When trying to decide what to blog about each month, I try to alternate between very practical, immediately applicable activities and a more touchy-feely type of topic. I try to incorporate both because I have come to think that teaching is equal parts teaching from the head and teaching from the heart.
We wouldn’t be effective teachers without the day to day, hands on strategies and materials that work for our students, but we also cannot be effective teachers without being truly invested in this work. You HAVE to love this job to do it. The easiest way to love this job, in my opinion, is to love your students. I have been in 4 instructional settings in 12 years with upwards of 100 students over those years. I can say that I truly loved all of them. I pray that they grew to love me as well.
A strength that I feel that I have is my ability to bond with my students and show them that I care for them in tangible. As Sasha has reiterated in her podcasts about back to school routines and reinforcers, you need to “make yourself a reinforcer”. I believe this to be so incredibly true. When you have a bond with your students, they work hard, they enjoy coming to school, and you have a deeper impact on their lives.
Don’t be afraid to be silly
When working with a client privately this summer, I heard her repeating a quote from her favorite movie, Mulan. As a Disney fanatic myself, I knew the quote and the context in the movie. I pulled up a picture of the scene on my phone and said the quote and it was like she was seeing me for the first time. It was a magical moment. It can be as simple as that. It can be acknowledging that you know what they are referencing. You understand what they are saying or doing, you get them.
Something that I realized early on with my students, especially ones that seemed very much “in their own world”, was how effective the strategy of joint attention was. When I simply showed them that I could hear them, repeating the phrases that they were saying, or joining in with their scripting, I inserted myself into that world. I found that when I would purposefully play with their favorite fidget or mirror their self soothing movements, they suddenly looked at me with fresh eyes.
Show interest in their interests
In my years as an educator, I have learned more about Dora the Explorer, Oobi, Kirby, SpongeBob, Arthur, and Thomas the Train than I ever thought I’d know. Instead of discouraging these high interest topics, I have used these characters as tokens for their token boards, pieces of reward puzzles, writing prompts, math manipulatives, even plush versions as larger rewards for long periods of good choices.
In The Autism Helper blog archives, there is a great blog about pairing yourself with reinforcers. It is a great explanation of this concept. Here.
Learn about their lives outside of school
There are so many ways that you can connect and bond with students concerning their lives outside of school. With your more expressive students, you can plan activities that give them opportunities to share about their homes and who they share them with, their favorite characters or movies/shows, or memorable events in their lives.
With your students that may need more prompting to share about themselves, you can investigate through their parents. Sometimes bringing up a favorite topic at school can bring a spark of interest to a student that may not be connecting with the activities in front of them. Knowing tidbits about their lives can be a key to unlocking a bond with your students. Take the time to ask and communicate to parents that you are interested in seeing your student as a whole person, not just the academic learner that you have in class.
Attend outside activities
As many of our general education counterparts have shown great examples of, attendance at your students outside activities can mean so much to them. I make sure to attend as many Special Olympics competitions, talent shows, choir performances, musicals, and even rodeos as I can manage. These incredible displays of our students strengths can mean so much as you build long lasting bond with your students. One of my students in particular will repeat the list of different times he’s seen me outside of school every time he sees me. It is a fun list of memories that we get to review multiple times every day.
A world-wide event that I cannot recommend enough is Night to Shine. Volunteering at this annual event has repeatedly been one of the highlights of my year. Seeing the joy of my students as they are named kings and queens, tearing up the dance floor, and karaoke-ing the night away, is more amazing than I can describe in words. Being present at this event will be a lifelong memory for you and your students.
These are just a few of the ways that you can build a bond with your students. How do you build rapport and establish yourself into a reinforcer in your classroom?