The shift from us being the teacher formally assigned to a class to students seeing us a “their” teacher happens over time. Small steps, micro-connections, and shared experiences transform our relationships with students from the person who will instruct them to the person who will coach, nurture, and champion their learning.
Of course, some aspects of this transformation happen naturally. For many of us and many of our students, this process requires little effort and intentionality. Yet, it is an important process and deserves examination, especially since it does not always happen for every student.
A closer look reveals that there are specific actions that teachers who fully achieve the shift from “the teacher” to “my teacher” typically engage in. Here are six behaviors common to teachers who form strong connections with students:
These teachers accept students into their classrooms unconditionally. Students do not have to prove themselves. Past behavior and learning histories are not barriers to full membership in the class. Everyone belongs and is treated accordingly.
These teachers make a personal connection with students. Smiles are personal and accompanied by eye contact. The teacher notices shifts in mood and changes in appearance. Students feel as though the teacher sees and gets them. When chance encounters happen outside of the classroom, greetings leave students feeling noticed and validated.
These teachers give personal attention to their students. They listen carefully and patiently. They send a message of “I want to hear your ideas, your adventures, your observations, and your struggles.” Students feel valued and respected, and they have something worthwhile to offer.
These teachers make an emotional investment in their students. They monitor students’ responses to learning tasks and challenges to ensure they are challenged and engaged. These teachers want students to feel safe enough to take learning risks and confident enough to weather learning missteps and setbacks. They know that learning often involves struggle, but with struggle frequently comes success and satisfaction. Worry, wonder, delight, and disappointment are part of the journey.
These teachers hold high expectations for their students. They communicate to students that with conscientious effort, smart strategies, and timely support, they can learn at high levels. Their message to students is, “You can do it—and I will help.” They champion learning and celebrate with students when they solve a difficult problem, complete an important project, or reach a new level of learning.
These teachers are interested in and concerned about more than the child or young person as a student. They view formal learning in school as a part of who the student is. What happens outside of school is important and connected to learning and behavior in school. They understand that the whole of who the student is matters in their learning and matters in their lives.
We may at times take the transition from “the teacher” to “my teacher” for granted. We should not. When students consider us to be “their teacher,” they bestow on us a special honor. We then transform from organizers of routines, keepers of rules, and presenters of content, to mentors, coaches, counselors, and advocates.