An article by Richard James Rogers
Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati
The first few weeks of a new academic year can be really challenging, not least because you’ll have a lot of new names to remember!
Whether you’re a new teacher working in a completely new school, or whether you’re simply rolling into a new academic year with new classes to teach, this article will help you.
Strategy 1: Gather Intelligence
Knowing your students on a deep level is a fundamental principle of rapport building. You need to know ALL of your students’ dreams and aspirations, strengths and weaknesses and other relevant information (such as issues at home or Special Educational Needs).
This kind of knowledge or ‘intelligence’ can even be used to inform your lesson planning. See the examples I included in my book and at Angela Watson’s great Cornerstone for Teachers site here.
Unfortunately, however, few teachers truly utilize the power of professional intelligence gathering.
The best way I’ve found to gather such knowledge is by getting a fresh notebook and setting a page aside for each student you teach. On each page write down important (but not confidential) information about each student – e.g. the ECA’s they do, their career goals, subject-area strengths, competitions they’re entering or have won, etc.
The information you gather can be used to:
- Inform lesson planning so that content is made more relevant to individual students, and the group, than it normally would be
- Trigger conversations in leisurely school settings such as at the lunch queue, when you’re on duty or when you’re supporting students in a mentoring or pastoral role
- Provide fuel for you to reinforce the credibility and brilliance of the students’ personal goals, so that a ‘hypnotic rhythm’ of focus empowers each student to fulfil their goals.
- Show the students that you truly care about their education and their future
Strategy 2: Marking
In your first few weeks, it might be a good idea to get a lot of marking done, especially for your new students.
Whilst you might normally do peer-assessment, self-assessment and automated assessment tasks throughout the main body of the academic year, it is worth spending a bit of extra time at the beginning of the year to do traditional, teacher-led ‘red-pen on paper’ marking.
- You’ll get to know the writing, presentation and artistic styles of your new students really quickly.
- Checking through the students’ books and homework yourself is one way to quickly memorise new names
- It allows opportunity to provide written and verbal praise, which helps you to build rapport
My Head of Science recently started a ‘Science Stars’ notice-board at school. Every few weeks the Science teachers pin up some examples of beautiful work. What a great way to celebrate the success of your new students whilst getting to know them and build rapport with them at the same time!
Strategy 3: Contact Parents
If you’re a form tutor/homeroom teacher, this one is really important, but it can be used by any subject teacher too.
In the first few weeks of school, it can be a good idea to contact parents to let them know how their child is getting on.
I’ve found that telephone calls work best, as well as face-to-face conversations, as both of these methods involve a relaxed sense of dialogue that’s not normally available through methods such as e-mail.
Benefits of this strategy include:
- Extra intelligence, such as the student’s approach to homework in their real home environment, can be gathered
- It puts the parents’ at ease and reassures them
- It can be used as a motivational tool for your new students – if you’ve passed on praise to their parents then they will feel happy and will know that mum or dad is only a phone call away.
- It can pre-empt a settling-in parent’s evening, provide common ground and information before a face-to–face meeting
Strategy 4: Play Games
People who have been following me for some time will know that I am a big advocate for the use of learning games in teaching. They break up lessons into chunks, appeal to the multi-sensory needs of your learners and stop your kids getting bored.
What could be better than that?
But which games should you use to get to know your students?
There are a number of learning games you can play at this very useful blog post of mine here. All of those games can be adapted to a ‘getting-to-know-you’ lesson, but my favourites for this specific context are given below:
This quick game is so easy: all you need is a whiteboard, whiteboard markers and a class of kids. It’s a great game for consolidating key vocabulary and is perfect for E.A.L. learners. You could potentially replace key words with students’ names in a ‘getting-to-know-you’ lesson.
Here’s a short video showing a quick clip of me playing ‘Splat’ with my students (I will include some more lengthy clips soon, but this is a good start):
#2 Mystery Word
Another easy game. This time, students randomly pick out written words from a hat (or cup, beaker, container, etc.), and then they have to explain their word to the class (without saying the word). The students who are listening have to guess what the word is. Again, you could potentially replace the words with students’ names in a ‘getting-to-know-you’ lesson.
#3 Who am I?
A very simple game. All you need are post-it notes and a class full of energized students! Great fun. Perfect for reinforcing key vocabulary and concepts. In a ‘getting-to-know-you’ lesson, you might want to use the hobbies and interests of different students as the key words.
Personally, I feel that it’s a shame that more teachers don’t make use of simple learning games such as these. They aren’t costly, they’re simple to do and they provide so much fun and great, deep learning for your students (when applied properly).