As teachers, we spend the majority of our time planning curriculum. Our self-talk is, “My students need to learn [fill in the blank]. What we often fail to plan is how we are going to intentionally build relationships with our students; the key ingredient in early learning.
Young children rely on their teachers to support their social/emotional development, so it is critical that our early childhood educators know the significance of their relationship with a child and the direct link to healthy development. Student development is most prominent when teachers have a positive and responsive relationship with their students. Studies have shown the impact of attachment of parents and infants on development; a child/teacher relationship is proving to be just as impactful (Zero to Three, 2016).
So… how do we build a relationship with our students?
A great way to learn about your student is by investing the time to conduct home visits; this proves to be mutually beneficial for the child, the parent and the teacher. Unfortunately most educators do not have the time and/or resources to manage home visits for all of their students, so another effective way to get to know your students is by sending home a questionnaire to be filled out by the parents. A good resource is My Teacher Wants To Know, developed by Technical Assistance Center on Social Emotional Intervention (TACSEI) found on Challengingbehavior.org. This has proven to provide a great deal of information without infringing on a family’s personal values.
Get to know your parents too! Learning about their work, family, where they grew up and what brought them to the area helps parents feel you care about their lives and their family. Genuine concern for your student’s family sets the foundation for the relationship with the child.
Greet each child each day by name! Ask about what they are wearing, comment on a new hairstyle, something on their shirt, or on their new shoes. Talk with parents at drop off/pick up – if your students see you chatting with their parents, they will feel you care about them.
Let them talk … and really listen! Students want to tell their stories – it is all very personal and important to them. Often, as educators, we have a “plan” in our head and the timeline doesn’t account for student stories. If you think of building relationships as part of the curriculum, you can plan to listen and respond to their narratives.
Email pictures to parents! Every parent loves to see their child at school. With cell phone cameras, it doesn’t take much time to snap a picture and send it to a parent.
Set clear behavioral expectations for your students and be consistent with follow through. Children thrive when they know what is expected of them and they know the adult will hold them accountable for their actions. Students will develop trust quicker if you are reliable and consistent in your expectations.