Don’t Be a Robot: Showing Students You CARE

Don’t Be a Robot: Showing Students You CARE

Michele Regan

On his first day of high school, my son came home proclaiming that his science teacher was a robot.  “Read this,” he said as he handed me the Class Contract.  

Come in quietly and go to your desk.  Say Hi to your neighbor.  Get out your supplies and begin the “Do Now”-NO Talking!  Once I start teaching, NO bathroom breaks.  If you forgot a pencil, quietly go up and get one and get to work; you are already behind and probably embarrassed…

You get the picture.  He was not happy that these prison rules would be his life for the next 179 days.  And, as a parent, I wasn’t happy either.  

How can students learn chemistry if they don’t have any with their teacher?  How can you expect students to care if you don’t make caring for them a priority?

Now, most would agree that routines and rules are critical to running an effective classroom.  However, there are much better ways of creating a classroom culture that supports learning and mutual respect.  Teachers often feel that they must intimidate students into compliance.  If they show students they are in charge, there will be an atmosphere of calm and students will do their work.  Well, I would counter that you might end up with a quiet classroom where kids follow routines, but is that learning?  It makes me think of my son’s comment likening his teacher to a robot.  He was right, and she was hoping to create a classroom of robots. 

So, How Do We Create Positive Relationships?

While it sounds like it’s intuitive, it’s not always easy for an educator to have a good relationship with every single student, especially for those teachers who see many students in a day.  While you read, think about how you create authentic relationships with each student, even those who may be labeled as “difficult.”

care image

Oftentimes, teachers are faced with the prospect of prioritizing academics over relationship-building because time is an issue. One way to make this nebulous idea that is not part of the curriculum more straight-forward is to consider the following ways that you can demonstrate that you C.A.R.E.!  

  • Connect with each student daily.  In the first 48 hours, learn every student’s name, and then make a commitment to using it at least once during each class.  Specifically, think about how you might connect with each student using eye contact, proximity, and communication strategies.  Be sure to cross the physical divide separating you and the students many times during class, walking up and down through rows and groups of desks.  Stand near as many students as possible throughout the day.  Smile, and use facial expressions and body language to communicate a positive message to students. Share high fives or whatever physical gestures you are comfortable with.
  • Ask questions.  Think about your students…what are their favorite things to do?  What music do they listen to?  What do they do on the weekend?  What’s challenging for them?  Consider a routine where you ask students personal questions, using a Do Now or Exit Ticket.  Have a bucket of questions and invite a new student each day to choose one and answer to start the class.  Overall, you want kids to feel like they are seen and heard.      
  • Respond in an authentic way.  Once you know a bit about your students’ lives, mention those things regularly.  Some of my kids’ best moments in school were when teachers remembered something they shared and talked to them about it.  Simply asking about a sporting event they told you was coming up, mentioning a student’s strength or interest during a class discussion, or giving them a break when you know that things are hard at home, let them know that they matter.
  • Express yourself.  Do your students know who you are as a person?  Do you have photos or items in the room that represent the things you love?  Have you shared what’s hard or frustrating for you?  When you’re having a hard day, share that.  As someone who suffers from migraines, it was liberating for me to share that with my students and let them know that I might not be 100% that day.  I’m not a fan of the idea that teachers are Superheroes because it sets us up to be more than human.  If we want to connect with kids, it must be through our shared humanity.  

Students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.  

Adapted from Theodore Roosevelt

illustration of teacher explaining to a student


The Benefits of Caring

Once kids realize that their teachers see them as important, they are much more invested in what happens at school.  But you must be willing to make the time and create opportunities for real connection.  Not only will your students feel connected to you, but they will come to understand that school is not about being perfect; learning comes from listening, sharing and just “being” who they are. 

There is a variety of research that illustrates the many benefits of positive student-teacher relationships.  When students have good relationships with their teachers, they are more motivated to engage, more willing to take risks, and more likely to approach a teacher when they need assistance; these factors all contribute to improved student achievement.  

What Does the Research Say?

In fact, in a well-respected 2009 meta-analysis of 800 studies, John Hattie found that, of all of the factors studied, student-teacher relationship had a major impact on student achievement (it ranked 11th out of 138 factors).  

Need even more of a reason to focus on intentionally forming positive relationships?  How about this…direct instruction fell at 26th in the list.  So, next time you believe that you don’t have time to spend on developing rapport with your class, think about putting the textbook down!  

In addition to increased achievement, another benefit is a decrease in behavior problems in the classroom.  Now I know you want that!  To go further, in a book published by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, it is reported that improved self-esteem and mental health are also outcomes of positive teacher-student relationships.  This is critical, especially in today’s day and age. And while many of us feel ill-equipped to support something as serious as our students’ mental health, we are all very capable of developing relationships with them.  

Last, but not least, there is evidence of improved teacher attitude and professional growth.  If focusing on healthy relationships with your students improves how you feel about your career and your longevity, it’s well worth it!  And you definitely won’t be a robot!

Social Emotional Learning (SEL) Activity

Exit Tickets

Who: This Social Emotional Learning (SEL) activity is effective for grades K-12, as the wording can be simplified for lower grade levels.

What: Through the incorporation of these SEL exit slips, teachers can show students they truly care. Students complete one exit ticket a day (each asks a question that has more to do with social emotional well-being than actual content). The teacher reviews the students responses. Then, he/she can incorporate the answers into everyday conversation with the students. This demonstrates that the teacher cares about the students’ reflections and their emotions.

Where: These exit tickets can be used in any subject area, as they are not content specific.

When: This activity should be given at the end of a class/day as it is a reflective tool. It can be used at any point during the school year.

Why: These exit tickets help students demonstrate they C.A.R.E:

  • C- Teachers will connect with each student by reading and responding to their exit slips.
  • A- Teachers are asking questions on the exit slips themselves.
  • R- Teachers can respond in an authentic way by providing relevant feedback or having conversations based on the students’ exit slip responses.
  • E- Teachers can express themselves by drawing parallels and connections to their students. If a student states that something is challenging, maybe the teacher also struggles with that concept.

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