At a training yesterday, a colleague shared an excellent idea for strengthening a relationship with a student–possibly a student you have had trouble connecting with previously.
Two copies of a book
Have the student pick out a book. Then, you can check two copies of the book out of the library, keep one and give the other to the student to take home. By checking out a book in your name and giving it the student, you prove to her that you trust her.
Agree on a particular set of pages or chapter that you will BOTH read that night and will discuss for 2-3 minutes before or after class tomorrow. During that quick discussion the next day, agree on a new chapter to read that night, and repeat! You could also possibly pick a slightly longer section and agree to check-in a few days down the line instead of the next day.
Strengthen your relationship
In addition to showing that you trust the student by giving her a book checked-out in your name, you are also showing that you care about her enough to want to share the experience of reading this book together.
This gives you something positive to discuss together each day. The student gets to see another side of you beyond the distant, or boring, or mean, or annoying, (or whatever) teacher they may currently think you are. You are reminded that this student is more than her grades, test scores, and behavior referrals.
Hopefully these brief, shared discussions each day lead to further strong conversations between you and her and a strengthening of your relationship.
Chronic attendance problems
This can also be a helpful technique to try with students who have unresolved attendance issues. If your relationship with the student is currently not sufficient to be able to uncover the true root cause of the missed days of school, sharing this reading experience with that student may help.
First, your relationship with that student will be strengthened, which can hopefully make it possible to figure out why exactly the student is missing school in the first place (and make it more likely that you can effectively intervene on those issues). Second, when the student gets to the point where they are looking forward to your daily discussions of a chapter with them before class, they have an authentic reason to WANT to be in school, which may minimize attendance problems.
Reading: not just for English teachers anymore!
It is also important to note that this applies not just to people working in language arts classrooms. In fact, my guess is that this tool may be even more powerful in a math class (or science, social studies, etc.) since many students don’t expect their math teacher to read a book with them!
It is also important to consider how the effects of this tool differ compared to simply assigning a whole class a chapter of book to read and discussing it the next day–which teachers at all levels do every day.
The major difference here is that, instead of framing this as a class assignment, the student can think of this as a cool thing you are doing just for them: you had an idea of something to do just with that student, instead of just “doing your job” by assigning homework.
HT: J. Warn, K. Brentano