Making Connections and Building Rapport

As I will soon be entering into my internship, I’ve been considering rapport and classroom management. I’ve been thinking about the human connection and interaction part of education that can get lost in some discussions about educational theories and teaching methods. I find myself getting caught up in overthinking unit and lesson planning, but lately I’ve been thinking about those first moments. I’ve been thinking about how to make meaningful connections and build the kind of classroom rapport that will help with classroom management and build the learning environment I desire.

To do so, I believe I will need to take some risks. I can be a shy and introverted person, but I can also be an emotional and passionate person. I hope to find a balance that allows my students to see and trust me as their teacher. I wrote a blog post, “Considering Privilege as an Educator,” in which I put myself ‘out there’ more than I had been previously comfortable doing. It was the most rewarding post I’ve written, because I was being honest and I was making connections as an individual. When I allowed myself to be completely honest, I was able to make the connections between theory and my personal experiences.

As a high school student, I lived with some degree of anxiety almost constantly. In my last two years, I was often sick to my stomach before I left for school and there were days I stayed home because the anxiety was too much. Despite being overwhelmed, I was able to be very successful as a student. Despite being frequently consumed by worry, I was able to smile and hide this fact from my teachers and peers. I didn’t talk about my feelings and I never publicly let on that I was struggling. When I did voice my concern over grades or my fear of failure, others laughed it off, because it seemed an impossibility to them. This made talking about my anxiety difficult. Not only was I embarrassed that I was struggling this way, I felt ashamed. Worst of all, I felt as though I was alone in feeling that way. I have since opened up more, I have come to terms with myself, and I have found some ways to manage my anxiety. However, it has not completely left me either. I do view it as a part of my identity and I know that it informs aspects of my teacher identity as well.

I’m not quite sure what I want to do or say, but I want to be honest with my students. I want them to, as Chris Friend shared with me, in his comment on the aforementioned post, “think of me as a person who is sharing experience/insight with them, rather than a dictator sharing a curriculum with them.” I believe this connection will be important, as I know that I am not the only person who lives with anxiety. Chris Friend also reminded me to “think how vulnerable your students are when they submit their essays for grading” and how “they’ll appreciate a bit of equity” if I allow myself to be vulnerable.

In one of my (pre) pre-internship experiences, I had one of my grade eight student break down crying during what was supposed to be a fun and silly writing activity. I had asked the students to write any introductory sentence down, fold their paper and hand it to the next person who would write the second sentence down without knowing the first sentence. We were nearly done one round, when he raised his hand and I saw him in tears. He hadn’t written his introductory sentence down, because he didn’t know what he should write. It broke my heart and I knew exactly how he felt. I gave encouragement, the option to complete the activity, and helped him to do so when he told me he wanted to. I did my best then to comfort him, but I know now that what I really want is to be able to create openness in my classroom before something like this happens. I believe that if I can share my experiences as a person, my students will be able to connect with me and have trust in me.

My plan is to share my voice. I have the opportunity to make a difference and I will do everything I can to do so. The connections we make are incredibly important and will certainly set the tone of the learning environment. I will end with a question, because we can always learn from each other. How have you gone about building rapport with your students? How do you set up these conversations early in the year?