7 Ways to Show Your Students You Care
You may adore all of your students. You may not. However, it is vitally important that each of your students believes that you like him or her.
There are two reasons that this is true.
First, humans show subtle differences in the way we treat people based on our beliefs about them. For example, we touch people we like more often that we touch people we don't like. We give people we think are smart more time to answer questions. We make more eye contact with people we trust.
Every time we interact with another individual, his brain sends out chemicals in response. Some chemicals create a positive environment for learning while others create a toxic environment. Teachers would never want to create a toxic learning environment for a student, but if we are not showing students that we like them, we may be doing exactly that.
The second reason we want students to believe that we like them is that every child needs to feel safe in order to grow and develop. Feeling liked allows the child to feel safe. While we can't make sure every child feels safe at home, we can take steps to help every child feel safe at school.
Hopefully, you are now on board with the idea that it is important for every student to feel liked by the teacher. Let's be honest, you probably wouldn't have come to this blog post unless you already felt this way. So, let's move on to how to show affection for your students (even if you have to fake it.)
I will just pause here and reveal one small secret that every teacher knows. We don't automatically like every student. I know some teachers who can't stand the troublemakers. I know other teachers who don't like the know-it-alls. I, personally, have trouble with entitled kids. I adore the troublemakers. They are usually my favorite students because I know what they need - love, attention, and limits. Ironically, the entitled kids need the same thing, and I can usually learn to like the entitled kids too. But it is hard for me.
First, the fastest way to show your students you like them is to touch them. Not in an inappropriate or gross way, of course. Just a pat on the shoulder or a high five in the morning. Scientists found that the more rats were touched, the faster they ran a maze. This is because when we are touched our brains release oxytocin. Oxytocin makes us feel happy, relaxed, and ready to learn. Oxytocin is also released when we feel social connections, so eye contact can have the same effect.
Another chemical, serotonin, is also responsible for our moods. However, 80% of the serotonin in our body is located in our gut. If you are hungry, it affects your serotonin levels. If you think a kid is hungry, let her have a snack. It can come from her lunch or your secret stash. After eating, she will feel better, and she will know you helped her.
Look for something to like in your students. Ask them about their interests to try to find common ground. Maybe you both love to ski. Maybe you are both terrified of snakes. (Both true for me.) Don't have the kids fill out questionnaires. This may save time, but you will miss out on an opportunity to interact with the kids. Talk to one or two kids in the morning when they arrive, a couple more kids throughout the day, and one or two in the afternoon as they are packing up. It won't be long before you have had a meaningful conversation with every kid. You can then build from there.
Let each student hear you compliment him to another adult. If your class is standing in line for lunch, chat with another teacher and mention something amazing the kid standing near you did recently. It will make the kid feel special to know that you are proud of him.
Send a compliment note home. There are tons of templates for these at places like Teachers pay Teachers, but you could also write in on a Post-it note and get the same effect. Kids will love taking a special note home to share with their parents. It will show the kids (and their parents) that you think they are special.
Ask each of your students for favors. Believe it or not, we feel most liked when someone asks us for help. Instead of always assigning special tasks to one or two kids, rotate through your entire class. Each kid will have a chance to feel special - and liked.
Smile! The day can get hectic, and a classroom full of kids can make you feel crazy, but it is important to smile! Kids won't know why you are frowing. Individual students might think you are frowning at them because you don't like them. Every so often, try a smile check. You set the tone of your classroom.
I am sure you have some strategies to show your students you care. Share them in the comments below to keep the conversation going.