Part II The A.C.T. Strategy. How one educator helped me change the course of my life while in prison
While part one of this article covered the ‘A’ in the formula, Asking Questions, this article moves on to the second stage, "Creating a Connection."
If you can’t form some type of connection with your students, you’ll be facing an uphill battle when you try to re-engaged and help them learn to believe in themselves and what they are capable of accomplishing in their lives.
Teachers are all different. Some try to be a student’s friend first and little more. Others are no-nonsense and really only want to concern themselves with a student during school hours. However, walking a fine line between teacher and confidant is important. You need to be sure to establish that you’re the teacher and that you’re in charge while still letting students know that they can contact you when they have questions or concerns or need someone to speak with in confidence. Basically, it’s very important that you let them know that you care about their lives whether inside or outside of the classroom.
You can tell when a student has made a connection to a teacher. They want to impress them, to get their approval. When no real bond or connection exists, students usually don’t care whether or not the teacher approves of their behavior and as a result will disrupt the class, ignore assignments, and stand out in other negative ways. It’s about respect, but also about knowing that a particular teacher really does have an interest in their life.
Problem students in one class may be great students in another. It’s a common sight that I’ve seen time and time again and I was that student.
In many cases when I've asked a student why they acted out in one class while in another they made great grades, it usually came down to their opinion of the teacher. "That teacher doesn’t care about me or what I do" is a common reason given for why a student acts out in a particular class.
If you’re ready to start building a solid relationship between yourself and a student, there are a few things that to keep in mind which will help you do just that. It can take time and effort but will be well worth it in the end when you see the results.
1. One on One Time: Simply put, you can’t form a solid connection with a student unless you take the time to connect and interact with them one on one. Today, class sizes are growing and the number of teachers isn’t keeping up with that growth. It’s not as easy as it once was to create that one on one time with students, but it’s more important than ever before. You may need to work harder, be creative, and put forth great effort to do so, but making the time to have one on one interaction will really work. For example, if a student is called to the office for disciplinary action, just taking a moment to sit down with that student, talk about the situation for a second, and let them know that you still believe in them and that you know they have great potential can make a difference in some cases.
Example: While in solitary confinement, Mr. Lyles would always stop by my cell with words of encouragement.
2. Self-Disclosure ‘“ Helping a student connect to you involves some trust. If they feel like their emotions, feelings, and life is being laid bare before you, they can be hesitant to really talk about the situation. However, if you reveal some of your own stories and something about your past you could very well help them see that you have things in common. Whether it’s a story about your parents’ divorce or your own troubled youth, sometimes helping them understand that you’ve risen above challenges as well can help them open up to you. This is even more effective if you have stories that are similar to the problems a student is going through themselves. If you have shared similar troubles, you’ll be able to form an even deeper connection to one another and really stimulate communication between each other.
Example: Mr. lyles shared with me how he had almost gone to prison himself.
3. Communication ‘“ Finally, and most importantly, is communication. This includes verbal, nonverbal, and written communication and no one form of communication is any more important than another. The key is to maintain those lines of communication at all times. As mentioned above, finding one on one time is hard since schedules are busy and class sizes are growing. You won’t always be able to have discussions with your students but something as simple as a hand on the shoulder and a smile can help let them know you are concerned about them or that you’re proud of an achievement. Notes on tests or homework scores are an excellent way to keep a dialogue going. Something like ‘Great job!’ is obvious, or on lower scores a ‘Keep trying! I know you can do it!’ In other ares, a more personalized message helps students really feel like you care. A simple note saying, ‘Great game last week!’ to let them know that you’re paying attention even when it doesn’t seem to them like you are.
All three of these steps are indeed forms of communication, but each one is different and well worth remembering. Creating a connection to your students is one of the most important things that you can do to foster their education and their performance. Think back to your own youth. Odds are you have fond memories of one or more teachers, and it’s very likely that those fond memories are built on the level of interest they took in you. In short, your own childhood and education was likely formed with help from a teacher who took the time to create a connection with you.
And it’s worth mentioning that today teachers play a lot of roles. In some cases students view their teacher as really the most important person in their lives outside of their parents, and students who have poor relationships or no relationship with their parents may really only have a teacher to confide in. Be sure you take the time to build that bond with your students, and they’ll likely benefit from it. Creating a connection could literally change a student’s life as it did in mine.
Ian J. Humphrey is a motivational speaker whose life was turned around by an educator while serving a prison sentence as a teenager. During his professional development talks, he shares more about the educator and the strategies that helped him the most.
If you want to know more about Ian, please visit his website, www.beianspired.com.
He is available for Keynote presentations, workshops and breakout sessions.