Have you ever had one of “those days?” You know, like when you slept through your alarm, didn’t have enough creamer for your coffee, forgot your cell phone at home, and dropped your morning bagel on the way into work? When you finally do arrive to school, you feel anxious and stressed about being late. “Those days” have the potential to become a snowball of bad “luck,” moving faster, getting larger until you just want to crawl into a ball and cry…or that could be the day when a co-worker sees your distress and offers to cover your morning duty long enough for you to make some coffee and nab a muffin from the cafeteria. That little bit of kindness could make the biggest difference in how the rest of your day turns out.
When your students enter the school building, if you haven’t built a relationship with them, you may not realize when they just need a moment to wake up or need a little snack to get the ball rolling in the right direction. The little things can make the biggest difference.
It’s easy to make excused. I’ve thought them myself.
“I don’t have time. I only see the kids once a week.” (I totally envy those of you that get to see your students more often.)
I get it, but finding time to build relationships is crucial. Classroom management is easier when you have invested time in relationships. In the long run, the investment pays off, and again it is often the little things that make the biggest difference.
So, on that note, I have a confession to make. I love duty – hallway, crosswalk, before school, after school – you name it! It’s not that I don’t have 7,562 other things to do. Trust me, there is always something I am falling behind on. (Story of my life.) Duty assignments, though, are an opportunity to interact with students in a different way outside of the music classroom. I can talk about projects they are bringing in, ask about their weekend, or listen to that joke I had to ask them NOT to tell in the middle of our music listening activity.
I also love to hand-deliver things to classroom sometimes. (Not always…remember those 7,562 things to do…) When I walk the halls, if students are in the hall working on something I can ask them about it. I can jump into random classroom activities or games for a couple of minutes. Who can say no to a game of stack the cups with 4th grade when a student asks you to join them? It’s 5 minutes of my day, but it means the world to the student who asked.
The teacher sets the tone for positive relationships, but I’ve also come to realize that it’s important to foster positive relationships between your students. We ask our students to take risks and leap out of their comfort zone daily in the elementary music classroom. In one class, activities range from reading, listening, singing, playing instruments, exploratory movement, cooperative movement, creativity, and more. I recall even in my Kodaly and Orff classes there were music teachers feeling a bit out of their comfort zone in one area or another. As educators, I am sure you have heard a few times that there is a sweet awesomeness outside of your comfort zone.
Your students may be timid to reach out of their comfort zone. It feels protected and safe. Unless they feel that their classroom community will be safe as they take risks (and make many mistakes along the way), they will not be able to reach their potential.
Obviously, you can’t control how students react, but you can foster positivity with some relatively simple tricks.
Here are a few of my favorites:
Model – Model the positive interactions you want to see between students. During instruction and in the in between times. This is an easy one to say, but especially on “those” days, it requires extra focus. If you want students to breathe, be calm, listen and use their words in conflict, you have to ensure that you keep a level head when you are frustrated as well. (I have a mantra I think to myself as I breathe. I also sing made-up songs sometimes to make myself smile as I wait…my students have learned that these song lyrics are usually good for a chuckle, so they tend to start listening rather quickly. I’ll even sneak in relevant musical motives, and transition right back into where we are supposed to be.)
Give Them a Reason to Smile – I love to incorporate a bit of silliness into our partner switching activities to ensure that students are smiling when the greet and leave each partner. Even that student who is having a bad day might start smiling when everyone says “Thank you very much” in a robot voice complete with robot movements.
Allow Student Choice – I find that student are more inclined to try my “crazy” ideas when I am willing to try theirs. One of the best moments in my 3rd grade class a few years back was when the “dab” was cool. (I know, I know. Insert groan here.) I asked students to model sustained whole notes through movement. As students suggested movements that would work, one student asked about the dab. I asked if it would work as a whole note, and when the student said no, I asked if they could modify it to work. Using that slowly extending dab was a very cool looking move for our song. They were so excited that they were ALL participating to their best ability. It was a win-win.
Allow Student Voice – Give them an opportunity to discuss, share, contribute in as many ways and to as many audiences as possible. I have seen teachers rock some tech with this, but sometimes it’s as simple as having them turn and discuss answers with a buddy or letting them give each other feedback. You can further increase positivity by providing sentence stems to keep comments relevant, specific, and kind.
These are just a few of my favorites. What are some of your favorite tricks for building positive relationships with and among your students?
Whatever the tricks are, if they work, keep using them and SHARE! The more tools we have in our toolboxes, the more we can empower our students, and increase our positive impact.
“No significant learning can occur without a significant relationship.” – Dr. James Comer