I’ll admit it; one of my favorite movies is You’ve Got Mail. I’ve watched it dozens of times because I’m enchanted with the children’s bookstore in the film, the “Little Shop Around the Corner.” I like to search for the titles of the books as the images of the store quickly fly across the screen. I wish I could spend a lazy afternoon in that shop browsing for books for my classroom.
Since I’ve seen the movie so many times, I can recite much of the dialogue. One particular snippet has planted and grown like a seed in my brain for years. After Tom Hanks’ company puts Meg Ryan’s cherished bookstore out of business he says, “It wasn’t personal.” She then replies wisely, “Whatever else anything is, it ought to begin by being personal.” These words ring true for many circumstances in life, especially in the business of teaching. If nothing else, teaching children should be personal. We need to show our students and their parents that we care through both our conversations and our actions.
What turns a respected teacher into a beloved teacher? Maybe it’s just one small thing. Maybe it’s a myriad number of events. Sometimes it just happens, but most times, I believe those beloved teachers purposefully design opportunities to build strong relationships with children and their families. Make it personal – personal for them and personal for you. Here are my tried and true tips:
I love to take photos of the children in my class and share them with parents throughout the year. An experience captured in an image is the best present you can give a parent; they can share in the memory that they would have missed. At fall and spring conferences, I begin by handing the parent a photo of their child; it’s a great icebreaker. My end of year gift to each student is a collage of photos from our year together. I’ve often heard how this frame is displayed in their bedroom throughout their elementary school years. Last May, each family sent a flash drive to school so I could download hundreds and hundreds of photos for them to keep.
Since I live within the district I teach, my home isn’t too far from the school. Each October, I invite my students to swing by my house and trick or treat on Halloween. I buy lots of candy and sit outside so I can greet everyone who stops by. Many of the families in my class are new to the country and to the custom of “dressing-up,” but they discover it’s great fun when they participate. The last Sunday afternoon before winter break, I have a “Holiday Open House and Reunion” at my home. I pass out copied invitations to all the current and former students who attend our school. For some families, it has become one of their holiday traditions to attend. While getting all the cookies and punch ready is a big undertaking, it’s always been worth it. I have fun too.
I make it a point to attend and participate in many school events. I want to volunteer at the carnival because it raises funds to purchase equipment for the school. Because it benefits my classroom, I feel the need to help. Plus, I find these functions are a relaxed time to socialize with parents and students. I often write in my newsletter what times I will be present. Many of my families will plan accordingly so we can connect at the event.
Birthday Parties, Sports Events, Recitals and More
This is tricky because if you attend one outside-of-school event, you’ll get invitations to at least ten more. This could seriously cut into your personal time if you don’t manage carefully. The year my daughter was a senior in high school, I didn’t go to many of these events, but once she left for college, it was much easier. Remember, you don’t have to stay for the entire celebration; making an “appearance” is usually enough.
Sometimes it’s fun to attend a concert or movie together as a class. Find a parent volunteer to coordinate the details so all you have to do is attend.
If I am aware that a student, or former student is in the hospital, I will get there for a visit. Sometimes they are surprised to see me five years or more after they were in my class, but the visit always seems appreciated.
End of Year
One event I always attend is the final 5th Grade Recognition Ceremony. Since I’m a kindergarten teacher, I’ve seen these students grow over many years. I write each child a sentimental note with recollections from their kindergarten year. I remind them that they will always remain in my heart, and I’m confident of their future success. I bring my scrapbook of photos from their kindergarten year with me. After the ceremony, you can find the entire class, with their parents, combing through the scrapbook remembering their first year in school.
This coming year, my first kindergarten class is graduating from high school in May. I’ve been collecting ideas of what I can do to honor this special event. I’m thinking I might invite them back to kindergarten for a morning. My current class could make invitations, decorations and snacks. It’s still in the planning stages, but I’m determined to make the event memorable for my former and current students.
There are many other personal touches that teachers can use to build special relationships with students and families. I’ve had the children in my class make a “Kindergarten Advice” book when a new sibling is born. I know one teacher who has a “class reunion” at a nearby park right before the next school year begins. The list is endless. Ask around the teachers’ lounge for ideas, then pick one or two that suit you, or dream up your own. Just remember — always make it personal.