Tag Archives: relationships

Life Long Mentors

I once wrote a post about the first time a student followed me on Twitter (I had to go looking way back for that post). I ended up with my own personal policy of not following students on social media until after they graduate. I didn’t block them in any way from following me, but I did not reciprocate.

To be honest, I regret this self imposed policy now. Also I definitely didn’t hold myself to it the past few years.  I have since connected with many students and it is fun to watch them live their lives. Many have finished college, are getting married, having children, and starting their careers.

It is very popular to say how important it is for teachers to build relationships with their students. We all love the old quote, “Students won’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” But I do believe that cliche is true and have personally seen the difference caring makes in the classroom. But…..

How much do we really care if we treat each year of students as a “new batch” and forget about the old ones?

If we really care about our students than it should be for more than one year. Now I realize that there are physical limitations to the amount of caring we can do after students leave our classes. I have had thousands of students over the years and would be lying if I said that I can remember them all, especially their names 🙂

But social media is a great tool to keep up with as many students as possible. It is impossible to have the same close relationship with every student, but we can connect with many and our influence can be multiplied.

One of the groups of students that I am most strongly connected to is my first class at the wall-to-wall PBL school that I taught at. It was a new school and an exciting experience for both myself and the students. I looped with the kids so I got to teach them for two years in a row and for some of them I taught again as seniors. The length of time together and the powerful culture of our school resulted in deep bonds.

The other way that I have bonded with students is through meaningful projects. Our best projects got students excited about the world and making a difference. Students learned about who they were as a person and what mattered to them. Some of them discovered new career interests and skillsets that they didn’t even realize that they had! It was my privilege to encourage them in their unique paths as they explored their passions.

When I say that I care for students, I don’t want it to be for one year. Social media gives me the ability to be a lifelong mentor and friend to them. So for all of the negativity that can be found in these online spaces, don’t forget that they are also powerful tools to keep up with our students.

How can you structure your school and leverage social media for long term relationships with your students?


Kaechele vs. Holly

Only picture I can find of both of us :)

Only picture I can find of both of us 🙂

Our students (Andrew Holly is my team teacher) were preparing to debate the motive of the United States during our period of expansion in the Spanish American War. A couple of days before the actual debate we had a practice debate with silly topics for practice. We wanted students to get used to the format, see how much research they needed to do in preparation, and practice public speaking with no pressure. We condensed the time limits by a third to fit all of them in one day.

We used such topics as vampires vs. zombies, hotdogs vs. hamburgs, red vs. blue, Michigan vs. Michigan State, and our favorite Kaechele vs. Holly. Groups randomly drew their topics and had twenty minutes to research and prepare. For the groups that had us we gave each side five minutes to interview us and ask us anything they wanted.

We can’t take credit for this idea as we did a debate last year and the students didn’t like the lame topic we gave them and requested Kaechele vs. Holly. It was a blast. Students this year didn’t know us as well since it is the beginning of the year whereas last year we did our debate at the end of the year.

We feel like allowing students to debate us is a great experience for the whole class. It lets the class get to know us better, but most importantly it shows them that we don’t take ourselves too seriously. It helps us build relationships with our students as being approachable and a culture of fun and weirdness in our room. Being vulnerable in front of your students is always a win.

“Weird” ending

Ending the year is a challenge at our school because our students come from 20 local districts who have their own schedules of exams and end on different days. So this past week we have sporadic attendance due to lack of busing and some of the students starting summer vacation early. We try to plan fun events to get students to attend. On Tuesday we visited a local college and Wednesday we had Hobby Day. Each teacher brought in stuff for something that they like to do in their spare time.

2013-06-05 10.21.41If you know me then of course I brought in concrete supplies and had students mix and make their own concrete candle holders with tea light candles embedded into the concrete. Other things students did included jewelry, scrap booking, Frisbee golf, making ginger ale, and wood turning.

My students think my obsession with concrete is hilarious and this is important. I am weird and it matters. My weirdness about concrete communicates to students that it is ok to be their weird selves about their passions. We are a community of weirdness that respects the different weirdnesses of each other.

Yesterday was the last day of school for students. In a twist I wasn’t there because I took a personal day to attend my son’s 5th grade graduation. But we had a potluck last night where all students and their families are invited. It is fun to hang out and say goodbye to them all. Especially powerful was talking to a couple of students who I dragged to the passing side of my class so they can avoid summer school.

Before the night ended a group of students forced my co-teacher and I to give them “speeches” where we individually said something about each of them. It was fun and felt like giving each of them encouragement and a blessing going forward. I have had most of these students for two years and it will definitely be “weird” not to have them in class next year. I definitely end the year with feelings of appreciating my students and the relationships that I have with them. I look forward to watching them continue to grow in the future.

High Fives and Fist Bumps

Derek is a clerk at the gas station closest to my house. I patronize it for gas and food items weekly. I am not a patient person and going to the store is an errand that needs to be accomplished as quickly as possible. The experience should be efficient and routine:

I walk in grab a gallon of milk checking to make sure it has the best date on it. Set in on the counter and grab my card.

“Do you have a rewards card?”

“No,” as I slide my card through the reader.

“Debit or credit?”

“Credit” as I wait for the transaction to go through.

“Do you want a receipt?”


“Have a nice day.” or some other meaningless greeting as I am already heading toward the door in less than two minutes from the time I entered. When I get in my car if the same song is still on the radio I know that it was the perfect experience for the task driven person that I am.

The first time Derek ran my transaction was different. While I waited for the card to go through he said

“Free high five?” while holding up his hand.

I declined.

He continued undeterred, “fist bump?” pointing his fist toward me.

“No thanks,” smiling but still too uncomfortable making contact with a stranger.

“Elbows?” as he held out his arm towards me. I politely refused, but left feeling happy and truly appreciating his enthusiasm in what most people consider a boring job.

Every time I buy milk I find myself hoping Derek is working. I am still in a hurry, but I do give him “knuckles” now. I also have noticed that some of the other clerks are friendlier and seems like his enthusiasm has rubbed off on them. How many people look forward to seeing a store clerk?

I have a student who gives me high fives sometimes. She asks for them. Just for fun and it is her way of being cheerful. I have started giving them out to other students. It is a simple act, but they like it.

As the year winds down I find myself nagging some students to stay on task or finish work that they need to get done to earn credit. It is for their own good I tell myself, but it is not effective. It makes interactions with me unpleasant. This week I am going to give more high fives and encourage students to get stuff done in a positive way.

Like me, some students might say “no thanks” the first time, but I will keep it up to encourage them to finish strong and bring a smile to their face.

This video also influenced me in regards to this post. It is worth ten minutes of your time if you haven’t seen it.

THIS IS WATER – By David Foster Wallace from The Glossary on Vimeo.