Whether you teach drama, dance, music or art there is some kind of magical connection that the arts provides that builds a bond between student and teacher. While this occurs naturally, there are very specific techniques that arts teachers can use to create stronger relationships with their students.
If you are teaching in a school or even an after-school program, you may only see your students once per week. So how do you build a strong and meaningful connection with them?
- SAY THEIR NAME OUT LOUD
Never underestimate the power of hearing your own name. It gives a child a sense of importance, purpose and attention. You will see that the more you say a child’s name the stronger their connection will be to you. Ideally it should always be in a positive context… “Yes Matthew” or “Good job Molly” or “Rebecca can you show us that move again?”
- GET TO KNOW WHAT THEY LIKE AND DISLIKE
When I used to teach drama classes we would always do a group check-in before each class. We would sit in a circle and each share something about our week. It could be something about activities, family, trips, school etc. This gives you a lot of insight into what each child likes and dislikes. When you learn about these things you can then use the information when you teach. For example, if a student went horse-back riding and loves horses, she will be more excited and attentive if you incorporate horses into the next art project.
- SHARE PERSONAL THINGS ABOUT YOURSELF
One of the things that inspired me as a child was hearing about the professional experiences that my teachers had in the arts. Whether it was shows they were in, places they had been or people they got to work with, it always made my connection to them stronger. Why?…Because they became a “real” person to me and not just a no-name teacher. Take the time to talk about your professional experiences as well as family life, all the while keeping it appropriate.
- SHOW YOU CARE ABOUT THEM AS A PERSON
Taking an active interest in your students by asking how their family trip was, remembering their favourite movie and talking about it or helping them with a challenging dance move are all ways to demostrate that you care. Often it is just a matter of taking a couple of extra minutes in each class to achieve this.
I suggest you keep a list of all your students and write down what you’ve done to show them you care. When you do this as an activity for yourself it will validate all the good things you are doing as an educator, which makes the impact of your actions much stronger.
- BE CONSISTENT
Consistency is about having clear expectations. So if you want your dance students to always remove their street shoes before entering the dance floor, be consistent about it. When they know what to expect from you and you are always consistent with those expectations their connection to you will become more solid. This is especially true when you incorporate group check-ins or a special closing circle/good-bye routine. When students can always count on you to be consistent they feel more secure in their relationship with you. They know what to expect, which makes them more at ease.
- GIVE THEM YOUR ATTENTION
This may be an obvious point, however, there are always those kids who don’t seem to get enough of our attention. Perhaps you have your favourites (even though you aren’t really supposed to) and some of the students in your class simply don’t get as much of your time. One strategy you can do is to look at your class list and every day pick 5-7 students that you will give a significant amount of attention to. Then rotate each day. It is not that you ignore all the others, but you are consciously focusing on that group.
By attention, it could be working with them one-on-one, chatting with them about their day, a smile or high-five or asking for their help to demonstrate something in class.
When you fully give your attention to a child, especially when they are speaking to you, their connection to you grows stronger.
- ACKNOWLEDGE THEIR SUCCESSES MORE THAN THEIR FAILURES
Validate what a child does well is an obvious thing to say. However, more often than not children get more feedback regarding their failures and mistakes rather than what they do right. So this is just another reminder to do what you already know – acknowledge your students for any little success, no matter how small. It will strengthen their bond with you and build their self-confidence.
One of my favourite Ted Talks in recent years is the Rita Pierson talk. In that video she says, “Kids Don’t Learn From People They Don’t Like”. I love this and it is so true! If you think back through all your teachers regardless of the subject, you got the most out of the classes where you liked the teacher. There was something about that connection that made you want to learn just a little bit more than with the others.
If you are reading this post you are already a good teacher who cares a lot about your students’ development. I am challenging you to use the strategies I’ve outlined in this post (or do them more if you already do all these things) in order to build stronger connections with your students. If you incorporate these techniques into your routine, your students will learn more from you and, more importantly, they will retain and apply more of your teachings later in life.