This is going to be a very challenging back to school season for all of us. One of the biggest concerns I have heard from many teacher friends is about how to build those important relationships with their students when they are either all virtual or have to maintain social distancing and wear a mask in the classroom.
As we all know, building relationships with our students at the beginning of the year helps them feel more secure, supported, and loved which makes them more likely to want to engage and participate in learning which can lead to less misbehavior.
In this blog post I am sharing some ideas, free downloads, & resources for how to build relationships and connections with your students at the start of the school year whether you are beginning virtually or in the classroom.
1. Send a Welcome Letter, Meet the Teacher Note
The unknown is scary for all of us. This year more than ever both students and parents may be very apprehensive about what the school year will be like. Getting advanced information about who you are and what fun activities you have planned or what to expect when they arrive or log-in on the first day goes a long way in easing those fears.
You can begin to build a relationship with your students before school even starts by sending them a Meet the Teacher and/or welcome letter. Young students love getting something special addressed just to them whether it is through regular mail or email. Telling them about yourself helps students begin to make connections with you. Including a photo of yourself helps give them a visual connection to you as well. They will know who to look for on the first day of school or who to expect to see on the first day of virtual learning.
Sending an accompanying welcome letter with what they will expect to do or see on the first day or week of school eases anxieties. You can also include log-in information for virtual learning or a special invitation for your first Zoom Meeting or Google Meet.
Since I am a strong believer in sending welcome letters prior to the beginning of school, I wanted to make it easier for you to do during this hectic back to school season. Therefore, I created 10 different pre-designed Meet the Teacher & Welcome Letter templates for you in fun themes that will help get students excited about the school year. I also included student gift tags so you can have something special waiting for students on the first day or send it with their take-home packets.
ALL the text is editable so you can continue to use the templates throughout the school year. Change the text for your monthly newsletters, parent communication, Zoom Meeting or Google Meet invitations, class notes, etc. Use the Meet the Teacher form for each student as a get-to-know-you / student of the week activity. Change the text on the gift tag for surprises throughout the school year.
The templates can be print or digital to accommodate in-person and virtual classrooms and I have included both a Google Slides and PowerPoint format for easy editing. Watch this short video to see an example of how to edit the templates.
Here are the themes for the templates. Click any of the links to view more details:
2. Get to Know You Questions (Free)
CLICK HERE to download a list of 30 get to know you questions for young students.
These questions can be used as ice-breakers for the first weeks of school and will help you get to know your students in a fun way.
Students are going to want to talk with their classmates both in the classroom and online. Since they have to be social distanced or in an online meeting this may be difficult. Therefore, it is important to have social time built-in to your schedule to give students an opportunity to talk. Use the get to know you questions during this time to promote discussions.
You can also set up 1:1 virtual or in-person meetings with your students to get to know them better. Use some of the questions to help the conversation along.
3. Use Students’ Names as Much as Possible
Say your students’ names as much as possible, especially during online meetings. Hearing their name helps students feel better connected to you.
Name Game – This will help you get to know students’ names and also assess their letter knowledge. Go through the alphabet and tell students to stand up when they hear the first letter in their name. When they stand up, have them tell the class their name.
4. Make the Rules Together
Students are more likely to follow rules when they have a hand in creating them. Creating the rules together as a class shows your students that you care about their feelings and also value their opinions. It is also a great way to begin to build a classroom community.
Even if you are beginning the year virtually, setting rules together about how to behave during your online meetings will help them run more smoothly.
5. Get Moving, Get to Know Each Other Activity
Since your students may not be able to move freely around your classroom or have to sit in front of a computer, this get to know you game incorporates movement and helps with listening skills. It will also help students see which of their classmates have similar interests as them and also helps you get to know your students.
Ask students questions and have them do specific movements as the answer. For example, say “Do you have any pets? If you do, clap your hands. If you do not, wave.”. Students can then look around and see who is doing the same movement as them (this also works during Zoom Meetings if you have it set so all students can see each other).
You can also give 3 choices once students become familiar with how it works. Do you have brothers and sisters? If you have a sister hop on 1 foot. If you have a brother, march. If you have both, jump up & down on both feet.
6. Share Your Favorite Places
Use the virtual background option in Zoom to show some of your favorite places. If you are not using Zoom, show pictures on your whiteboard. Use a different place each day and see if students can guess where you are or where the picture was taken. Then explain why it is one of your favorite places. This not only helps students get to know you better, but it gets them excited about logging in every day and seeing where you are or seeing what the picture is.
If you are recording your distance learning videos in your classroom, show a different place in the room each day.
If you do not know how to use the virtual background in Zoom here are directions:
- In the Home section of Zoom, click the Settings button (the gear in the upper right)
- Click Virtual Background along the left-hand side.
- Click the plus sign to add your own image.
7. Be Real
This year is going to be a learning experience for all of us and there are bound to be mistakes. That’s OK! Let students see you make mistakes. Embrace them, laugh about them when appropriate. This will help students understand that it’s OK not to be perfect and they will be more likely to take risks that increase their learning.
8. Embrace Your Students’ Interests
Once you get to know some of your students’ interests, talk about them during morning meeting or when you are talking 1:1 with them. Try to incorporate their interests into your lessons or activities.
I hope these ideas were helpful in building relationships with your students. I know this is going to be a crazy & challenging school year, but together we can get through this, lift each other up, and provide students with wonderful learning experiences. If there is anything I can do for you or if you have any questions please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.