You have developed your Advisory and SEL Program, designed your curriculum, and now it’s time for you to finally implement and facilitate your group or class! Don’t worry, it can be scary in the beginning, especially if you don’t have a plan in place, but this post will help guide you to easy ways you can connect with your students.They are in order for how you can implement them into your class or group to help you get started.
High school and middle school students can often struggle with feeling connected and engaged in class. As for our roles as educators, while using a strength-based model, we want our students to feel like we are connecting to them, promoting a safe environment, and creating opportunities for them to contribute in the process to create their own vital roles in their classroom or group. The strengths-based model is an approach in which you use your student’s unique strengths and resiliency to solve challenges and face adversity. It’s an approach used by many therapists and educators and is a great approach to use in your own programs to build the skillsets of your students through their own unique attributes.
It is really important to make an effort to connect to your students. You want them to feel connected to you, their peers, their school, and feel like they can contribute to their environment. All of these factors help students develop a positive sense of self, increase attendance, and want to participate. By using their own leadership and team-building skills, your students will see their inner capabilities to work with others and work on their own growth mindset and empowerment through your set classroom management.
To help you get started, here are 10 tips to help engage your students in an Advisory or SEL program:
- Learn Students Names
If it’s the start of your Advisory or SEL program or you have new students who will be joining, having to remember your students’ name may be a bit stressful.. I know for myself this was always a struggle to do (I can say I’ve been terrible at it in the past)! There are certain tricks that you can do that will help you in this area. Using fun activities like name game icebreakers will help you remember these names and also helps you and the group to get to know their fellow members. You want your students to feel connected to you and the group. To do so you would want to build a good relationship. It helps for students to feel seen and appreciated that you took the time to learn their name. This is the very first step to have them feel included and heard!
- Participate in team building activities with your students.
(Oh no! This feels like another forced professional development activity). It may sound frustrating but this will definitely help yield some results to start forming connections with your students.
Using team building activities and icebreakers can help build an atmosphere of trust. Without it, students may feel too apprehensive to open up, reflect, or discuss many topics.You want to begin with low-risk topics and activities before asking them to get in-depth about who they are and other sensitive topics. This will create familiarity for future opportunities of openness.
- Provide an opportunity for students to help to create group or class expectations and group agreements.
Helping your students express their own needs and establish expectations should be done in the beginning of your program and can also be reviewed after school breaks such as mid-winter recess. You want students to have input and express their needs for themselves, from their peers, and from you. When they contribute to the expectations and rules, they are more likely to engage and adhere to the expectations and rules they have created. This can be done through fun SEL and Advisory Class and Group Agreements. Going over rules and expectations doesn’t have to be done through speeches but can be done through age-appropriate activities that establish respect, accountability, engagement, and more. You want to create a safe space where students feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and ideas
A place where they will not be judged for their comments. By providing class and group agreements, you are letting your students know that you are striving for a safe and open environment for sharing! Students love being part of the process and knowing that they contributed to their group! (Bonus: This increases their self-determination and engagement).
- Develop effective strategies for managing routines and procedures
It is important for students to have structure and clarity. You want to incorporate this over the first few weeks. Introduce a new policy each day or make it into an engaging activity so students learn what they need to do. It’s best to have this established early. Without routines and procedures, your classroom or group can become utter chaos with the possibilities of having students engage in negative interactions with one another. Creating clear routines and procedures will help in having students avoid testing their limits and do what they want until their behavior is put in check.
Here are a few examples of the expectations you can address with your group or classroom:
- Entering and exiting the class or group
- Bathroom and water breaks
- Completing work early
- Unplanned interruptions
- Managing Materials
- Have students take responsibility for jobs and tasks in the classroom group.
There are many jobs and tasks that students can take responsibility for to help your class or group run smoothly. In middle school you can have a job chart and for high school students print out a list so that you can have it handy at your desk.
You can have students volunteer for positions. This allows your students to gain skills such as responsibility, leadership, and independence. Make sure to provide clear descriptions so that students know exactly what they need to do. These jobs work great with students who have challenges with concentration, disengagement, or for those who finish their work early.
You can choose to have these monthly or bi-weekly, so that students have a chance to have many roles. A few examples of jobs can be…
- Passing out materials
- Passing out papers
- Collecting papers
- Making sure the floors are clear
- Making sure the desks are put back in the arrangement of the class prior
- Attendance Tracker
- Journal Monitor
- Paper filer (This can be for the missing assignments bin)
- Get student buy-in to the class or group.
Provide your students with the opportunity to choose the topics that they are interested in discussing. We want them to be interested and fully engaged and invested in what they are learning. This is a great way to have better engagement and target the main concerns from students in your group or class. When do they have the opportunity to choose what they are learning? Many of our states have the core curriculum set for us to follow. This is a rare opportunity where we can address the needs of both the students and the staff. To do this, you have to have them do a “What Would Like to Discuss” survey and gather the information. After doing so, start planning your year!
Here is another resource that can help you in your journey to increase engagement!: All About Advisory Programs and Social Emotional Learning with Leslie of Informed Decisions [Episode 43]. This podcast will help you with your journey on how to start your program to the challenges that you may face with your students and school staff! Getting student buy-in is tough, letting your students vote on the topics that most interests them will have them get on board with participating at a faster rate than if you have chosen the topics themselves. It will lower your chances of being disconnected with your students and focus on the current challenges that they are facing.
- Begin to build relationships with your students.
Share a little bit about yourself. You want your students to know you are human. Make sure you are not oversharing. You don’t want to make the students feel uncomfortable.
You can spend time learning about their interests and hobbies. I would take a few minutes and look them up to have an idea of what they want to share and then let them teach me about it.
Occasionally drop in at lunch… When I was in middle school you could sit down and have lunch with students. It allows you to learn about them outside of the classroom. When I worked at a high school, I would just be present and observe and talk to other staff just to make myself present. A lot of times they would just approach me. Lunch time provides a lot of information on who they spend time with and their behavior when they are not structured. I know it is hard to find time in an already packed schedule, but an occasional drop in really does make a difference.
- Create an inclusive environment.
You want the space to feel safe and students to feel accepted. This should include, but not limited to: culture, race, gender, sexual identity, religion, nationality, learning differences, physical abilities, socio-economic status, or personal style.
Even in a school that may seem homogeneous, you won’t truly know the identity of your students because they may not have openly shared this. They may not want to appear different. Also, they may be able to conceal these identities if they can not be overtly seen. They may also have a fear of being outed, ostracized, and/or overtly bullied for their differences.
To avoid this, you may want to expose your students to other cultures,ethnicities, and social identities and beliefs so that those who may not be comfortable sharing yet can see their own identities being mentioned and included. Your students will be able to be seen and may feel like they are in a safe and comfortable environment. Also, make sure that your students understand the need for acceptance to differences and the consequences of bullying those for their own identities. It is hard for students to share who they are and having your class or group understand this can avoid potential bullying situations.
- Demonstrate positive attention
Providing positive attention to your students affords an opportunity for them to feel connected to you, the class/group, and their peers.
The first thing that you can do to start class or group is to greet your students when they walk in! It is also fantastic for gauging their moods. You can have them use an entrance greeting: thumbs up, thumbs down or ask them how the weather is and they can indicate their mood by the weather they choose. Both methods have worked for my students (This means you must be prepared at the start of class or group. No running around for last minute photocopies😉).
You would want to show students that you are practicing what you’re teaching. Use active listening, or non-verbal cues that you are listening intently, when students are speaking. This not only shows students that you care about what they are saying, but also shows students how they too can use active listening in their everyday conversations with others.
A tip for connecting with your students is asking them about their life outside the classroom. You can make connections to the topics with their everyday happenings. This will make it easier for your group to understand the material and show them that this is useful content that they would utilize in their own personal lives outside of the classroom.
Another way to show positive attention is attending school events! Students will appreciate that you are there for them and their classmates (Yes they will notice that you’re there). This also gives you discussion content that could be brought up at your next Advisory or SEL session as an icebreaker.
One more way to demonstrate a positive connection is by greeting them in the hallways (And also do a check in). Greeting someone in the hallways is a simple yet powerful gesture to do for all students. You never know if someone is having a lousy day and with a simple hello, smile, or nod can change their attitude for the day. Doing a quick check in is also helpful to know if your students need a little more extra support for the day from either you, the guidance counselor, or social worker.
10. Show appreciation for their contributions to the group or class.
To have your students feel comfortable and motivated in your Advisory or SEL program, you would want to compliment them! Complimenting someone can show them the strengths that they have and feel accepted for who they are. Someone having awareness about their involvement in the group would open future possibilities in sharing more with the group.
After their contribution, you would want to thank them for their insightful comment, contribution, or helpful job they did for the class. Being thankful will let them know that they are being seen.
Another helpful tip is giving them written notes. I like to do it on sticky notes and leave it on their desks throughout the class or group. I also use words of appreciation during Kindness Week
11. Have students help facilitate activities.
Once the class has clear structure and routines you can begin to model how they can support facilitation. I structure both my classes and groups so that halfway through the year students can help facilitate the activities and ask the discussion questions. This can occur after the first 3 or 4 months of you facilitating the program. It changes up routine and lets them learn leadership, group work, and confidence. Yes, that might sound a little scary but students are aware of what the structure is like every week. You can also provide them with the materials before the group starts so that they are not stumbling on what they have to do. Providing them with a sheet that includes a list of discussion questions and the agenda for the day will be helpful.
Finding ways to build connections with students during the program and even outside the classroom will strengthen your groups and make a big difference. Students can not connect with us if we are not showing that we care about them. Just like with building relationships outside of the school with others, we need to build rapport with our students so that both parties are connecting and communicating in ways that are respectful and positive. Students are learning from us and we are their role models when they are not home. Through engaging activities and student-led facilitation, students can build on their independence, engagement, and team-building skills.
What are some simple tips that you use to help connect to your students? Comment Below!
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