The Five-Minute Rule
The Five-Minute rule is a terrific exercise for making learner connections. It asks this fundamental question: How do you set the tone for your classroom in the first five minutes? Nicholas Provenzano features a great article about this on his blog The Nerdy Teacher.
This is a popular concept in business. The notion is that practically no meeting gets going right off the bat. The first five minutes are devoted to creating a social atmosphere. People talk pleasantries—what they did or watched the night before, how they're feeling, or something good they experienced recently.
The idea is simply to relax everybody. People catch up, connect, and settle into the meeting in a better frame of mind. After the first five minutes, everyone feels like they belong there and like they're part of a team.
The same thing can work in the classroom. The first five minutes is when you can establish a connection with students that will make their learning experiences more enjoyable and productive for the day. Try spending a few minutes socializing and engaging with them. Before you know it, the five minutes are up and students are ready to get some serious work done.
Ask Students What They Think
One of the things that define an innovative educator is stepping into the role of a facilitator, rather than a director, of learning. They adopt the mindset of being "guide on the side" and not "sage on the stage."
This involves asking students guiding questions when they get stuck or curious. Open questions to get their intellectual, creative, and emotional wheels turning is a great method of making learner connections. Thoughtful questions can lead students to the inspiration that was formerly just out of reach, or to discovering abilities they never knew they had.
Knowing our feelings and opinions have value is one of the most positive experiences we can have.
It's also a significant part of students taking responsibility for their learning. Of course, our students are always ready to surprise us with their keen insights and thoughtful perspectives. Encourage that within them by asking them "what do you think?" or "how would you approach this?" Enjoy the results, and grow together.
Learn About Them
Our students aren't just pupils in our classes. They have the same kinds of hopes, fears, dreams, struggles, and triumphs we have. They come to our classes with experiences that are personal and unique to them. These are the things that have shaped them into the people they are.
A wealth of knowledge about life and the world is presented to us by our everyday students. They showcase various cultural and religious identities for us to celebrate. Many of them have interesting hobbies and pursuits that can be helpful in group projects. In some cases, those who may appear academically challenged have accomplished great things outside the classroom. Others have so much to say they either don't know where to begin or don't know how to stop! It's all part of the exciting diversity you can find in any classroom.
Take the time, however much you need, to embrace as much of it as you can. Celebrate their successes both large and small. Use these strategies from Emma McDonald to get you started. Your students will respond and be grateful because they'll know they matter to you.
Show You're Human
Many teachers think their job is to appear flawless before their students, and that making mistakes is a sign of weakness that kids might capitalize on. Not true, if you're able to make a mistake in front of your students and show that you're perfectly comfortable doing so.
Mistakes are unavoidable in life, and they're an opportunity—an opportunity to show your kids that mistakes are sometimes the best learning tools we have.
When it happens, laugh it off and stay calm and focused, and then do it right. Better yet, call on students to help out. Your kids will come to realize that errors are all about learning the lesson at the moment and then moving on to greater things. Besides, you're all there to learn together. The bonus is that you'll all be a little more enlightened than you were a moment ago.
Give Them A Home
Let this be your mantra: Build a classroom your students can call a home. Our classrooms are places of growth and discovery, of camaraderie and commitment. They're spaces where students break barriers, accomplish meaningful learning for their future successes, and support their friends in achieving the same. We can build classrooms that our kids want to come to everyday if we focus on making them places of comfort and safety for all. A good resource to look at for inspiration is this article featured on Learner's Edge.
The idea is to create not just a classroom but the ideal positive physical, mental, and emotional learning environment for students. Your classroom can become a community that sets an example of engagement for the entire school. It can take time, but it's worth the effort.
Some Other Ideas
According to a Michigan University research project called On the Cutting Edge, our students come to their classes with many preconceived notions of what learning will be like based on previous experiences and here-say. What keeps them interested is to keep them guessing about what each new experience in the classroom will bring. This means being adventurous and experimental and always making sure that teaching and learning stay enjoyable and fun for both you and them.
There are lots of ways you can do this. Here are a few ideas:
- Leaving small "care packages" for students on their desks that are related to the day's lesson
- Impromptu field trips to the community for learning opportunities
- Scheduling a surprise visit from a special guest (preferably someone that students can really connect with)
- Building student "response teams" for things like volunteer clean-up, tutoring younger students, and performing random good deeds around the school
- Arranging to have students be your teaching assistants for a few days, involving all of them on a rotational basis
Tell us about the success stories you've had connecting with students in your classroom.