Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Meaningfully connecting with students

As a leader of your school, are you meaningfully connecting with your students?

As leaders we know that relationships are at the core of everything we do in our schools. Building a healthy school culture based on relational trust and core values is paramount and meaningfully connecting to our students everyday should be our aim.

I received the note below from a student and it not only made my heart sing it reinforced my belief around taking the time to personally connect with my students everyday:

So, how do we best make that meaningful connection?

Simple advice from the net:
George Couros – The Principal of Change
Couros’ 6 ways to connect:

1.     Welcome the kids when they arrive. Wave goodbye when they leave.
2.     Your first interaction with a student should always be a positive one.
3.     Talk as little as possible using questioning to allow the student to share their story.
4.      Use humour to deal with situations any chance you can.
5.     Do the walk – everyday if possible.
6.     Kids will love you if they know you love them.

Jessica and John Hannigan – US Educational Consultants on Leadership
10 easy ways for school leaders to connect with students:

1.     Talk to students daily – know their name, ask questions, listen to their stories.
2.     Eat lunch with students.
3.     Be visible.
4.     Greet students.
5.     Take time to get to know students and their families.
6.     Support your students at school events.
7.     Have classroom chats or chats with groups of students regarding current and serious topics on a daily basis.
8.     Play a game with them at lunch or participate in school activities.
9.     Be there for them if they need you.
1. Positive phone calls home.

Going a little deeper:

James Alan Sturtevant – You’ve Gotta Connect!

He asks:
Do you share your own life with your students?
How do you show that you value their individual cultures?
How do you differentiate relationship building with different students?
How do you embrace challenging behaviours, difficult times, set backs?
Do you compare present students with past students?

Sturtevant’s best practice:

When you share parts of your life students will feel comfortable and share their own.
Enquire and learn about their interests, passions, leisure activities, and family life so that they get a sense that you value them.
Just accept that some relationships will form quickly and others will take time.
Respectfully resolving problems will ensure strong valuable connections are formed and maintained.
Focus on the gifts and needs of your present students rather than comparing the present cohort to the past.

The key word regarding connection is meaningful.
It is relatively easy to adhere to the simple advice offered above but forming meaningful connections requires not only planned, dedicated, sustained effort over time but also should go hand-in-hand with developing strong student voice opportunities.
 have written a blog post previously on meaningful student involvement and provided tools such as the Ladder of Participation and the Spectrum of Student Voice Oriented Activity Model to gauge your current school level of student involvement.
Personally, as a principal I have found the following practice as key to meaningful student connection:

·      Every day, purposefully aim to engage with students on a personal level through asking, listening, watching, and sharing stories
·      Play (in a broader sense) with students, no matter their age
·      Be the greeter – welcome and acknowledge with a warm smile encouraging interaction
·      Schedule frequent class walk through visits otherwise, if left to chance, they won’t happen
·      Host lunch sessions to get feedback
·      Attend extra curricular school activities organised by students to offer your support
·      Personally thank students for any service to the school no matter how small
·      Try to learn as many names as possible as well as personal passions/interests
·      Share your own personal passions/interests with students
·      Offer guidance, support and be a mentor to your students

And remember …

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