Continue until you’ve gone through all students. Require students give a statement that wasn’t previously given. It will get more tricky (and fun) as you move towards the end of the class.
Team Building Activities
Breakout EDU A colleague of mine did a GREAT team building activity on his first day last year. He created a Breakout EDU. What’s that, you say? Similar to breakout rooms you’ve seen popping up, Breakout EDU challenges our students’ ability to problem solve and collaborate to “breakout.” Gerry Marchand, Biology/Anatomy teacher from Illinois (and personal friend), blogged about the experience, which you can read here.
Use CONTENT to Puzzle Find something related to your content that you’d like your students to discuss and debate in order to generate a creative solution. I have a colleague who asks her geometry students to decide where the new Chipotle restaurant should be located in town. Students will discuss proximity to roads, centrality of location to ensure fair access to all residents in town (after all, it’s Chipotle!), etc. So fun!
The precedent you set in the first few days sends a powerful message to your students. After all, if we want to commit to the powerful collaborative work of the 21st century skills (as discussed in my previous post), we have to cultivate the soil. That begins day ONE.
I hope your first few days are amazing. PLEASE feel free to share ideas on how to best connect with students in the first few days. Let’s connect, educators! The more ideas, the better!