As we step into a brand-new year, I want to share a tradition I've embraced for the past few years which is choosing a "word of the year". For this new year, the word that God has revealed to me is RELATIONSHIPS. Once I discovered my word, I realized it has come up several times in my recent posts on social media, as well as by my last podcast guest, Mr. Jacob Chastain, when he spoke about supporting writers in the classroom. I am not surprised because I know how crucial strong relationships are in teaching our young students. I'd like to explore the significance of this word and how it ties into the crucial aspect of building meaningful connections with our students as writers.
Discovering the Importance of Relationships
Reflecting on my teaching journey, I remember a time when I didn't fully appreciate the value of building strong relationships with students. Although I have always loved children and have had a caring report with them, as a new teacher, I did not see how knowing all about students' likes and dislikes did anything for their academic success. I felt as though taking the time to do so would just impede our progress. Initially resistant, I've come to realize that understanding students on a deeper level is integral to their learning experience.
If you think back to a successful time of learning in your past, perhaps with a specific teacher or even a coach, I imagine you would find that one major factor for that success was the positive and authentic relationship you had with them. If this relationship is anything like the one I am remembering, it was filled with a sense of honest caring, genuine curiosity, and consistent encouragement and support. When those things are not present, we are often closed off and inhibit our actions, which impedes our learning and growth. With those however, the possibilities are endless!
Students need to know we care. According to Rimm-Kaufman & Sandilos in their article: Improving Students' Relationships with Teachers (2019), "Strong, positive relationships between teachers and students in the classroom are fundamental to promoting student engagement, social-emotional development, and academic growth". Although knowing things such as students' activities, interests and dislikes is helpful, strong relationships involve genuinely caring about their lives, dreams, and challenges. The trust, respect, and honesty fostered through these connections create an environment where students feel seen, heard, and valued. It's not just about teaching; it's about creating meaningful connections that contribute to their overall growth and success.
Writing is a performance, like singing and aria or dancing a jig.
As we shift the focus to writing instruction, the impact of positive relationships with our writers is even more vital. When writers write, they are revealing a piece of themselves. Their thoughts, feelings, memories, opinions and more are coming out on paper for others to see. Whether it is a kindergartner using drawing to tell their story or a seventh grader writing their memoir piece, writing is a vulnerable process. I have found that students often have trouble even sharing their initial ideas due to the fear of being "wrong" or "not good enough".
A strong teacher-student relationship creates a safe space for students to express themselves in writing. When students know you care about them as people and as writers, they will realize they are not writing to be judged by their work, but to grow as writers. They will feel comfortable enough to take risks and share their ideas. They will then be able to continue on a long journey of being of writer that will take them further than they can imagine!
Teacher, I realize you have so much to consider when teaching your writers, and it is not easy to prioritize! I encourage you though to reflect on the quality of relationships with your students. By considering ways to deepen connections, share experiences, and create a supportive community, we can enhance our effectiveness in supporting our students' growth and development as writers.
Wishing you all a fantastic year of meaningful connections and impactful teaching!
For more about relationships with your writers, listen in to this episode!