Featured Insights Feb 21

Texas teachers share 5 impactful ways they use Along

On school campuses where teacher-student connections are prioritized, you can find inspiration around every corner. You’ll see more engaged classrooms, with more conversations and a general openness from teachers and students that helps to create a positive school culture. 

So what’s in that secret sauce exactly? Are there keys to success when it comes to building and maintaining year-long teacher-student connections? Yes, there are. In fact, when a school’s staff comes together with a vision to create a positive school culture centered around teacher-student relationships, they also need a specific plan or tool to help—like Along. 

And from there, an effective strategy needs to allow student voices to be heard and for teachers to respond and adjust their instruction based on that direct student feedback. That’s the level of success that we found recently when the Along team visited several schools in the Pasadena Independent School District (PISD) located in Texas. Across three of their school campuses—Bondy Intermediate School, Melillo Middle School, and Thompson Intermediate School—educators were focused on building strong connections with their students and had come up with manageable strategies for how to use Along to help.

Check out some of their inspiring strategies for maintaining connections with Along: 

Open doors to new opportunities:

Rebecca Eloph, a science teacher at Thompson Intermediate School, said that she posed a specific question to her students in Along to get them more involved in school activities. After asking, “What makes you feel like you belong? Is there something you want to get into to help?,” she then shared a list of school clubs with students and highlighted something they could be interested in. “All of a sudden, you are building these connections with students and you are sending them to these clubs where they can make connections with other students,” she said. “That’s how you make friends. I met my best friend at Thompson Intermediate and she’s still my best friend to this day.”

Pulse students about academics:

For Denise Martinez, a math teacher at Melillo Middle School, building strong connections with her students starts by getting them comfortable with the subject she teaches. So, as one of the first warm-ups she posted this year, she asked this question in Along: “What are your feelings towards math?” When she saw the responses, she saw that a lot of them didn’t feel like they were good enough in the subject. “I grew up with math anxiety and I always keep that in mind for my students,” said Martinez. “I never want to put them in a situation where they hate math. So when I know I’m going to call on someone who said they weren’t ‘good enough,’ I go up to them and say, ‘you’re about to get called on, how’s your answer looking, let me help.’ That way it changes the attitude of getting called on and changes the anxiety.”

Class-wide discussions can be light, and still effective:

One way to effectively build connections is to create opportunities for fun, class-wide discussions. Stefanie Cantin, a math teacher at Thompson Intermediate School, said that she loves posing “this or that” questions or polling students on light subjects that they can then debate. “Last week I asked a question about candy corn, are you a candy corn lover or not? We had a vote and talked about the responses. I’ve also asked, ‘which restaurant has the best French fries?’” she shared. “I feel like they respond better to these kinds of questions. It’s a low pressure thing then. I’ll use that as a conversation starter so I can dive deep elsewhere and then I can bring them in to talk about academics.”

Connect to school-wide events:

When there’s a special event at school, why not use it as inspiration for a follow-up question in Along? That’s the strategy that Roselyn Denham, a science teacher at Bondy Intermediate School, used after the school recently put on a College Week. Students were able to hear directly from their teachers about different college experiences. After the event, Denham asked in Along, “What did you learn from College Week? Did it help you think about what you want to do after high school?” “The students were able to open up about it, and it was really fun seeing them respond,” said Denham. “For some who didn’t get anything out of it, I told them to keep looking and to continue to ask me questions about college.”

Help with life and social skills:

Educators understand that a student’s home life or social life can impact their experience at school. Using Along, they can help connect with students on strategies to help. For example,  Tiona Samuel, a science teacher at Thompson Intermediate School, found out that a student was struggling with relationships within his family because of his response to an Along question. Samuel followed up with a one-on-one discussion with the student. “He said he didn’t get along with anyone in his home. I asked him about his brother and sister, and he said he didn’t get along with them either,” Samuel shared. “So, that information allowed me to give him some skills to try at home to foster that relationship between his siblings. He needed extra support and another way to work around those relationships.”

Are you inspired by these strategies for using Along? Keep checking the blog for more ideas for the second semester! You can also take a look at our recent story, 5 ideas for how and when to use Along in your classroom, to get even more insights.

We encourage you to share your ideas with our educator community, too! Reach out to media@gradientlerning.org with your story!

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