My goal this summer has been to read as many books about leadership and influence as possible. At the moment, I am reading two texts, Crucial Converstaions by a bunch of people, and The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell.
I am reading Maxwell's book with a small group from my church. This past week we read chapter 10, The Law of Connection. The following letter is designed for teachers, especially the younger teacher looking strategies that work in the classroom. Where the italics appear, I am using a quote from the book, only substituting educational language where necessary. If you are an entrenched teacher, but wanting to stay fresh and revived, you will also benefit from Maxwell's advice.
With so much of the political dialogue about education focusing on standards and ensuring that we are all "highly qualified," it is easy to forget that we cannot teach our content if we fail to connect with our students. When it comes to teaching students, their hearts come before their heads. Teenagers are emotional beings, easily swayed by the darting hormones and chemical changes happening in their bodies and brain. Yes, our content is important, but for most, it isn't enough to move a student to buy in right away.
This is precisely why effective teachers connect with students. You can't move students towards learning unless you first move them with emotion. I am not advocating that you simply entertain them. Instead, I am suggesting you begin with passion, true heartfelt passion for the profession, the classroom culture, and the students themselves.
Good teachers work at connecting with students all of the time....The stronger the relationship you form with a student, the greater connection you forge--and themore likely your students will want to learn from you. Notice that I am yet to emphasize the content. A healthy relationship with a student will make him want to learn from you. But, you have to show that you genuinely care and want to help him. That is how you gain their trust and respect.
Before you can influence or connect with students, however, you must know who you are and have confidence in yourself if you desire to connect with the students. Be confident and be yourself. Many new and veteran teachers fail to truly connect because they have yet to have confidence in their own abilities or even their own inner being.
Learn students' names, find out about their histories, ask them about their dreams. Teaching should never be about you. It's tempting, believe me. You spend hours creating the fun and ingenious way to teach iambic pentameter and you'd like a little spotlight time. They don't care about your pedagogy; they don't even know if your objectives were met or if you used some fancy initiation (anticipatory set). They will remember whether you cared--a very true cliche.
One of the ways you can connect is to speak the students' language. I'm not saying you have to go out and learn Spanish, Russian, Vietnamese, Chinese with two differnt dialects--and yes, you will have them all in your classroom at the same time. No, I am saying that you ought to pay attention to their culture of IM, MTV, Youtube, Myspace, and dance. It is okay to adapt to your students instead of having them adapt to you.
Then, it is important to communicate to your students that you believe they have value. In a previous post, I wrote about a student who will be attending a university in Europe. When that student, a very capable academic, began to struggle with the transition from teenager to adult, I regularly confirmed, "I believe in you." It remains true today. Give students a sense of hope, which gives them a sense of future.
Many veteran teachers who hold on to the "good 'ole days" will tell you not to smile until Christmas and that the students should respect them because they are the teacher. NO. Innitiate the relationships and then continue to build them.
Part of that relationship building means getting out from behind your desk or getting out of your room to walk the halls. Attend games, plays, or even their place of employment. Students who see you caring about them will exhibit loyalty and a strong work ethic for you.
That is how you can set yourself up for a successful career, one that you enjoy and your students remember.