How to Improve Student Relationships Through Simple Writing
Communication, like in any relationship, is key to building a positive classroom community. Although we know it’s important, finding the time to talk authentically with students can be difficult. However, there are a few strategies that build relationships with students and make a big impact in classroom behavior. These three classroom management strategies (and free writing resources) are simple and are sure to improve behavior management in any classroom.
If you’ve followed my blog for any length of time, you’ve read my post on Six Ways to Reach Your Most Difficult Students. It was written in response to a child I had in my class several years ago who truly changed all I previously knew about managing behaviors.
Assigned to multiple diagnoses, she was more obstinate and troubled than any child I had ever worked with. She turned everything I knew about behavior management on its head. Nothing I tried worked. Both she and I left school tired and unhappy nearly every day.
Something had to change.
I began tearing apart all of my actions and verbal responses - even those I *knew* were right - looking for anything I might be doing to worsen the madness. I soon realized I was doing a lot wrong.
I was focused on the behavior rather than the child. And it was only when I began to see her for who she was rather than what she was doing that things began to change.
One of the greatest lessons I learned from that year and the experience of having her as a student was that communication is paramount to all else when trying to make a difference in student behaviors.
In my head, I already knew this was key to making other relationships, like a marriage, work. So I’m not sure why I hadn’t transferred that understanding to the context of a classroom. But, like many other things in life, sometimes our actions don’t follow what we know in our head to be right.
I began working on my communication skills with her and allowing her to “communicate” however she felt comfortable. And I found that didn’t always mean verbally. She really took to writing and began processing her feelings in a journal.
We began writing to each other - she to me when she was feeling out of control and me to her in response to what she had written or whenever I felt she needed encouragement.
It worked wonders.
Building a strong relationship with students through communication doesn’t mean blocking out great segments of time or hosting therapy sessions on life.
Sometimes it’s leaving a simple note.
Sometimes it’s just a reminder that a student is noticed - that they matter.
If you’re feeling stressed about behavior issues happening in your classroom, might I suggest that you take a look at how well you and your students communicate with each other.
Perhaps it’s time to do the work of opening the doors and showing students it’s safe to walk through.
Although positive communication can develop in multiple ways - I’ve found three that are both extremely effective and honestly, quite simple. They all center around writing. Let me share them with you.
1 | Leave a note
Isn’t this true even for adults? It is for me.
My husband travels quite a bit. We’ve grown into the habit of writing short notes for each other and hiding them in places that will be discovered while the other is away. It’s such a simple thing - and the notes are never long (always fitting onto a sticky square) - but it’s a day changer.
To be going about some mundane household chore and find the handwriting of my husband posted inside the fridge reminding me that he loves me is more than enough to make me stop, smile, and feel appreciated.
Remind kids that they are loved and appreciated by doing the same.
Leave little notes - prewritten or personalized - on desks, in lockers, or wherever they are easily found. Of course, the more personal the better, but a pre-written note left on a desk is better than the personal note you never write because you can’t find the time for it.
These Encouragement Notes are just that - quick, short reminders that students are seen, are important, and are noticed. You can use them in a variety of ways. Print on regular paper and add a note to the back or simply sign your name at the bottom.
Or use the included template to print onto sticky notes. Don’t like a saying? No problem. Use the editable Google Doc included to make the quotes your own.
They’re free for newsletter subscribers. You can find them in The Treasury.
2 | Have a lunch date
Do you do lunch bunch? If you don’t, I suggest starting one next week.
There are various ways to make lunch bunch work in your classroom - you could use it as an incentive for some milestone earned, have it for those students who were exceptionally behaved for a sub, or more importantly for those who are struggling.
However you manage it - and no matter how often you have it - just do it.
Kids absolutely love it and you’ll soon find yourself looking forward to it as much as they do.
You’ll get to know all kinds of things about your students - things you’d never learn while going about your teaching day. And they’ll get to learn things about you - like how building relationships with them is more important than having 20 minutes of peace to yourself.
It’s a game changer.
Ok, so there’s not much writing happening here. But your written invitation (pre-printed or otherwise) is what will get them through the door and get them talking.
These Lunch Bunch Invitations are also available in The Treasury.
3 | Write letters
Letter writing. Such a lost art.
Let’s be real - who doesn't get excited when they have an actual letter waiting for them in the mailbox amongst the sea of bills and junk mail?
Letters are wonderful gifts and I’m thankful for the few friends and family members who still believe in their power.
Write letters to your students. Another strategy that can be done in so many ways.
Have students write a letter to you (or their guardians) at the end of every Friday telling all about their week. Or have students spend the first part of Monday morning telling about their weekend and setting goals for the new week. Better still, have students write letters when they are struggling and need to express deep emotions they can’t quite find the words for.
Most importantly, write back. Don’t allow the letters to become some type of journal that never gets checked or is attached to a grade.
Write to students and let them know they matter and are heard.
When I was struggling with my student, we began writing to each other. And, as I’ve already stated, it turned out to be a game changer. She began to trust me and I began to understand the true reasons for her struggles.
I can’t say that our year was all rainbows and bunnies after we started writing to each other, but I can say that it did make a dramatic difference that improved both students’ and my own well being that year.
This Encouragement Journal has 36 2-page spreads (one for each week of the school year) where students can write letters to you and you can respond. Each student page has an inspirational quote at the bottom to keep them going throughout the week. Blank pages, and an editable version, is included in case you plan to use the pages more than once per week.
Are you struggling to connect with your students? Feel free to leave comments or questions for me or the community to respond and provide support.
Save these tips for later: