How I encourage students to open up

Presented by Ask, Listen, Learn; Author: Ella Maya, 6th grade teacher in Phoenix, AZ.

Do you remember what it was like to be 11 years old?  Regardless of when that was, I’m fairly certain it was an awkward time.  Crushes. Chores. Homework. Making difficult choices? The pressure of it all! All of the “weird” things happening to you and your body.  Yet you’re expected to raise your hand and volunteer to answer a question or read a passage from a book?!? Nice try!

Now imagine being the teacher in a classroom with 32 of these angsty 11 & 12  year olds. What do you do to get these more than capable students to open up and share? How do you create an environment that encourages these students to be themselves and willingly participate? Simple.  It starts with a hello.

Even after 17 years in the classroom, I strive to find ways to connect with my students. To build relationships. Relationships built on trust and respect and honesty. Kids need options. They deserve options. So each morning I make it a point to open the door and greet each of them in a way that they choose. It may be a fist bump, a hug, a dance, or even a personalized handshake. We laugh, and what I hope it gives them is a sense of belonging. They know that I respect their choices. Their individuality. This leads to those relationships.  The ones many kids need at this age. Someone to go to when they are completely unsure how to go about making the choices being placed in front of them.

I do my best to show them I am human and I struggle with making the right choices too. Whether it is about being healthy, getting enough sleep so that I can be at my best for them, to my snacking choices…as much as I’d love to dive into a bag of chips. I might bring in something healthy to snack on just to show them that I am doing my best to make these choices. We discuss what these little changes in our lives mean.  How a good night of sleep allows their growing brain to get the rest it needs so that it can be ready for another day of learning! How getting outside to walk their pets or play a game of basketball will re-energize them to get through the rest of their day. I do all of these things to make sure they know that when they struggle, they can feel confident enough to ask for help.  I want them to feel comfortable to come to me or anyone with their concerns. That we will all come together for each other. We can discuss choices that come up in life.

Some may think that this is just “fluff” or “just one more thing to do”, but it’s so much more than that.  All of these “extra” things create a stable and secure classroom environment. One that instills a sense of responsibility and accountability in each of my students, to either make good choices on their own or to ask for help in doing making those choices.  They will leave with strategies to navigate situations from “should I do my homework or play video games” today, to “Should I say yes to this person who is trying to get me to do something unhealthy or irresponsible?” If they don’t feel confident in making these choices alone, they know they can come to me and for guidance and support. Like it or not, the age of children being offered alcohol is much younger than you think and we need to address these things with our students.  Ask, Listen Learn has a great tip sheet that helps guide the conversations on these important topics.  

In the end, all of the “fluff” is all worth it to know that what we have created together as a classroom community is a place where everyone is welcome and comfortable enough to share every success and every challenge. At the end of each day,  we say, in unison, “Depart with a happy heart, return ready to learn!” Leaving any mistakes or bad choices in the past and returning every morning to a new and fresh start. No hurt, no grudges, just a new day with endless possibilities

 

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