6 Ways to Let Students Know You Care
Originally published May 2011
By Karen Hume
Perhaps you’ve heard the statement, “They won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” When students are asked about the qualities of good teachers, they confirm the truth of that statement—caring is always at or near the top of the list.
Demonstrations of caring don’t require that you be available to your students 24/7, or that you know the details of their personal lives and share the details of your own. Those actions, as recent news stories have attested, will get you into hot water for blurring the boundaries of the teacher-student relationship.
Caring is evident when you recognize students as unique human beings with different learning needs and preferences, and when you “check in” with students through actions such as walking around the classroom, talking to everybody to see how they are doing, answering their questions, and expressing confidence in their ability to improve.
Try any of the following ideas to check in with your students and keep tabs on how they are doing:
Greet Them—Stand by the door and greet all students by name as they enter. By reading students’ body language as well as listening to their comments, you will easily pick up on any emotional tension students are bringing into the room. You may be able to alleviate some tension by making this quick connection.
2 x 10—Spend two minutes a day for 10 consecutive days with a disengaged student. These interactions might happen in various places, such as in class, at the student’s locker, and in the cafeteria. Focus on building a relationship with the student, not on talking about their lack of engagement!
George’s Book—I attended a workshop years ago where a teacher named George told us that he selected five students to focus on in each class. He made a point of noticing and recording positives about each student in a class notebook. I remember that George’s notes were heartwarming and inspiring, that his students loved reading the notebook, and that his awareness of his students’ unique strengths had an enormous impact on the engagement and achievement of even the most disengaged adolescents. I tried this approach in my own classroom but couldn’t keep it up. Nevertheless, this idea, or a variation of it, is worth the effort, especially if you or your students feel caught in a spiral of negative energy and need to turn things around.
My Life in Six Words—Here’s an idea that’s tailor-made for the text-messaging generation: Legend has it that when Ernest Hemingway was challenged to write a novel in six words, he wrote, “For Sale: Baby shoes, never worn.” Larry Smith, editor of the online magazine Smith, picked up on this idea a few years ago and invited readers to submit their life story in exactly six words. Smith published several collections of these six-word stories, including one by adolescents, titled I Can’t Keep My Own Secrets. Inspire your students by showing them this wonderful video clip, and then check in with them by inviting them to tell you how they are doing, using exactly six words.
Debrief with Students—Class meetings or community circles are well worth the time and effort. Use meetings at the beginning of the year to help students get to know each other and to establish the processes and ground rules of meetings. Use meetings throughout the year to solve classroom problems. Class meetings give you a way to check in with all of your students, and they build students’ commitment to community. However, if you feel that you really don’t have the time for occasional class meetings, you can also debrief more informally at the end of a class by asking your students, “What do you think went well for us today?” and “What do we need to do to make further progress tomorrow?”
Attend Extracurricular Events—There’s no question this recommendation is asking a lot of busy teachers, but acting on it can make a world of difference, especially to disengaged students. They’ll know that you care enough to support them by attending events outside the classroom. It’s also reassuring and informative to see these students in an environment where they are capable and engaged.
There are many more than six ways to check in with students. What have you tried that works for you?
Karen Hume is a well-known Canadian teacher, administrator, author, speaker, and workshop leader. She has her M.Ed. in curriculum and teacher development, has been a member of a university research group funded to investigate the role of talk in the classroom. Karen is also a member of the editorial board of an online action research journal. Her latest publication, Tuned Out: Engaging the 21st Century Learner (Pearson Canada, 2010), is a practical resource for educators that focuses on improving student engagement in the 21st Century. For more information, visit Karen’s website or connect through Twitter: @humekaren