School days, school days
Dear old golden rule days
Readin’ and ‘ritin’ and ‘rithmetic…
Many of us have heard about the “Three Rs” in relation to school; indeed, these three subjects have long formed the foundation of education. But while academics are a large portion of a school’s educational focus, the Three Rs are not as effective without a fourth R: Relationships. The connections between individuals are critical in the development of community, the establishment of good mental health, and the support of societal norms. Positive teacher-student relationships can lead to the development of positive peer connections as well as academic success.
The Importance of Positive Teacher-Student Relationships
Positive relationships – whether with peers, family, or in school or the workplace – can impact mental and physical health and well-being in numerous ways. Individuals who have positive relationships with others:
- Feel a sense of meaning and purpose
- Experience increased personal growth
- Have greater emotional development
- Have support during tough times
- Collaborate and cooperate more easily with others
- Feel a sense of belonging
These relationships can result in:
- Better student achievement
- Higher student engagement
- Better teacher effectiveness
- Better classroom environment
- More time to teach
Developing these relationships takes time and effort, and each educator has their own way of engaging with their students. The most successful teachers are the ones who connect with their students outside of their classroom subject matter. Students respond to the adults in their lives who are genuinely interested in them. For some students, this type of interaction may be the only positive attention they receive from adults.
Building Positive Teacher-Student Relationships With Dialogue Journals
The life of an educator is busy, to say the least. Lesson planning, classroom instruction, grading, classroom management, extracurricular activities, and professional development all take up a great deal of a teacher’s time and attention. In the midst of all of this, there are numerous opportunities to build relationships. One very effective way to encourage connection is through the use of dialogue journals.
Like many classroom practices, dialogue journals are adaptable to meet the needs of students and teachers alike. Some teachers use these journals to supplement the curriculum, while others opt to keep their use separate from lessons and grades. However you choose to use dialogue journals in your classroom, there are numerous benefits:
- Development of trusting relationships
- Good for in-depth conversations
- Helpful for shy or introverted students
- Can help to develop writing skills
You know your students best. Some may embrace the practice, while others may be reluctant to participate. Consider keeping it separate from graded classroom activities. Removing the grading element can make it easier for your students to embrace the process and more fully participate in journaling.
Beginning a Dialogue Journal Practice in the Classroom
Dialogue journals can help you to take social and emotional learning up a notch while you develop solid relationships with your students. To make it successful, you must begin carefully and with intention. Some things to consider:
Perhaps the most important consideration for this exercise is the establishment of ground rules. If your school has a PBIS initiative, you already know the importance of setting expectations. Students should know what the guidelines are regarding language, writing, artwork, or anything else they will put in their journals. Make sure they understand that every entry needs to be dated. Establish in-class journaling time on a regular schedule, but also offer free-writing time as needed.
Because dialogue journals are meant to be a thoughtful, private conversation between you and each individual student, address privacy concerns straightaway. Confidentiality and trust go hand-in-hand. Your students should know that the thoughts and ideas contained in their journals are just between them and you – so be clear on your expectations regarding privacy. Students should not look at anyone else’s journal except their own.
Using Prompts or Topics
For some students, getting started can be a big hurdle. Many will not know what to say or where to begin, at least initially. Consider suggesting topics or asking questions that they can answer. Be willing to undertake these same topics in your reply. You’ll learn a lot about one another this way! This can also be a great way to encourage students to use words from your classroom word bank or word wall.
Frequency of Reading and Return
As you establish regular writing time, you’ll also want to make sure you’re reading and responding in a timely fashion. Your students will want to see your response to what they have written, and it’s best not to keep them waiting too long. Breaking this task up into small chunks can keep it from adding too much to your workload. You can section off groups of students into small “pods” and set a schedule for reading and responding to each pod, so they will know when to expect your response. Sometimes, however, a student may need a response from you outside of that schedule. You can use a simple signal, such as a sticky note placed on the front of their journal, to alert you to their need.
Privacy and Security
Dialogue journals can contain very personal or private information, so it’s important to protect that information. Consider housing all student journals in a crate that you keep by your desk. When students aren’t writing in their journals, they should be stored in the crate. The journals do not leave your classroom and are not to be kept at each student’s desk.
Creativity and Personalization
Consider purchasing notebooks for your students to use as journals, rather than requiring them to purchase their own. This way, you can choose a uniform size and binding for all journals and can even color-coordinate them into groups for easy reading. Allow your students to decorate the covers to reflect their personalities, if you’d like. For younger students or those with learning differences, their creativity can extend onto the pages of their journal, with artwork or colored ink. Encourage them to express themselves in the best way they can.
As you and your students get more comfortable sharing through these journals, you may notice that your classroom feels more engaged. Taking the time to get to know your students can make the educational process operate more smoothly.
Positive Teacher-Student Relationships
Dialogue journals can be both rewarding and heartbreaking as your students allow you into their inner world. That’s the whole point! For some students, a positive relationship with a teacher may be one of the few beneficial interactions they have with an adult. For others, it can be a way to connect that is more private and comfortable.
While dialogue journals aren’t meant to be a part of academics, they can still help with the development of literacy skills. Model good grammar, spelling, and sentence structure in your responses, and resist the urge to review their entries with a red pen in hand. Journals should always be student-centered – let them take the lead on the things they wish to discuss privately with you.
By the same token, you may need to open up a deeper dialogue with a student who has shared information that concerns you. If you suspect a student is in danger in any way, talk it over with them before you break your promise of confidentiality with them. They may be secretly counting on that!
Positive teacher-student relationships take time to build, and dialogue journals can help you to solidify trust with your students. Give it a try in your classroom and see how your students respond!
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