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in the Classroom” with Rusty May, founder of SchoolToolsTv.com. You can learn more about their work at http://schooltoolstv.com Activity Summary
In the first week, we spend a lot of time studying the concepts of shaking hands with others, making good eye contact, and what it means to be an American. Let’s start with the handshake. I pose the question, “When and how did handshakes start?” We brainstorm answers and then we turn to the computer. Through the research, we discover that the history of handshakes is not set in stone. The one the kids love the best though is the theory that knights used to shake hands all the way up to their elbows. This was not to be friendly, but was to check for weapons hidden up someone else’s sleeves. Have them try it. We then go over the etiquette of handshaking. There are specific rules for boys, girls, men, and women when it comes to shaking hands with each other. Then we practice it. Class or subject area: Classroom Management Grade level(s): K-12 Specific learning objectives: • Help teachers build powerful learning relationships with their students • Help their students acquire the social skills they need to succeed
Anniversary Book Project
Building Trust-Based Relationships
From Time In - Teaching Social Skills in the Classroom
By: Rusty Mae and Tammie Erickson Creative Commons License: CC BY-NC-ND Author contact: email@example.com
Building relationships with students takes a tremendous amount of commitment. I have shared in the past few chapters some of the obstacles that you will need to overcome to create relationships with students. Now, I will share with you how I do it in my classroom. It actually starts before the students even arrive on the first day. I send a postcard to their homes, with my picture on it. (Lifetouch school photos makes them.) I tell them a little bit about myself and how happy I am that they are in my class. I then shock them with a sentence directly about them. What they don’t know is that I go to the previous year’s teacher and ask for a strength or interest for each student. I then make a connection with the child. For example, little Johnny might like baseball. So, I might write a phrase like this: “Johnny, you and I have something in common: I am a huge baseball fan. I love to take my two children to the Billings Mustangs games. I also played softball when I was your age and even made the All-Star team once.” This is the first step in building a relationship with Johnny. He now has something to talk to me about on the first day of school. I have also just told him that I am a real human being with a life just like his. We all know that kids believe we do nothing but teach at their schools. If you don’t believe me, then just go hang out at the local Walmart and see the terrified look on students’ faces when they see you, their teacher, in public, wearing casual clothing. Or, really shock them and show up at one of their sporting events in sweats and a baseball cap. They just don’t think we are real; they believe we are robots who live and sleep at school. Next comes the first day. I take the time in the morning, before the first bell rings, to go out and meet each student as they arrive at school. I shake their hand, I look them in the eyes, and I introduce myself to them. I know who they are because I spent the week before studying the previous year’s yearbook pictures, so I already know what they look like and their names. I also get to meet a lot of the parents during this time. Our district generally starts school on a Wednesday. Therefore, the first week of school is only three days long. I spend those three days building routines, procedures, and unity. The first thing my class does, on day one, is to have our character meeting. I have referenced this idea earlier but now I want to talk about it in more depth. Let me begin by saying this is my very favorite part of the school day. In the first week, we spend a lot of time studying the concepts of shaking hands with others, making good eye contact, and what it means to be an American. Let’s start with the handshake. I pose the question, “When and how did handshakes start?” We brainstorm answers and then we turn to the computer. Through the research, we discover that the history of handshakes is not set in stone. The one the kids love the best though is the theory that knights used to shake hands all the way up to their elbows. This was not to be friendly, but was to check for weapons hidden up someone else’s sleeves. Have them try it. We then go over the etiquette of handshaking. There are specific rules for boys, girls, men, and women when it comes to shaking hands with each other. Then we practice it. You can help kids build their confidence by asking them to shaking hands with staff members. One thing I have noticed is that kids often lack the ability to look adults in the eye when greeting them. Expect this at first, but encourage them to look up at you when they greet you every morning. Next, let’s look at the American citizen concept. During our character meeting, we dissect the pledge of allegiance. There are some really good online resources on how to do this. We watch numerous YouTube videos showing soldiers fighting for our rights. We talk a lot about what public education means and how students must never take it for granted. We also watch some videos on children in
the Middle East that do not have the same educational opportunities as students in this country. Comparing and contrasting these experiences is always an eye-opener for my fourth graders. Kids need to understand that education has not always been the same in America. It has come a long way, and they are lucky enough to live in a time where education is free and open for everyone. It’s also great to read about the history of the flag, our current president, and the meaning of America. You will be amazed at the generalizations and misconceptions that come from these discussions. Other concepts, such as war, racism, and women’s rights, lead to some very strong and sometimes shocking statements from the children, which often come directly from the home. Be prepared to address these issues, and be ready for follow-up discussions with some parents as well. The best way to cement the student-teacher relationship is during feelings time. This is done at my character meeting, and takes about 10 to 15 minutes each day. This is where I go around the circle and ask each child how they are feeling on that day. They have a feeling poster in their journal with all the different feeling faces that can help guide them. At first, they will usually say, “Happy” or “Sad.” Eventually, though, they will become more specific in their feelings. For example, by the end of this past year, my class described feelings such as “hilarious,” “mischievous,” “frantic,” and “guilty.” Each child is required to say how they are feeling and why. No one is allowed to comment on anyone else’s feelings due to time restraints. As the teacher, I must acknowledge their feelings and respond back to validate them. For example, little Suzie might say that she is feeling sad today because her grandma is in the hospital. I would reply, “I am sorry to hear that you are sad today. It is always scary to have a loved one in the hospital.” I might go on to question why grandma is in the hospital. I would end by commenting that I will be thinking of her and her grandma throughout the day. The next day, and this is very important to this process, I make sure to ask Suzie how her grandma is doing. I want her to know that I remembered what she said and that her feelings and home life are important to me. I also have another opportunity to make a connection here. Often, when I hear of family happenings that are sad or happy, I will e-mail the parent as well. In this case, I might e-mail Suzie’s mom, saying that she shared during feelings time that she was sad and worried about her grandma. I would express to the parent that I am thinking of all of them and to let me know if I can help in any way. All of this creates a bond between the child and me, and sometimes with their families as well. I always end feelings time by saying how I am feeling. It is important for them to understand that I have feelings as well. It creates a sense of empathy in them. Every day I end the character meeting with a call and response. I, the teacher, say: “You are very important to me!” (I say this VERY slowly while making eye contact with each and every student.) They respond back to me with: “I am an amazing person even when I make a mistake, and I will do my very best to learn and grow from it. I BELIEVE in me!” It is important to note that many times I chime in with them and say this as well. It allows them to see that I, too, make mistakes and learn and grow from them every day. Lastly, I also build relationships with my students when they are absent from school. Directly after the morning meeting, my students spend about 15 minutes getting ready for their day. During this time I am e-mailing parents. When a child is absent I try very hard to send their parents an e-mail, which would read something like this: “Dear Mr. and Mrs. Smith, I noticed that your daughter Sally is not in class today. I hope that everything is OK. Please tell Sally that I miss her, and that class is just not the same without her. Let her know that I hope I see her later today or tomorrow morning. If there is
anything I can do to help please let me know. Take care.” Creating relationships with children builds trust. Trust comes to children through love. Parents are a child’s first experience of the love-equals-trust factor. Understanding that a teacher is the closest thing to a child’s parents can be frightening. It takes a special type of teacher to create a lasting relationship with a child. Once you have a relationship built upon trust you can move to the next level, which is teaching them to believe in themselves. That, however, is another chapter in itself.
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