How to be a great teacher in the internet age

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Relationships make Education work

If you are a teacher and you haven’t yet figured out the secret of being a great teacher, I am about to let you in on the most well-known secret in education. The way to reach all of your students is to build a relationship with all of your students. There it is! It’s that simple. The most well-known secret in education.

Why aren’t teachers doing it?

But why, when it’s so simple, is it so rarely done? I believe that it’s actually very often attempted but it’s rarely done well. Teachers have known this is the secret to great teaching for years. Maslow told us in college and Harry Wong has been telling us since the first day of school. This is actually what teachers thought teaching was going to be when they decided to go into education. We know how to do this, it’s the reason we became a teachers in the first place. So what happened? The education SYSTEM happened. Building relationships with students is tough because it takes the one thing that teachers have so very little of……time.

With all of the pressures of testing, grades, report cards, extra duty, parents, and did I mention TESTING, teachers are burning the candle at both ends already. When are they supposed to find time to build a relationship with their students? I get it. I have been there and I realize how difficult it can be. However, it is also the one vital ingredient missing in many classrooms.

Building relationships in years past

In the past, a great teacher only had to pay attention to their students. What is on their desks or falling out of their bookbag? Comic books, baseball cards, makeup, art scribbles, music? That was the insight that a teacher needed to start a conversation, to really get to know that kid so they could understand what was important to that one child. Then they could start designing lessons that pandered to what the student was already interested in and from that moment the child knew you cared. You noticed that one child is obsessed with baseball so a few days later you used a baseball reference to teach measurement, angles, speed, or velocity.

You cared enough to notice, cared enough to have a conversation, and cared enough to create a lesson that was directed just at them. You had them! They knew you cared about them so they cared about you. The entire relationship was formed at that moment! When that child would listen to no other teacher, you could always talk to them and help them understand a necessary skill in maturing, learning, growing, whatever. The relationship was formed from then forward. The student knew that you cared about them so it made them not only care about you but also care about themselves! You made them important just by taking a bit of time with them.

Building relationships in the Internet Age

I firmly believe that everything that used to work, still works! Face to face relationships are the most important. But in the Internet age, it’s more difficult to find that opening, especially with older children. They don’t have baseball cards, music, or makeup falling out of their book bags. Heck, do they even have bookbags anymore? Or books for that matter? All their interests are in that smart phone in their pocket or the laptop on their desk.

So, how do we find the opening in the Internet age? Our students have evolved so we must evolve with them. Where are your students spending their time? If you’re not sure, just listen to them. Learn to use Urban Dictionary to look up the phrases that you don’t understand. This will give you a lot of insight. The internet age moves FAST and what was cool yesterday is not cool tomorrow. The kids are the first one to jump on the new things so you have to keep listening.

A decade ago, Facebook was where all the kids were hanging out. Five years ago, it was Instagram and during this moment in time, it is TikTok. Where it is going? Only the kids really know. But for this moment in time, if you want to create a relationship with the students in your classroom, you need to be on TikTok. You don’t have to give full access to your life like so many people do but I do believe that if you had a teacher TikTok where you went over the topics you were teaching in your class in a fun silly way with music behind you, the buy in within your classes would explode.

If you teach younger grades, please don’t think this doesn’t apply to you. The amount of students in Pre-K and Kindergarten that know the Savage Dance and can finish the sentence if you yell, “Carol Baskin..” would amaze you. Their parents are on TikTok, the kids do the the dances WITH their parents. This advice applies to any grade you teach. It may look a bit different in younger grades. You may be doing the “Baby Shark Dance” if you teach Pre-K and showing how to use skittles to add or subtract if you teach First Grade. Middle School teachers might be throwing out some inspiration with a side of History and High School teachers are probably back to being silly. Just show your kids that you are a real person and that you care enough about them and what they are interested in to spend time learning it.

It’s Simple but not easy.

That’s how you build a relationship! Caring enough to spend your time learning what they love! It’s the same as Maslow or Wong, it’s just taken a different form. It’s just as simple! It’s not easy. But it is simple!

Have you tried this? Do you have a teacher TikTok? How is it working? Did you see an increased buy-in from students in your class? Share your thoughts!

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