As literacy specialists, we often work with a student or students who have some “tricky” behaviors that interfere with learning. It is important to build positive relationships with all of the students we work especially those students who have particularly challenging behaviors. Relationship building should be worked on diligently from the earliest interactions.
These students have often had cycles of frustrating interactions with reading and writing and even with other adults. To them, you are just one more frustrating encounter to endure.
I have used a variety of ways to make my interactions with these fragile learners as positive as possible. Here are my favorite ways to connect with the students I work with.
1. Get to know interests
Ask your student what they like and have them teach you all about it. Listen with interest and show excitement about learning something new. This last round I learned all about monster trucks and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and every minute was worth it!
2. Share tasks during RATK
During roaming around the known our students can be unsure of themselves. They may be resistant to participating in reading and writing when it has been so difficult for them. Let your student know that you will be working together as a team. You will do the hard parts that they aren’t able to do – yet and they will do the rest.
3. Celebrate successes
Show delight when your student does something with independence no matter how small.
4. Think zone of proximal development
Make sure anything you are asking your student to do is within their ability. If you plan for things that are too hard your student will feel frustrated and ess likely to take risks or attempt the things you ask him to do.
5. Visit classroom
Stop into their classroom in the morning when students are arriving just to say a quick “hi” and ask how they are doing. Sometimes I give my student a teaser by telling them that I have a really good book picked out for them to read or I let them know that I can’t wait to work with them later.
6. Show genuine excitement to see them
Greet your student with a big smile. I have found that persistent smiles can work with the tricky ones that look a bit miserable initially when you arrive to pick them up.
7. Take time to chat
Take advantage of the time it takes to walk to your room by having a chatty, casual, low-pressure conversation.
8. Pick special books just for them
Learn everything you can about your student. Choose/make books tailored to them and what they know and are interested in.
When having conversations try your best to let the student do the majority of the talking. Listen carefully and offer thoughtful comments in return. Show that what they have to say is important to you. I had a student recently who really wanted to share all of the things that he felt were unfair about his day. On the way up to my room, he was able to get it all out with a few comments from me acknowledging his feelings and then he was good to go.
10. Watch body language
Be aware of what your student’s body language is telling you. If you see your student starting to slouch in their seat, cover their ears, or disengage check if what you are having them do is too difficult. Noticing changes in body language can help to avoid an escalation in undesired behaviors.
11. Ask questions about interests & loves
When you find out what your student is interested in use that information to start conversations. You may find that it only takes one question about something your student loves to spark a chatty happy conversation.
12. Stay calm
No matter what stay calm! When our heart races and our hands shake we aren’t able to make the best decisions. Take deep breaths and a moment to think before you react.
13. Give a minute for transition
Some students are perfectly happy to drop everything and come along with you. Other students need a minute to have some closure with what they are doing before they come with you.
14. Use special materials
Provide your student with smelly colorful markers for writing. Have your student practice with fun materials such as sand, water pens, textured letters/words. Using special things will make your student feel special.
15. Greet at arrival
Put your smile on and let them know that you are glad that they are at school today.
16. Don’t take actions personally
When your student is struggling don’t take it personally. See if you can dig a little deeper, stay objective, and find what the true cause of the problem is. Finding out the root of the problem can help us to be proactive. When we take things personally we are more likely to act in a way that can be damaging to a relationship.
17. Allow choice
Letting go of some control and allowing student choice can be beneficial for a variety of reasons including relationship building. You can allow your student to pick which familiar book they want to read first, have them to choose what marker color they want to write with, and provide choices while co-constructing the writing.
18. Talk in a calm quiet manner
This is especially useful for a student whose behavior may be escalating. A loud voice with too much talk can be overstimulating to the student and cause a continued escalation in difficult behavior.
19. Share Accomplishments
Occasionally praise your student’s reading and writing accomplishments to their teacher.
*You might want to ask the student if it okay to tell their teacher first because some children get embarrassed or uncomfortable with this type of praise.
20. Make fast & flexible with known
Help your student to make their known more well known. Also, help your student to become fast and flexible with their known. This type of work builds confidence in your student.
21. Display Work
Let your student know that they are important by displaying his/her work in your room or in the hallway.
22. Give away books
Periodically, I let my students choose a book to keep. I purchase books from Scholastic (and use points) and buy books from garage sales and second-hand shops. Many of the students I work with have few books at home and love receiving the gift of a book.
23. Participate in fun days
Make sure you’re visible during assemblies and special days. It can be powerful to interact with your student under different circumstances that can feel less threatening to them.
24. Write a note
Leave a note for your student on their desk with a simple message like, “Have a great day!” “I can’t wait to see you later.” “Great job pointing to the words while reading yesterday.” “I have a new Baby Bear book for us to read today!” Children love to receive notes especially as they learn how to read them all on their own.
25. End on a positive note
Do what you can to end your lesson on a positive note. Don’t ignore a behavior that might have been problematic, but let your student know that you want to help him/her with whatever they are struggling with. You might say, “I noticed that you didn’t want to write today. Don’t forget we’re a team. My job is to help you with the hard parts and your job is to do all of the things you know how to do. I am excited to see how we can work as a team during writing tomorrow.” No matter what the child says in response respect how they feel, but try to end positively. “I know that you feel it is hard, but we can do it when we work together as a team!”
Working hard at relationship building is essential when working with students who have experienced repeated negative experiences when reading and writing. It can be hard work and exhausting for the teacher, but well worth it in the long run. What are your favorite ways to build positive relationships with your students? Let me know in the comments section below.