You’ve Gotta Connect: Building Relationships that Lead to Engaged Students, Productive Classrooms, and Higher Achievement by James Alan Sturtevant

6. Enjoyment: If You’re Not Smiling, You’re Not Connecting

  • Humor can add magic to your class if you use it well. Making kids laugh will promote acceptance and connection. Look for opportunities to laugh at student jokes. Relax and genuinely enjoy the students. Students are drawn to happy teachers who tend to get more accomplished with few behavior problems. In addition to jokes, you can post funny things in class and place them on things you hand out. For material, look for funny news stories and your own funny life experiences. Laugh at yourself, be spontaneous, and try to interject humor each day.
  • Humor is risky and James provides some humor No-No’s. Never use sarcasm. Avoid jokes that deal with disabilities, weight, body type, gender, nationality, ethnicity, religion, sex, sexual orientation, suicide, and death. Be alert for students laughing at or making fun of anyone and watch out for put-downs. In general, if it makes someone feel uncomfortable, it’s inappropriate. Share this advice with students so they understand where the boundaries are. If you have students to break these rules, be sure to have a private session with them to let them know they went too far.

7. Advocacy: Run Toward Trouble

  • James believes that troubled times are the best time for connection. A student who receives warmth and respect, even after swearing at you, will get a message of acceptance. When kids don’t measure up, give them support rather than a disgusted lecture. Step towards kids in trouble, and avoid making trouble where there isn’t any. Trouble shooters are folks who act. They use innovation and courage to work on solutions. You too can use what you have learned in the previous chapters to help struggling students. Above all, don’t take yourself too seriously or take personally anything students say or do. (Doug: Keep your ego out of it.)
  • While you may have strong opinions about world events and politics, be sure to encourage critical thinking rather than trying to indoctrinate students with your worldview. James has participated in team efforts to help students and seen success as a result. RTI is one example. Here he provides a step-by-step process you can use. He also presents advice about how to avoid getting in the way of colleague’s relationships with students, and points out that your relationships with colleagues are important too.
  • In a brief afterword James provides advice on being yourself, avoiding routine, continuous professional growth, taking care of yourself, taking refuge in relationships you have formed outside of school, and how to persist. This is a great book for beginners and veterans alike, so make sure your school has at least one copy to float around the teachers’ lounge for starters.
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