Thursday, September 1, 2016

Building Positive Relationships Early

By: Rachel Barry

This year my focus in the classroom is building positive relationships.  I believe that I have always worked on creating a relatively positive environment for students to feel comfortable sharing their thoughts with me, whether these thoughts were personal or academic in nature.  The problem with that last sentence is 'with me'.  Yes, it is incredibly important for teachers to get to know their students, build a positive rapport, and care about them as an individual.  Towards the end of last year, however, I realized that I have never set an expectation for my students to build relationships with one another.  I decided to change that going forward.

The first change was in the works during second semester of last year.  No more desks!  If I expected students to work together by communicating and collaborating with one another, I needed to have a physical environment that would foster this teamwork.  I now have whiteboard tables (which are amazing!), and there will be more blog posts about this resource in the future.

To begin cultivating relationships with and among my students, we first needed to begin with some introductions.  As the teacher, I need to provide students with opportunities to learn more about one another.  Here are some ways that I fostered this communication in the first week of school:

1.  Names
Every other day of class, I have had new groups using the Team Shake app.  This app randomly seats students into groups or pairs, based on how you designate the randomizer.  Then I ask my students to write their name on the whiteboard table and shake hands with the members of their group.  Over the period of two days, I am hoping that they are getting to know each new set of students at an introductory level.  (Note: This is also helping me to learn their names much quicker because I myself am a visual learner.)

2.  All About Me
This year, I created a new All About Me activity using the website Piktochart.  More information on how to create or use infographics can be found here.  

Students accessed this document electronically via Schoology and annotated using Notability.  Then, students were asked to share any one of their 'favorites' with their group.  At the end of the first day, they were then asked to share a different 'favorite' with the class.

What I learned about my students through this exercise:
- Who is strong and who is weak with technology (both Schoology and Notability)
- Who is willing to share easily and who needs time to feel comfortable sharing with me
- Who can follow directions and answer questions appropriately
- Who has internet at home (some students didn't finish and expressed that they wouldn't be able to submit this assignment tonight due to not having internet)

3.  Numbers of Significance
This idea I received from my colleague Eleanor Pattie.  I demonstrated with an example explaining 3 numbers of significance for myself and then had the students write out their 3 examples.  Then, they shared one of these examples with the class.  Here is a student example:

What I learned about my students through this exercise:
- Some students are incredibly creative  (i.e. 10 - age when received the first pair of Air Jordans; 2 - never like to go first; 10.5 - when I was first inspired to draw)
- Some students have had some really cool life experiences (i.e. played in a championship game in Cooperstown)
- Some students are very honest (i.e. number of suspensions; 9/11 - happened a week before I was born)
- Some students shared personal tragedies
- Lastly, I learned about my students' writing capabilities such as their spelling and grammar

4.  Academic Goals
In order for me to be an effective teacher, I need to know my students as both an individual and as a student.  Before the school year starts, I look up and pull a lot of data from our Infinite Campus information.  As much as this is helpful for me to best meet my students' needs, I'll be honest and say that it is also a bit creepy.  Therefore, I gave them a Google Form to answer the following questions:

1)  What were your grades last year in math?
2)  What school did you go to? (for my freshman classes); Who was your math teacher last year? (for my junior classes)
3)  What are your plans after high school?
          A.  Community College (i.e. Harper, etc.)
          B.  4-year College/University
          C.  Trade School (cosmetology program, nursing program, mechanics program, etc.)
          D.  Military
          E.  Other: _________
4)  What are your future career goals?
5)  What are your math goals for this year?  (i.e. getting into the Harper College Algebra course, staying eligible every week for a sport, etc.)
6)  What are your overall freshman/junior year academic goals? (i.e. getting a passing score on an AP test, getting into the Harper 103 English course, etc.)

I have looked over these replies and will have one on one meetings with each student over the next couple weeks.  During these meetings, I am going to have students fill out the following card, which will be stapled to their portfolios.  This way, every time we go over assessments, students will be able to look at their goals and reflect on them.  I am still brainstorming ideas of how best to document these student refections, so if you have any ideas, please share!

What I learned about my students through this exercise:
- Which students want to get into the Harper College Algebra Course (These students will need additional skills to pass the placement test to get into the course.)
- Which students may need interventions early on (These students should get into good habits early by being encouraged to come in before school, during lunch or visiting the Mastery Lab regularly for help.)
- Which students should be challenged to try to get into the Harper College Algebra course (Maybe they don't realize that it is an option for them.)
- Which students do not have aspirations for schooling following high school (I will need to learn more about these students as to why they do not want to pursue a continued education.)

This biggest component of all these activities was that I want students to be comfortable by allowing for student voice in the classroom.  They get to determine what they share with me and what they share with the class.  For example, I let them choose their 'favorite' with the class.  I could've said that everyone needed to share their favorite color, but instead I wanted to see what my students wanted to share about themselves.  I will be documenting more of my encouragement of student voice and building relationships throughout this year's blog posts.


  1. Rachel,
    So many good ideas here! Thank you for sharing. Can I ask how you made the goals graphic? What app did you use? Love the idea of stapling it to their work folders. Definitely stealing that idea!

  2. I used Piktochart. We could set up a meeting and I can show you!