If you know your students well, then your classroom will run much smoother, and helping students understand will be easier. When we take the time to get to know our students, it really pays off in the end. It’s very much like classroom management: If you take the time in the beginning – really take the time – it’s all worth it and saves you time in the long run.
Yes, we cannot get to know everything about our students in one day or even in a week, but we can learn a large bulk of it with these 10 ideas below to help you get started. As the school year progresses, you’ll continue to learn more about your sweetums. (And, of course, they are in no particular order.)
Get To Know Your Students with These 10 Ideas
1.) One-to-one conferring. I like to sit down with my students one-to-one at least once a week and just talk. We set goals for the week and discuss anything the student feels they need to work on. It’s our chance to discuss things they felt they did well and things they really want to work on. Then, throughout the week I can help him or her with those goals and check in. It’s a great way for me to show my students that I’m definitely here to encourage and cheer them on! (Plus, they are getting that individual attention they need!) I list out my students and divide them up by the day. Then, I try to make sure throughout that day that I get to them at some point.
2.) POW/WOW Meetings. Once a week we have a pow and a wow meeting. Students sit in a circle and take turns (just move around the circle) telling their pow (something that makes them sad) and their wow (something that was wow – awesome). Everyone just listens. Sometimes I allow the students to ask for advice, but if we are short on time, then we just listen and go on to the next student. Students are allowed to say pass if they don’t want to share. In the beginning, you get a lot of “passes” and even “I have a wow but no pow.” That’s fine. (This is NOT related to the American Indian dance. I learned it from a veteran teacher in my first year of teaching. I’m not sure why it is called that, but it’s not meant to offend anyone and would gladly call it another name.)
3.) Observation. You can learn a lot about students through simple observation. On the first day of school, I take note of who they talk to most, so I know who they are friends with, I take note if they read often, I take note of how they spend their time, etc. Observation is an amazing way to learn about people – all people.
4.) An Inventory or a Survey. At the beginning of the year, I always provide my students with an inventory on the first day to find out more about their likes and dislikes, thoughts and viewpoints. It’s a great way to get to know your students – straight from the horse’s mouth! There is also a learning inventory attached based on Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences.
5.) The Parents. You can learn a lot about your students from the parents. Just like number four above, I always ask the parents for their input. I provide them also with a survey to fill out. I provide that on the night of the open house. You don’t have to do these forms at the beginning of the school year – you can do them at any time.
6.) Writing Activities. I like to include a lot of writing activities that involve personal responses or personal narratives. These can be in the form of written papers, personal reflections, quick writes, or even just written responses. I have had students write to me in their journal, and I have responded. Sometimes that is the best way to get a student who is feeling very shy to feel most comfortable with sharing.
7.) Have Lunch Together. One way that you could easily get to know your students is by having lunch together. This could be in the form of once in a while heading to the cafeteria and eating at the lunch table with your entire class or just inviting a few students to eat in the classroom with you. Either way, you can get to know your students, and they will get a huge kick out of it!
8.) Actively Listen. I like to ask a lot of questions – but then you have to make sure you are listening carefully, not only to the message they are saying but also to the message they are not saying. Sometimes kids are speaking with hidden messages. You have to read body language and really listen. I also listen to conversations between them and their friends. Sometimes that is how you can find out things that are bothering them, but they don’t tell you. It’s not eavesdropping – it’s caring.
9.) Community Building Activities. These are often done at the beginning of the year and then no more. They can be done throughout the year. Little games, icebreakers and community building activities are great ways to see your students interact in ways they are more comfortable with and in problem-solving mode.
10.) Outside of School. I do dare say it. I know you are already committed to so much, and if your district is like mine, then you already have to commit to a certain number of activities outside of school hours, such as math night or whatever, but really, you’ll be amazed how simple and impactful that is on a child. It’s also a way to see a child in their own environment. I used to always say, “My child is a different person at home than at school.” Just consider it… There’s no law that says you have to…