Welcome to Language Latte: a conversation about teaching world languages. This is Becky Morales from Kid World Citizen, and I am your host. Today we are talking about building positive relationships and community in your classes. Treat yourself to a latte, and settle in, so we can start our chat!
In every episode of the Language Latte podcast, I examine issues that world language teachers face when trying to help our students achieve proficiency.
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In this episode we are looking at the importance of teacher-students relationships, how they affect learning, and what the research says about community building in class. Then we speak with John Bracey, who shares activities he uses to build community, and how they have even helped with classroom management and behavior.
Do you remember way back when you were in elementary, middle, or high school: Can you remember a teacher with whom you had a really good relationship? What made it a good relationship? Have you had any teachers you really didn’t get along with?
Why Community Building is Important for Students
Student-teacher relationships are critically important, yet they receive far less attention than academic performance indicators. The research overwhelmingly suggests that when teachers and students have positive relationships, and teachers show empathy, warmth, and encourage thinking and learning, we see the positive effect on cognitive student outcomes, increase in participation, and increases in self-esteem.
At the National Summit on Student Engagement, Learning, and Behavior, Dr Penny Van Bergen gave a talk on Positive Relationships in the classroom.
She explains that a positive relationship is high in closeness (so we get to know each other on a more personal level), low in conflict and dependency (which means we naturally will have better classroom management), and beneficial to the needs of both the student and teacher.
Kids have to feel a sense of belonging, in order to be engaged in class. When children don’t feel they belong, they withdrawal, alienate themselves, marginalize, and step back.
Students often report that their favorite teachers take the time to listen to them. I asked my own students about their favorite teachers and they said “They are understanding,” “they cheer me up when I’m sad,” “they always help me out,” “they listen to me.”
Positive relationships in class can have lifelong impact. Students who feel more connected to their teachers have higher academic achievement, are more involved in school activities, and possess socio-emotional, behavioral, and cognitive adjustment.
While all students benefit from positive teacher-student relationships, they are especially important for students at-risk. For these students, experiencing a positive relationship can protect against negative influences- such as negative life events, poor quality parent-child relationships.
Why is Community Building Important for Students of Color?
I am including in the show notes a great video by Principal Kafele, a highly regarded urban educator in New Jersey for more than 20 years. Principal Kafele says, “You can’t teach them if you don’t know them!”
He says that positive teacher-student relationships are absolutely crucial to optimal student achievement. He asks “What do I know about my African-American and Latino students relative to meeting their classroom needs?
Questions he asks teachers in the video have us pause and reflect: What do I know about keeping them inspired and learning and motivated to excel? What do I know about their learning styles? Goals? Needs? Interestests? Experiences and realities? Challenges, obstacles, distractions? Parents? History and culture? How do all of these pieces come together to impact their learning? And how do we adapt our instruction to meet them.
As a teacher, we can’t teach kids we don’t know- we cannot be effective. We have to connect with each and every student but we have to get to know them first. Get into their community, attend extra curricular activities, go into their world and get to know their reality.
All right, we see why these bonds are important for students, but…
Why is Community Building Important for Teachers?
Teachers are increasingly under pressure, and having a healthy class community not is only teachers’ wellbeing because they have less exposure to the emotions and stress that goes hand in hand with conflict in the classroom.
Hargreaves (2000) conducted in-depth interviews with 60 teachers and found that relationships with students were the most important source of enjoyment and motivation. This was found for both primary and secondary school teachers. When we have high teacher–student conflict, it undermines our efficacy beliefs and evokes feelings of helplessness. The weight of the stress when you have that one class that feels out of control, just affects every other aspect of your life.
Why is Community Building Especially Critical in Language Classrooms?
As language learners and teachers, we know that taking IN the language (whether it’s listening or reading) comes before producing the language, like speaking or writing, and we have to be patient for our students to get comfortable enough and ready for output.
In my episode on getting students to speak in the target language- which might be my most popular episode- I talked about Krashen, who says to keep the affective filter low so that we release the anxiety and pressure students often feel. I mention it again in the episode about Comprehensible Input. Krashen argues that the affective filter can impede students from being able to take in our input when they are too stressed, embarrassed, or anxious in class.
Then in the episode about Supporting Language Learners, I talk about our ELLs and how they must first feel comfortable and safe before they can focus on academics. A lot of language teachers believe that our ELL students have a need for social acceptance and belonging in the school setting- but this is really important for ALL students, isn’t it? All kids feel successful when they can make friends and fit in.
And sometimes, when our ELLs are misunderstood by their mainstream teachers who could perceive them to be lazy or not intelligent. I remember having to coordinate countless meetings with core teachers to discuss my ESL students, and almost begging certain teachers to have more empathy with them. When we build community in our classes, our students know they have a safe place to be themselves, and that they belong and are appreciated when they are with us.
What does Community Building Look like?
Poplin and Weeres (1994) said “Students desire authentic relationships where they are trusted, given responsibility, spoken to honestly and warmly, and treated with dignity.”
We strive to be teachers who are supportive of our students’ needs and interests so that they are more engaged, more motivated, more self-directed, and more socially connected at school. Professor Roger Saul sums up the research:
First, he asserts that being kind, warm, empathetic, and supportive increases out learners’ creativity and even attendance and grades.
Second, he says that positive relationships are socially contagious- a student who has a great relationship with you is likely to try to develop similar positive bonds with other leaders at school.
And third, like I mentioned before, our relationships with students who are vulnerable or marginalized, or with kids who are coming from at risk backgrounds, ultimately benefits them the most.
Finally, teachers responsiveness to and inclusivity of our students that come from a wide variety of cultural backgrounds is crucial to relationship and community building. We must seek out understanding where they are coming from and what their needs are in order to involve and respect them as individuals.
If we want to create this type of warm environment, we need to honor our students’ voices and experiences, and foster a sense of belonging.
We might start by greeting each student at the door of the class. Some teachers call this PGD: Positive Greetings at the Door. Results revealed that this PGD strategy produced significant improvements in academic engaged time and reductions in disruptive behavior.
Students feel like they belong when they are a part of an inside joke- whether it’s because they know a special salute that you do, they shared a laugh at something that happened in a storytelling or story asking session, or even when everyone read the same story or watched the same video clip and can talk about it together.
Students feel like a part of a community when they have a role, so many teachers assign student jobs and most Students love jobs!!!! They feel important, they are needed, they are responsible- and they are helping YOU.
Another student-centered activity are class meetings, which some teachers hold on Mondays or Fridays. Community building occurs naturally when we give shout-outs to students. For example, I have handed out index cards for students to write down special announcements of something exciting: whether they won a sports game, got a part in the musical, attempting something difficult, wrote an article for the student newspaper, or something exciting happened in their family. I share these with loads of Comprehensible Input with the class and we celebrate successes together, often asking more questions to get more information.
A colleague of mine shared that she uses her morning meetings to do quick social-emotional activities and to discuss sensitive issues such as bullying or a current event that is affecting students. Sherry Sebesta from World Language Cafe has a great idea called Mindshift, that works as a community building game with a bigger message- I’ll link to it in the show notes.
Another teacher shared an activity she called “rose and thorn” (which you could translate to the target language). Teachers and students each take turns sharing something positive and something negative that happened during the week or month.
Other class meetings topics include appreciation or apologies to someone in class, or anonymous notes as random acts of kindness towards students who are struggling.
Finally, I have loads of conversation starter questions, would you rather games, Find Someone Who activities, All About Me and other getting to know you activities that I am going to link to in the show notes- because finding out really interesting and unique facts about each other not only encourages speaking in the target languages, but it’s really fun to grow closer with our students and discover that sometimes we have a lot in common! If you check out my TpT Store- Kid World Citizen, I have a teacher from Berlin, a teacher from Paris helping me make my materials available now in Spanish, English, German, and French.
Which activities have you done in class to build community? What sort of relationship do you have with your students? Tweet me @kidworldcitizen or join the conversation in our popular Language Latte facebook group.
And now a quick word from our sponsor before getting to our interview:
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Interview with John Bracey
John Bracey is a Latin teacher in Massachusetts since 2010. He has a B.A. in Classics from UMass Amherst and a Master’s from Boston College. He has taught Latin exclusively using Comprehensible Input for the past several years. This 2016 Massachusetts Latin teacher of the year leads workshops around the country for language teachers of all kinds.
Welcome to the show John!
1) Tell me about yourself (your background or teaching experience, what you’re doing now)
2) Today we are talking about building community in class. Many people would argue that the relationships we have with our students, and they have with each other, are a critical factor in how successful the class will be. Do you agree, John? Why?
3) How do the relationships in class relate to the way your class is managed?
4) What are some exercises or activities that you have used successfully in your class, to create community?
5) For teachers who are either new to the classroom or maybe teaching in a new age level- what are some common mistakes to avoid? Maybe something you’ve tried that didn’t work, or something you’ve seen in another classroom that didn’t have the effect the teacher was looking for?
6) Where can our listeners find you, if they want to learn more?
John can be found at his website magisterbracey.com and on Twitter @magisterbracey.
Cook, C. R., Fiat, A., Larson, M., Daikos, C., Slemrod, T., Holland, E. A., … Renshaw, T. (2018). Positive Greetings at the Door: Evaluation of a Low-Cost, High-Yield Proactive Classroom Management Strategy. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 20(3), 149–159. https://doi.org/10.1177/1098300717753831
Cornelius-White, Jeffrey (2007). “Learner-Centered Teacher-Student Relationships Are Effective: A Meta-Analysis.” Review of Educational Research. Vol. 77, No. 1, pp. 113-143.
Spilt, J.L., Koomen, H.M.Y. & Thijs, J.T. (2011). “Teacher Wellbeing: The Importance of Teacher-Student Relationships.” Educational Psychology Review. 23: 457. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10648-011-9170-y
Rita Pierson: Every kid needs a champion
Building Relationships With Your Students | AmeriCorps Insights
Hopefully we’ve unwrapped the many layers of community building.
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To never miss an episode, subscribe on itunes, or wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts. Language Latte is made possible by OneWorldTrek.com: language and cultural immersion travel for teachers in Mexico. It was so nice to meet you all. I look forward to chatting next time, and hopefully collaborating in the future! Until then, ciao!