Building stronger families and strong communities: Personal connections

Since January, the Education Solutions blog has shared the wisdom of past Toyota Teacher of the Year award winners. The importance of building trust and community has been explored. In conversations, award-winning teachers also emphasized the value of making personal connections with students and their families. Katy Kibbey of Michigan (2008) stated, “Nothing is more important than the relationship.”

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As the new school year begins, consider ways to make personal connections with students and families. Patricia Urdialez of Arizona (2011) suggested beginning with an invitation. She explained, “I invite my students into a relationship with family literacy, with me, and with each other–a community bonded with similar goals and experiences.” She encouraged them to come to her room at any time to share ideas, plans, and concerns. She tried to make students feel welcome.

Connecting with students and families can become part of your day-to-day practice. Many classrooms and programs have routines for beginning their time together. Make the focus of these routines relationship building. Amy Hall of Michigan (2005) tried to arrive early every day to make sure she greeted each child and parent upon arrival. Cecilia Ramirez of Arizona (2001) used the attendance-taking time to focus on individual students. When students were absent, she would ask, “Have you heard anything about this person today?… Does this person need support and how can we support her?” Cecilia’s point was to show concern. She added, “This caring and support for each other every morning helped build our community of learners.”

While some relationships will develop naturally, teachers can intentionally create environments where students and families feel comfortable. Shari Brown of North Carolina (2012) achieved this by listening. She shared, “Every day I interact with and listen intently to my students and learn from their individual perspectives and life experiences. Having that connection with my students allows me to use their interests and needs as a foundation for my lesson.”

Award-winning teachers had a habit of making personal connections every day. They talked about being available before and after school and making intentional daily contacts with every student. From teacher to teacher–nothing is more important than the human connection. Make those connections every day.

How do you make connections and build relationships as part of your daily routines? Share your ideas in the comments below to help other practitioners as they prepare for the start of the new academic year.