The power of connections before content in the classroom

In the “Connections Before Content” panel at the recent Aurora Institute Symposium, educators explored the foundation for student academic development and growth — and it’s all about the power of strong student and teacher relationships.

When students have a strong relationship with their teachers, they are able to perform better academically, while also developing positive social and emotional competencies and feeling more motivated in school.  “Before you can even start teaching content, you really have to develop those relationships with kids,” said Sarah Styles, a teacher at Rhodes Junior High School. “Without those relationships, they’re not learning in the way that they could. Every teacher will tell you that the kids you have the relationships with are the most engaged in class.”

Knowing that the teacher and student connection is critical, what are some of the ways to ensure students feel safe and feel heard when talking to their teacher? According to Styles, just being willing to be there for her students and to listen is the best place to start.

“One of the things I’ve worked on over the years and built into mentoring is allowing myself to be silent,” she shared. “That way I can just focus on the student, wait for them to respond, and listen to them. Often what kids need to know is that when they’re ready, I’m here.”

Creating strong teacher-student relationships starts by showing kids that they matter, added Susan Menkel, Learning and Development Manager for Along. Research from the Search Institute on development relationships has proven that when students are supported by adults, the result is stronger outcomes in the classroom. Their developmental relationships framework offers actionable steps for teachers who may not know where to start.

A key challenge that many teachers face is finding the time to focus on developing relationships during the busy school day. With a digital tool like Along, teachers can connect with students through quick one-one-one reflections inside or outside the classroom without taking time away from the curriculum. 

Styles, who is a math teacher, noted that the platform allows her to learn more about her students’ interests and connect that back to her classroom communications. “I have a student who’s really into Viking culture, but we’re not going to pull that in when talking about ratios and proportions,” she explained. “But because we’ve had the time in Along to talk about that, now we can shout ‘Valhalla!’ when we celebrate his test scores.”

Learn more about the power of connecting with students by watching the full Aurora Institute Symposium panel here.