Improving student engagement is really all about building strong teacher/student relationships from school day one. As an adult, if you think about the relationships you’re invested in - are they relationships where you feel there is an even amount of give and take? Do you feel that the other person supports you? Believes in your abilities and would go the extra mile for you? I bet you answered yes to all of those questions. This is normal human behavior; we invest more in people who invest more in us. It’s a cycle, most definitely, but which comes first? Teacher investment or student? During a teacher coaching session last week, a 2nd year teacher (6th grade, Math) asked me how she could improve her relationship with a student that had gone sour. One of her students was really having a hard time in her class, very rarely completed assignments, acted out behaviorally, and to boot talked back and made rude comments towards her in front of the class. On top of the stress, and anticipation of having to discipline and interact with this student in general, she really had begun to disengage from this student, sending him to the principal and out of her classroom at the first sign of a problem. How she asked, can I make an attempt to turn it around?
Love this about my teachers, they think quite a bit about the student’s they feel drifting away. Their wheels are always turning! So how can we attempt to repair relationships with students that started off rocky?
1) Reach out. Put in some time. At an appropriate moment (sans other students around) talk to your student. Never under estimate the power of the phrase Hey…I’ve noticed that . Don’t ask a lot of questions, share your feelings and your experiences with them, appropriately. Make sure to end on a positive note.
2) Share the responsibility. This creates a, you and I are all in this together feel which is a HUGE part of improving student engagement directly. For an educator this can look like: ya know, I get really frustrated when you choose not to work on your classwork and I know I’ve lost my temper and yelled. And when I do that, I’m not listening, I let anger take over. I am working on that. How can we also work to get your work done while we’re together?
3) Make it your mission to catch them doing something good. Disengage from the bad behaviors (as long as they’re not in danger or endangering others). They know they’re doing wrong, you know they’re doing wrong…so what’s the point? Catch them doing something right and hold on to it for dear life.
4) Set them up with realistic, achievable goal. For the teacher and student I talked about earlier, we decided that the student may benefit from extra math help during homeroom period. So for each time the student came to the math room during homeroom they were given 2 extra points on that night’s homework assignment. This boosted the student’s grade a pinch and encouraged more POSITIVE one on one time with the teacher.
5) Allow them to help out. Request their help with passing out papers, running something to the office, helping sort books…whatever is needed.
6) Foster some collaboration. What works for other teachers who have your student? Are they having similar problems? Ask around. What’s happening at home? Engage parents, less for “discipline reinforcement” and more for concern and added support for the kiddo.
Improving your students desire to connect and engage in your classroom is a long term project. I believe that all teachers have the innate ability to help students feel supported and loved, just like counselors! But we’re all human, and occasionally we need a little metaphorical kick in the butt to motivate us a bit. Improving student engagement is a strategic process, but when done right we’re helping create collaborative and committed thinkers! Let’s do this!