How to Build Relationships as a Specials Teacher

How to Build Relationships as a Specials Teacher

As a Specialist teacher, you no doubt face several hurdles that can make it more difficult for you to develop relationships with your students.  You simply don’t get to spend as much time with them as a regular classroom teacher, for one thing.  In addition to only seeing students once or twice a week, you probably have fairly tight class periods with a lot to accomplish.  You also likely see every kid in the building, which is a lot of faces to keep track of!  Here are some easy ways to start making those connections anyway.  

  • Have personal conversations about something the student is interested in.  Even just two minutes can bridge that gap between “some teacher” and “my teacher”. 
  • Take a 10 second gauge of how your students are doing by asking them: “How are you today?”  Have everyone either give a thumbs-up or thumbs-down, or show a number between 1-5 on their hand, 5 being “My day is great!” and 1 being “My day can only go up from here.”  You can then keep an eye on those who are having a hard day.
  • Model being a lifelong learner.  Seeing you, an authority figure, make a mistake, admit you don’t know something and take steps to learn it, or ask for help is powerful!  
  • Share your stories to connect with students. Stories about former students who sat at the same desks where they sit now are always compelling, stories about your own (or other successful adults) educational struggles help students see how important it is to persevere, and personal stories about embarrassing moments in your past help to humanize you. 
  • Humor can really start tearing down walls and building classroom community. Try playing games, sharing a funny video, or telling jokes as a bell ringer.  You may even try playfully pranking students… unsolvable word searches, party poppers and plastic bugs are classics.   You can also choose a silly side of an argument, and start one with your students. Start with something like, “Stop begging!  No matter how hard you fight, I just won’t allow anyone to turn in that worksheet unless it’s incomplete.”  It catches them off-guard and then they start automatically arguing the other side. 
  • Students love seeing their teacher at their sporting events, debate competitions, or drama productions. Bonus: this also gives you something to talk about in your next two minute check in during class. 
  • Beware of your resting face. A smile goes a long way!  A deep-in-thought-frown on the other hand can make a student feel like they did something wrong, affecting their ability to focus in class, attempt the work, or listen to the lesson because they’re thinking about why you are mad. 
  • Follow through, on both rewards and less unpleasant consequences. When students know that you will do what you say you are going to do, they begin to trust both you and their environment. When they feel safe and secure in their environment, they can let their guard down and focus on academics.  
  • Find ways to stimulate good behavior, like telling the class that you’ll write down the names of exceptional students to report back to their homeroom teacher, or ask each student to take out a piece of paper and make a name card then explain they’ll get a hole punch/sticker/stamp for everytime they did well.
  • Give your students jobs so they are involved in the lesson. They can erase the board, write the numbers for you in the problems, pass out the worksheets, Chromebooks, manipulatives etc. When students feel involved in the lesson, they feel less like their education is something that is happening to them.  Sorting papers, filing, or prepping materials are other choices for jobs.  You can also have specific jobs for students who need work to redirect their behavior:  
    • If a student struggles with transitions in the hall, have a crate with things in it that we may need and get them to lead your line carrying the crate.  
    • Have a student take a note to the office or another teacher. You may not have anything you need from them, but you can establish these in your building as WGC (wild goose chase) notes. Simply take a paper, write WGC in capital letters and fold it in half. Ask the student to deliver the note to another colleague in the building. When they deliver it, the teacher tells the student, “Oh, I have that. Let your teacher know that I will bring it to their room at recess.” This task accomplishes several things for the student: they get out of class and walk, they have positive interactions with adults, and they feel important being trusted to do a job for their teacher.  

As you build relationships with your students, not only will classroom management get a bit easier, you’ll also feel equipped to empower students in a more personal way.

Another blog post to check out is Classroom Management for Specialists

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