Connecting with Students: Be a Jack-Of-All-Trades

If students struggle to connect with you… they may struggle to connect with your content.

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Teenagers are often piled into one rebellious and technology-obsessed category. But teachers know that students are eclectic… they have lots of ideas, interests, and hobbies. 

Some students are so passionate about football that they spend hours a day checking scores, learning statistics, and watching game videos.

Others will perk up in class only when you are discussing politics or current events… they are ready to share their knowledge, opinions, and ideas only when it comes to this.

And still others are just suffering through class until the moment after school that they can reconnect with friends on Call of Duty.

Connecting Can Be Tough

Naturally, as a person, you will connect with some students more than others.

For example, I love watching basketball. I can easily have a conversation with a student about the NCAA tournament or a questionable referee call in the big game against a rival school. 

Or as an avid Harry Potter fan, I can instantly connect with the student who is wearing a Hogwarts shirt or has a Marauder’s Map phone cover. Got a wizard trivia question? Throw it at me.

Unfortunately, not every student is going to share the same passions I do… particularly as I get older and so do my interests.

Yes, as a person, you will connect with some students more than others… but as a TEACHER, you must connect with them ALL.

Connecting with a student is key to getting them to engage in your classroom.

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As teachers, we must be Jacks-Of-All-Trades!

Does this mean striving to stay up to date with the most current teenage culture all the time? Absolutely not. Please do not try… it will not be successful.

You can’t be expected to know everything about everything. However, you should know something about something. Or at least, be prepared to ask questions and show interest.

For example, when students begin talking about working on their trucks… I ask questions. My knowledge of vehicle repair and maintenance is limited… I know how to put gas in my Malibu and use the windshield wipers. And although I do not necessarily have an interest in learning how to change brake pads or work on a transmission, I can easily ask questions to show interest in what my students are doing or talking about.

Not only will your students love that you are genuinely interested in them and their hobbies… but it will give you “insider information” on how to make your content engaging and relevant to them.

Students enjoy talking about themselves. Making them comfortable enough in your classroom to talk about what they love is a step in the right direction to getting them conversing about your content!

Strategies for Connecting with Students

  • Make connections about things you know.

Do you have a similar hobby or interest? Talk about it with students! Draw connections between the things you enjoy and why you enjoy them. Allow students to see your interest.

  • Make connections about things you don’t know.

Do you notice a unique hobby or activity that your student is involved in? Get them talking about it! Let them educate you on the details. Allow students to see your interest.

  • Ask questions.

Do you know nothing? Start with some probing questions! (What did you do this weekend? Where do you work? What plans do you have for after graduation?) When they respond, allow students to see your interest.

  • Research.

Are you really struggling with getting a student to open up? Ask around to your colleagues… someone must know something. Check out what kind of courses a student seems to enjoy or excel in. Take particular notice of what a student is doing on his or her phone… social media? Sports websites? Playing a video game? Start a conversation! Allow students to see your interest.

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When students see that you are interested in them, they are more likely to be interested in you and the things you are talking about (your content). Use these improved relationships and this knowledge to create relevant and engaging lessons for your students.

You don’t have to know everything, but you should certainly know something.

Keep the conversation going…

  • Do you find that connecting with students improves your classroom culture?
  • How do you connect with your students?
  • What can be some obstacles in connecting with students?
  • What strategies would you suggest others try in connecting with students?

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P.S. This is leading into my next post… Student Choice: Ideas for Making It Work. Keep an eye out for it this week!
If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment below or sharing it on Facebook or Twitter!

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