5 Ways to Make Connections

So I’m taking a break from the classroom.

This half term sees the start of my sabbatical – a career break to spend more time with the family and also a chance to review what I would like to do next in terms of my profession.

It’s given me the chance to reflect on what I’ve learned as a secondary school teacher over the years.

What tips and tricks would I pass on to newly qualified teachers if I had the chance? 

When I first became a teacher there was a phrase that newly qualified teachers were told.

‘Don’t Smile until Christmas’.

 

At the time I took it with a pinch of salt but I understood the sentiment.

You are definitely not the students’ friend.  Don’t act like one.

And while I agree that teachers need to be clear about their boundaries and expectations with their students, in many ways I disagree with this statement.  Without smiling it is hard to build relationships with your students, and without these connections it is hard to really help and support them in their learning and well-being.

 

people star

Photo by Sidharth Bhatia on Unsplash

 

We need to connect with our students.  Emotional intelligence, compassion, good communication skills and much more, all need to be modeled and yet the more teachers are forced to focus on assessment the less emphasis is placed on these ‘softer skills’.  So, in this last blog post about my time as a secondary school teacher for a while, I’ve outlined the seemingly trivial things that I did every day, but actually that with hindsight, made a big difference.

Sometimes I felt I gave so much of my energy in the classroom, that my own children missed out, so I am also listing them here to remind parents too that not only are these important things to do at school, but they are also very helpful to keep in mind at home too. 

DO smile during your day

Who wants to be in the company of someone who never smiles?  Not me!

A smile can lift the atmosphere in a room and often will be mirrored by the people in the presence of the person who is smiling.  Smiling definitely helps us connect with people and keeps our own mood lifted too so it would be silly to NOT smile during a whole working day.

Think about it in terms of parenting too.  How often does a parent truly and genuinely smile at their children?  Lots I hope.  But possibly not as much as you may think.  Parents, if on autopilot, may feel too busy playing taxi driver and chief cook and bottle washer, to take time to share regular smiles and laughs with their children.   I realised this some time ago as I am not naturally a ‘smiley’ person (I can be quite earnest at times and I don’t like my teeth so try to hide them!) . Now I’ve noticed this I have made a real effort to smile more and seemingly I get lots more lovely smiles back too! Win-Win.

 

Be present

Turn up and be attentive.  As teachers we can be tapping away on our keyboards far too often these days.  Or we are having a conversation with a student but thinking of 101 other things too.  Young people are on to us.  They pick up on this really easily.

Ever been in an assembly surreptitiously trying to catch up on a few emails?  Put the device down and watch the student band in front of you instead.

Give them a cheer and be supportive. That performance means a lot to them. We need to show we understand this.  I think this is getting lost in educational establishments as teachers are under such stress due to workload.

Obviously the same can be said for parents too.  Be present.  Be there in mind as well as body.  Make eye contact.  Put the smartphone or device away.

 

Be interested

Remember the little things about individuals you teach and ask them about them.  You know that kid in the class who supports Arsenal? Ask them what they reckon to the new choice of manager.

Someone got an interview at a particular university?  Remember to check how it went the next time you see them.

With our own children this can be quite hard sometimes.  I guess it’s about remembering specifics from previous days and following up.  “You mentioned you were doing an art project on William Morris yesterday.  How did you get on with it today?”

“Did you play again today with so and so at nursery?” You may still only get a brief answer but at least you are showing you remember when you do get a little bit of detail from them about their day.

 

Be empathetic

 Remember what it was like to be 13?

Remember your world when you were 8?

Remember life as a 17 year old?

Sometimes I think adults are too quick to forget that things we think are insignificant now, are really important to us in our younger years.

We should do our best not to down-play that first heartbreak, those falling outs with friends, the mountain of homework the child feels is overwhelming.  It’s easy to be dismissive but to show understanding will be much more helpful both in a teaching or a parenting role.

 

Meet and Greet

 In my classroom I use the register as a quick barometer at the beginning of a lesson for how students are.

Yes, it’s a snapshot but it’s amazing the clues you can get about a student’s well-being just by taking the register meaningfully.  Greeting, eye contact, response, a check of the student’s body language.  On to the next name on the list. And repeat.  My Year 11s ‘got it’.  The younger ones ‘got it’.  They would always look up and give me eye contact and I felt respected the process.

As parents how often do we ‘check-in’ with our own children when we pick them up from nursery or from school or when they return to us from a day out?

Do we have a meaningful exchange?  Do we take the opportunity to pick up on their body language?  Often everyone is so busy and rushed this may not happen.  It is definitely worth building into your day.

 

And there you have it, my alternative ‘to-do’ list for teachers new to the job.  Also, a reminder to other people who spend a lot of time with children and young people too.

 

What do you do to build connections with the children in your life?

Either as a teacher or as a parent?

I’d love to hear your ideas.

 

handwritten Hayley

Two Tiny Hands

 

30 Comments

  1. Lizzie
    June 7, 2018 / 10:26 am

    Love your post, Hayley. So great you’re taking a sabbatical! Thank you – I remember only too well that ‘do not smile until Christmas’ advice and really feel that my teaching in my NQT year, and therefore pupils, suffered as a result of me dutifully following it; I only realised it later and now make a point of being myself at school and following my gut which is to be kind to young people above all things – it helps teaching younger children whose need for smiles is much more obvious, though by no means greater, than teenagers. I often think about that phrase and how I might have done things differently had I not attended that lecture in ‘behaviour management’. Keep writing, it touches me every time I read. X

    • onamindfulmummymission
      June 7, 2018 / 8:39 pm

      Oh Lizzie what a lovely, lovely comment. Thank you so much for taking the time to write it. I agree I found the advice really hard – as someone who wanted to do EVERYTHING right and yet this didn’t sit easily with me – I’m pleased I worked out that kids need us to be authentic just like everyone else (as you did too). The children you teach are very lucky to have such a lovely person in their lives – kindness above all things – that is what is important. Much love and thanks again for reading. xx

  2. June 7, 2018 / 1:11 pm

    Thanks for these tips from the trenches. As my kids get older, I really have to work at staying connected to the inner life of younger kids and what makes them tick!

    • onamindfulmummymission
      June 7, 2018 / 8:35 pm

      I know what you mean – but the hard work is worth it!

  3. June 9, 2018 / 12:46 pm

    Excellent advice, especially the smile bit! I was given the same advice, but how miserable would it be to walk round all day teaching without smiling! Not for me. I get ideas behind it, but like you say, you can make it work whilst still setting clear boundaries and not being their ‘friend’. And yes- emphathy, such a good point! #thesatsesh

    • onamindfulmummymission
      June 11, 2018 / 10:29 am

      Thank you so much – so funny we were all given this advice! xx

  4. June 9, 2018 / 3:17 pm

    Really valid points, being present is such a good one X #thesatsesh

  5. June 9, 2018 / 4:04 pm

    So true: much better to be present and attentive, and a real presence when you are in the classroom. After all, you are getting paid for it, and you can put in your 100 per cent and then walk away (unlike with our own kids!!) #thesatsesh

  6. June 9, 2018 / 4:48 pm

    great advice, and it’s so important to have some human connection with our students.

  7. June 9, 2018 / 5:25 pm

    The teachers that I remember from my childhood and the ones that really made a difference to me are definitely the ones who seemed human. We can’t really be human if we never smile. Enjoy the sabbatical #thesatsesh

    • onamindfulmummymission
      June 11, 2018 / 10:28 am

      Thank you and I totally agree! xx

  8. June 9, 2018 / 10:11 pm

    I just finished up my school year. I am already planning life in first grade for next year. I like to do some get to know you games but not the scary kind where you need to speak if you are nervous. I like to get them up and moving! #thatsatsesh

    • onamindfulmummymission
      June 11, 2018 / 10:27 am

      Those games sound fab! xx

  9. June 10, 2018 / 8:59 am

    A really interesting post. I try hard to make sure that I am engaged with my kids after school, but it is easy to fall into your own thoughts sometimes too. I’m really looking forward to reading about what you get up to on your sabbatical! #thesatsesh

    • onamindfulmummymission
      June 11, 2018 / 10:27 am

      Thank you! xx

  10. June 10, 2018 / 9:05 am

    Nodding along to all of these particularly the meet and greet. I make all students shake my hand as they arrive and as they leave it means I can have 2 minutes with them and as you say show I’m interested. I can ask, what are you doing this weekend, or how did the tennis tournament go… Its crazy that some days we just don’t get time for these personal exchanges that are so important. Totally agree with the be present thing too, there are always a million things to do but sometimes we just need to stop and (Particularly with younger students) observe whats actually happening in class rather than what we think is happening. Great post! 🌟 #thesatsesh

    • onamindfulmummymission
      June 11, 2018 / 10:26 am

      Thanks so much Catie – what a lovely thing to do to shake hands with the students – love that! xx

  11. June 11, 2018 / 8:48 am

    Such a valid post and a really interesting read. I’ll definitely be taking some of these points home with me x #familyfun

    • onamindfulmummymission
      June 11, 2018 / 10:25 am

      So pleased you found it helpful – thanks Nicola xx

  12. June 11, 2018 / 8:03 pm

    be empathetic – that point is so true in all life – when we judge and view young people – try and remember being that age yourself – not only does it enable you to enjoy and appreciate the young , it stops you acting like a miserable old fart!!! #thesatsesh

  13. June 12, 2018 / 6:19 pm

    It’s great to see a teacher actually caring about their students and their loved ones #thesatsesh

  14. June 14, 2018 / 3:19 pm

    I think smiling is so important – & it’s free too! #familyfunlinky

  15. June 14, 2018 / 9:33 pm

    #thesatsesh yes to this dude, saluting the list every day hun. Today I made my little people laugh, broke the rules (in an observation), just for a laugh – well worth it.

    • onamindfulmummymission
      June 14, 2018 / 9:37 pm

      Hee hee – hats off to you poppet! I bet you rocked it xxx

  16. June 15, 2018 / 10:12 pm

    This is wonderful Hayley! All these points make perfect sense to me, and I certainly feel that it makes a difference to Penguin’s motivation if I’m engaging and smiling. I can also see how some of these aspects may offer some clues to why I don’t feel very close to my own parents, unfortunately.
    I hope you’ll enjoy your sabbatical and that you’ll return to teaching in some capacity. I think the world needs more teachers like you!
    When Penguin first started school, he had a teacher who said that she might be a bit stern during their first term, as she had to ‘establish her role as leader’… She turned out to be quite a nightmare and was replaced at the end of their first school year. I’m sure a teacher who’d smile, be empathetic, and build connections would have been much more successful for everyone involved. xx #thesatsesh

    • onamindfulmummymission
      June 15, 2018 / 10:40 pm

      Thank you so much for the encouraging and honest comment – I’m so sorry that there have been people in your and Penguin’s lives who could have connected better with greater empathy and warmth. Thanks again xx

  17. June 16, 2018 / 8:25 pm

    I love this post. I’m constantly having to remind myself to be more present and put the phone away when the kids are talking to me, or just to sit and watch them play and take it all in. I’ve also found that compassion goes a very long way, especially with my youngest who can very quickly go into an epic meltdown when she’s not getting her own way. If I dismiss her opinion or tell her off for her behaviour it ends up in an all out screaming match, but when I can count to ten and then try to be compassionate (without giving in and letting her get her own way), I can calm her down and after a quick cuddle she will go ahead and do whatever it was she was protesting about. Sometimes their emotions are just too strong and they can’t find the words so act out instead.
    Enjoy your sabbatical and thank you for joining the #FamilyFunLinky x

    • onamindfulmummymission
      June 16, 2018 / 8:48 pm

      Alana – you are so right about the compassion thing – 2 out of my 3 are VERY similar about this! Thanks for the lovely comment xx

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