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Connecting with Students

Making an effort to connect with your students can have a meaningful impact on the relationships you form. And we all know relationships are the foundation for any great school.

*This video contains graphic language*

Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Adam) does not know if he will survive his cancer diagnosis in the 2011 film 50/50. His best friend, Seth Rogen (Kyle), is with him every step of the way.

In this scene things finally come to a head for Adam. Frustrated and uncertain about his fate, Adam berates Kyle for his selfish actions. Up to this point Kyle has seemingly ignored the potential death sentence of Adam’s cancer diagnosis. Kyle’s focus has remained on the stereotypical concerns of a mid-twenties male.

However, when Adam drops his inebriated friend off at his apartment he notices something while washing up. A copy of the book Facing Cancer Together is in the bathroom. Not only does he discover the book, but sees several dog-eared pages. With no dialogue we learn that Kyle’s actions were not self-centered. He was trying to distract Adam from constantly focusing on his own mortality. Kyle was ensuring that if it were in fact Adam’s final months, he was going to enjoy them.

There are times when connections come easy for teachers and students. A physical education teacher will often form relationships with athletically inclined students because they share a common love for sports. Band teachers will gravitate towards students with a passion for playing music. Students with a love for the Civil War can often talk with social studies teachers for extended periods of time.

It is most challenging to make connections when there is no common interest, but sometimes these situations can yield the most impressive results. In these cases, books and music are two easy ways to start building a connection.

Education is constantly changing. One thing that does not change is that adolescents love listening to music. The artists and genres are not the same from 20 or even 5 years ago, but the passion and opinions about music remain as powerful as ever. It is impossible to walk in any middle or high school in the country and not notice students transitioning with their AirPods in.

Students are more than happy to share the names of artists and songs they are listening to. One thing they do not expect is for teachers to go out and actually listen to their music. But in doing so, a teacher may accomplish two important things; the teacher might learn something about his student and he might form a meaningful connection with that student.

It is difficult to get into the psyche of a middle schooler. Often, adults choose to block out that period of time from their lives. And even if they could remember, a lot has changed. By listening to the lyrics of current musicians, teachers get a glimpse into some of the social and emotional issues students are facing. Additionally, everyone has a social media presence. In taking the time to explore popular musicians on Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter you may be able to uncover some of the issues they are speaking about or against. Often, students steal their ideas and perspectives from the musicians they listen to.

There is certainly no guarantee that teachers will enjoy the same music that their students are listening to. But, when you make the effort to listen, you are able to intelligently speak with your students about the music. You are able to ask specific questions about songs and bands. Even if you do not love the music, students will notice and appreciate the effort that you are making.

Another area where administrators and teachers can connect with students is through literature. It is extremely easy to go to the media center and ask the media center specialist what are the most checked out books. Because young adult novels are so easy to read, an educator can quickly go through the most popular selections.

Just like you see students with AirPods transitioning from class to class, it is easy to pop into the cafeteria and see students reading off in the corner. To be able to go up to a student who is reading and make a comment about the book they are reading (because you have read the book) will shock and amaze a student. That comment will sometimes lead to you making book recommendations to the student and better yet that student making book recommendation for you.

Books and music are just two examples of ways to connect with your students. There are countless other interests that students immerse themselves in. You do not need look very hard to find out what they are. Even though you might not understand how those books or music speak to your students (just like Kyle could never understand what it was like for Adam to be dealing with cancer), your students will appreciate the time and energy you are putting in to making stronger connections with them.

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