The beginning of the school year brings with it fresh faces and a chance to connect with an entirely new group of kiddos. But how can teachers really get to know their students, and make it happen relatively quickly?
Survey Their Parents
First off, if you want to really get to know your students, talk to the people who raise them: their parents. Parents will be flattered that you asked, and most will really take the time to make sure you are given accurate and useful information. Parents will have the inside scoop about how their kid ticks, including behavioral challenges, how to motivate their child, and how their kid learns best.
Parents can fill you in on important family information too. Imagine finding out that your student’s parents are raising a sibling with severe physical disabilities, or finding out that your student’s parents are in the midst of a messy divorce. Knowing this type of information early in the school year will quickly help you relate to your students in ways that are helpful and productive.
Ask the Students
People love talking about themselves, and kids are no different. Even Kindergartners can tell you what they like and don’t like, so ask them! Make sure you use student-friendly formats, such as one of the surveys we created. Avoid asking too many questions in a public format, as many students are easily swayed by the opinions of their peers. Use the information you gather to help you group students for cooperative tasks, assess student learning, and deliver instruction. This is a great way to start the year and will show your students that you care about them as individuals.
Classroom and Playground Observations
It is absolutely essential to form your own opinions about your students by watching them closely in academic and non-academic settings. A student may say they learn best by working in groups, but if you observe them retaining information better after independent activities, make a note of this. Observe students to find out when they are most productive and what type/s of seating work well for them.
Playground or non-academic observations will help you see strengths and areas of need with behavior, peer relationships, leadership, and problem solving. It can alert you to any students who are isolated or have difficulty making friends. Perhaps you can help foster relationships inside the classroom that will extend beyond the classroom walls.
Although classroom visits are not the norm, they are incredibly powerful tools to help you gain a deeper understanding of your students’ backgrounds. If you do have the opportunity to do a home visit, it makes sense to do this as part of a parent-conference near the beginning of the school year. Observe if your student shares a room (or a bed) with others. Notice and ask if there is a specified location for the student to complete homework. Meet the other members of the family, such as siblings and pets. Students love having their teacher in their home.
One of the biggest challenges with home visits is keeping them to a reasonable time-frame. Students will want to show you everything they can and it truly is a memorable experience for them. They can be a great way for you to develop empathy and understanding for your students and their families. For more information on home visits, click here.
Lastly, spend time learning about your students, their home-life, and how they learn best. This time-investment will pay off as you move through your school year. We’ve created a tool to help you get to know your students better. Click here to see some great student learning inventories that you can print and use today! Have a great school year!