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Two Simple Secrets to a Successful School Year

Kim Olver

SecretsWant a better school year? Then you need to look at your relationships.

Forget curriculum. Forget better classroom management programs. Start looking at how you teach and the relationships you have with your students.

As an empowered teacher, you need to balance two things masterfully. You must balance important, meaningful relationships with your students with high expectations for them to do competent work. It is not only possible to have both; it is imperative.

As Dr. William Glasser says, “What people fight or resist is control; not education; not relationships."  As an empowered teacher, you know the teachers you worked your hardest for were the ones you liked and who held you accountable for stretching and growing.

I know today’s students may make it seem difficult, if not impossible, to teach your curriculum. This is a very real challenge if you don’t take the time to get to really know your students, collectively and individually. There is an old expression that says, “People don’t care what they know until they know that you care.” Never is this more true than today in teaching students in our public school systems.

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Be Yourself

Many of you were taught in your undergraduate programs to make sure you don’t smile at your students until Christmas. This is very poor advice. While it is true, you don’t just want to exclusively get your kids to like you, developing relationships should initially take priority over everything but safety.

Your school year should begin with you spending time introducing yourself in more than a superficial way. Tell them who you are, what you stand for, what you will and won’t do for them, what you will and won’t ask them to do. Spend some time crafting your answers to these questions, keeping in mind what is most important to your students. Then, don’t even look at your curriculum for the first two weeks.

Create Classroom Rules

You can’t have a free-for-all with no rules and total anarchy. After introductions, begin with a class meeting to discuss what rules you and your students need to co-exist with each other throughout the school year.

Begin with your non-negotiable priorities. I recommend three.

Priority #1

You must ensure your room is a safe place to be. Whatever happens, you cannot allow anyone to be hurt on your watch.

Priority #2

Learning is a priority. While you can’t insist everyone will learn in your room, since you can’t make anyone learn who refuses to. What you can do is ask that if a student is temporarily disengaged from the learning process, that he or she does not get in the way of others learning. In this way, if a student needs a little time out, there is no penalty as long as that student is not disruptive.

Priority #3

Finally, tell your students that you stand for respect. While everyone may have a different definition of respect, no one in your class will say he or she doesn’t want his person and things to be respected.

Once you have those non-negotiables firmly in place, you can openly discuss with your students what specific classroom rules they want to have in place to help honor those non-negotiables.

After getting the rules established, you can go about the business of developing teamwork, cooperation and respect between you and your students and among themselves.

There are many kinesthetic activities that can be used to get to know your students and to help them to know each other. I recommend the book, Classroom of Choice by Jonathan Erwin, to help you with specific exercises to build relationships in your classroom.

How do you become an empowered teacher? Share in the comments section!


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