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Two Simple Ingredients to Help “Cook-Up” a Positive Culture

Every year I get excited about school starting again. As a music teacher, I am privileged to teach EVERY STUDENT that attends my school! Because I don't just have just 25 students in my class, I have to really work at getting to know each student. Two keys to a positive climate in your classroom and school are positive relationships and appreciation.

Growing up, I was always lucky to be surrounded by good educators. Both my parents were public school teachers, my uncle was an assistant principal, and my grandfather served on Board of Education of his hometown. However, my 5th grade teacher, Ms. C, stands out as the one who truly inspired me to learn. In her classroom, I learned academically, socially, and emotionally each and every day. Ms. C made time for me and that made me feel loved and welcomed. It felt like I just wasn’t another student in her room – she genuinely cared about me. This made me want to do better in school. I wanted to improve each and every day because I felt the need to show her the same level of respect that she was showing me. Ms. C played a major role in my decision to become a teacher. My success that year and for years to come wasn’t because she had a fantastic curriculum or because she taught me to be a good test taker. My success came from the fact that I had a teacher who cared enough to take the time to develop a relationship with me.

Relationships are key in the educational system - relationships with all stakeholders but most importantly, relationships with students. I wrote a blog before about getting to know your students, but it is something that we can all afford to be reminded about. Getting to know students takes time; not just names, ages, hobbies, etc. We need to know what is important to them, where and how they like to learn, their dreams and desires, and most importantly, how to connect with them. Developing a relationship with students will help them go so much farther academically and socially. It is hard to know the true home life situation of students or their individual needs if we only spend time teaching them content. Teachers and administrators, alike, need to spend time developing meaningful relationships with students and staff to further assist student achievement. I agree wholeheartedly with Rita Pierson who, in her famous Ted talk said, “Kids don’t learn from people they don’t like!” The same goes for staff members. If employees do not have connections with the administrator, then they will not be as effective as they could be. Often times, educators get bogged down with state mandates, curriculum, and testing, forgetting what truly matters in education. It should first and foremost be about the kids – always!

The possible range of relationship building strategies are endless, and optimally, should be suited to the student population at your school and your own personality and style. Some strategies I have used that have been successful in developing deep relationships with students are…

  • Eating lunch with students in the cafeteria, making a point to rotate and sit with different groups of kids each time.

  • Playing with kids at recess.

  • Inviting a student to help me do some work in my room, especially if recess is a “challenging” time of day for them.

  • Scheduling a time to be a guest reader in classrooms.

  • Attending sporting events, dance recitals, and gymnastics shows during “off teacher hours.”

  • Going to events at the other schools in my district.

I've seen a saying that says, “a person who is appreciated will always do more than what is expected." That is so true! Make your students, colleagues, and staff feel appreciated. Show them they matter and watch the climate of your room and school grow. This year, I plan to have a bulletin board outside my room that is a blank canvas. I want my middle school students to use the space to write notes of encouragement to someone. They can be anonymous or they can write their name. As people walk past my room, they can read about things others are doing to make a lasting impact in our school. It’s a simple way to make everyone feel appreciated! Any teacher can do this by covering their door (leave that window uncovered!) and have students and staff write on it. Administrators, throw a few poster boards around the faculty lounge and update them with the great things you see happening each day. If you have live morning announcements, send shout outs to those who have been working hard, both students and staff!

A teachers and leaders, we have the opportunity to make every person (student, staff member, parent, administrator, community member, board member and visitor) that walks in our buildings feel a sense of value and appreciation. I guarantee you will see a drastic improvement in your climate and take a wonderful step toward creating a family-style environment that will promote success from all stakeholders. Yes, developing relationships takes time and effort, but it will be worth the success seen in all avenues of education!

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