Keep It Simple and Smile

Thinking back on your days as a student, did you have that one teacher, counselor or administrator that you just simply can’t forget? Hopefully, you remember them because of the relationship you developed, the positive impact they left on you, or how they inspired you. As Valentine’s Day approaches, we wanted to revisit an aspect of school culture that permeates into nearly everything we do as school leaders.  Our relationships with students can transform the school into a place where they want to be each day. Which will in turn positively impacting safety and discipline, while giving students the efficacy to reach their academic goals.  Here are our top 14 ways to improve relationships with students.

1. Smile – Smiling at students is the easiest and simplest way to connect with students.  Even when we don’t feel like it, smiling reveals many things about our perspective on life, on thoughts and feelings about the people around us, and whether or not we are trustworthy.  Students won’t make a connection with an administrator who reminds them of Eeyore. 

2. Speak to students every day – Simply saying “hello” or “good morning” to a student can impact his/her day.  You may be the first person to say “good morning” each day or make them feel welcomed at school.

3. Make eye contact – Modeling the skill of making eye contact with another person is a simple way to build rapport with a student, and may alert you to a student needing to be asked, “Are you ok today?”

4. Learn student names – Addressing a student by his/her first name signals to the student that you are truly interested in him/her.  Learning the names of all your students may seem like an impossible, daunting task, but the payoff of learning as many names as possible is worth the challenge.  

Students won’t make a connection with an administrator who reminds them of Eeyore. 

5. Be Positive – Encouraging students each day with a “can-do attitude” will indicate to them that they have what it takes to preserve and overcome whatever challenges they are facing.

6. Speak with respect – Avoiding sarcasm and speaking to students with the same respect you want in return shows the student that you respect him/her as an individual. Respect is often the beginning of building a relationship with a student.  

7. Make a connection – Look for ways to make a connection with each student – maybe you taught an older sibling, maybe you also played soccer, or maybe you attend the same church.  Complimenting a student also helps in making a connection.

8. Show up – Attending as many extracurricular activities as possible – drama, band, chorus, sporting events, dances, etc. – will demonstrate to the student that you care about more than just academics. After you “show up,” following up with a simple, “You did a great job at the concert, I enjoyed hearing you sing”. Doing so will give you an instant connection with the student. 

9. Listen – Not only does being attentive when someone is speaking to you serve as a good skill to model for students, but it also shows the speaker that you are genuinely interested in what he/she is saying

10. Be Approachable – By having a disposition of approachability, students will know that they can come to you with a concern or safety issue that needs your attention.  We often can have our guard up so high that it creates a barrier between us and our students.

11. Be consistent – Being at school and being visible around the building everyday indicates to students that they can count on you when they need you.  They may not need you today, but they may tomorrow, and they need to know that you’ll be present in their time of need.

12. Ask – Find a few trusted students and ask for their opinion and feedback.  Even asking what items they’d like to see more often in the cafeteria gives them a voice and shows them that you are interested in their opinion.  You can also ask a student what his/her favorite subject is, or who his/her favorite teacher is. This will give you something to follow up with the next time you see the student in the hallway.  

13. Be Real – Students may often see their administrators as nothing more than authoritarians and assignors of In School Suspension. By being real and vulnerable with students about the subjects you struggled with in school, an obstacle you had to overcome, or a mistake from which you had to learn a hard lesson will give the students a different perspective of the type of leader you are. This will help make a connection and cause you to be more approachable in the future.

14. Fun – Having fun and laughing will show students a side of you they are not expecting to see.  By finding ways to make school fun, you’ll increase student attendance while demonstrating that you are accessible and able to assist students as needed.

If you want to improve your school culture, begin with the students and focus on your relationships.  By being relational with students, administrators may see an instant impact on student attendance, discipline, safety and other indicators of school culture.  When students are at school, following classroom expectations, and learning in a safe environment, academic achievement will follow. And it can all begin with something just as simple as a smile. 

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