There is a strategy that builds strong, behavior-influencing rapport with virtually any student.
Guarded, angry, painfully shy, behaviorally difficult . . .
It works with even the most challenging students.
It doesn’t take much time or forethought to put into practice.
But it can melt away fear, frustration, isolation, opposition, and even silliness.
And get to the heart of the student.
So they can make a safe, comfortable connection with you first before spreading their wings to make healthy connections with others.
Along the way, your bond can become so secure and trusting that it can change their entire outlook. It can be the one thing, the missing piece, that eases them into the happy culture of your classroom.
So what is it?
It’s to take an interest in them.
Now, it’s important to point out that this isn’t simply a strategy about making conversation or asking them about their day or how they’re doing.
It isn’t about friendly smiles and hellos—although those are important—and it isn’t about wanting something from them. It isn’t even about the outcome or the benefits of your relationship.
It’s about your genuine desire to get to know them, nothing more.
So how do you do that? How do you want to get to know someone, especially if they show no interest in getting to know you or when they may not appear, at the time, very likable?
You choose to.
You remind yourself that every student has a story. Every one of them is at the start of a hero’s journey. They’re all interesting once they open up, just a crack, and know that someone is actually listening.
But you must have no ulterior motive, no hidden agenda, no strings attached. Because if you do, if you think of it as a strategy to get something from them, they’ll know it.
It’s something you can’t hide.
They’ll smell it on you from a mile away and dismiss you with a downward glance or a metaphorical wave of the hand. They may even shut down further.
This doesn’t mean that you need to invest a lot of time with them individually or at the expense of the rest of your class. In fact, it’s better if you progress in small, slow increments.
A moment here, a moment there. A few minutes at lunch, after school, or during recess. Even a brief second during class.
As for what to say, let your curiosity guide you.
“I noticed that you wear that bracelet every day. Where did you get it?”
“I read in your essay that you like elephants. How come?”
“Who is that friend I see you sitting with at lunch.”
You don’t want to get too personal, just gently personal, the kind of things that people like sharing about themselves, that warrant more than a one-word response.
Speak to them not from the perspective of a teacher to a student, but as a fellow human being.
Be direct and refrain from using praise or flattery to try to get them to open up. This is a common tactic that communicates loud and clear that you do, in fact, have an ulterior motive.
Don’t worry about how they respond at first. Behave as if whatever they say is perfectly okay and acceptable. Then move on. Don’t wait around as if you’re expecting something more.
In time, you’ll discover common interests and be drawn into wanting to learn more and more about them. Inevitably, they’ll also become curious about you.
It’s human nature—the law of reciprocity in action.
Even though you’ll never be friends in the strictest sense, you’ll soon carry on with each other conversationally like you do a trusted confidant.
Before long, you’ll notice them engaging with their classmates, slowly at first but eventually in the same way they do with you. You see, you’re the bridge.
You’re the bridge to being a true part of your class.
I’ve used this strategy hundreds of times over the years and it’s proved remarkably effective. Yes, it’s simple. It’s obvious. It’s hardly revolutionary.
But here’s the thing: Not many teachers do it. Very few interact with any student without a secret underlying motive.
Those who do, however, either because they’re curious by nature or realize just how powerful and rewarding it is, are able to do what so many say is impossible.
They’re able to make these students, who are often ignored, routinely tested, analyzed, and labeled, just tolerated, or shoved into the margins of the educational machine, valued and contributing members of your class and school.
But it starts with a choice.
So take an interest, be curious, make your approach today with no strings attached.
And you and they will be changed forever.
PS – The results of last week’s poll showed that most readers wanted A Classroom Management Plan for Elementary Teachers as my next e-guide.
Thanks for taking part! I began work on it this week and plan on having the guide ready by May 1st.
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