Not 400:1, But 400 1:1s – 21 Tips to Form Strong Kid Relationships

Jon Konen
District Superintendent

Ratios can be valuable pieces of data, if used correctly. Math gets in our way sometimes of seeing what truly is meaningful in education. We track assessment data, individual education plans, and even formative data on how students respond in science classes. The data we can't track are the intangibles, like the relationships we have students. It's these intangibles that drive the culture of our school. I became a principal to become connected with 400 students. I am the main man in an elementary with only one administrator. The decisions I make affect 400 students and 54 staff members. That's a lot of power.

It's not about power, it's about the power I give up and the relationships I create with my 400 students. I have decided to spend more time outside of my office then in my office. This helps me create individual relationships with 400 students. In fact, I have 400 individual 1:1 relationships. I pride myself on saying hello or recognizing almost every kid, every day. How do I do this...first step is to get mobile!

Here are 21 tips you can use to foster strong relationships with kids, along with some ideas that go above and beyond (BONUS POINTS):

1. Learn All Students Names - This is so important to kids that you actually know their name and care to learn it! "Your name is…", "I'm sorry, tell me your name again." "I remember your name because…" "Jerry, how is your dog?" BONUS POINTS - Learn all your students' names the first day of school if you are in a classroom; if you are a principal, the first 2 weeks of school.

2. Be As Mobile as Possible - Sure, there are going to be times you have to be in your office or classroom. Ask yourself why you are in your office or classroom. Where could you be in the school that has the most high student traffic? Hallways, lunchroom, recess, any transition between specials, arriving and departing school are great places to be every day to talk with kids. BONUS POINTS - Set up a schedule where you are in different places, different days, being highly visible and accessible to kids. Do all your paperwork or grading before or after school. Reserve your office for only meeting with students or staff privately. Save phone calls for after or before school, unless it has to be done immediately.

3. Passing out Positive Comments - "Jimmy, I like your Montana State sweatshirt." "Larry, how was your mom?" The point is talking with students about something that is positive, not just handing out positive praise for every kid. Increase the number of positive conversations you have with kids, especially those kids that you suspect don't get to do this routinely. BONUS POINTS - Learn about the top 10-15 students who don't have strong family connections, and track the positives you give them.

4. Knowing Each Student Academically - Talk with teachers about student's grades. Read every report card, especially the comments, and talk with students about their grades. Having more than one teacher teaming around a student lets them know we care. BONUS POINTS - Learn about your top 10 students in your school who have grades that are low and spend one minute a day for 10 or more days with these kids in meaning conversations (not about their grades).

5. Making Connections to Sports - Some of the kids that tend to get into the most trouble on the playground are kids that have a difficulty getting along with others while playing sports. Many kids have a hard time using their words when they are frustrated or want something. They tend to get physical and say things that truly don't mean. When you see kids who wear sporting gear, try to learn what sport it's from. Every kid has a story about that team, where they got the piece of clothing from, or even an experience that goes with it! BONUS POINTS - Learn about the teams and know their records, or even a player or two from the most popular teams.

6. Learn More About Students' Families - Learn about brothers, sisters, cousins, and any other family members in the school. Sometimes an older sister may help you deescalate a younger brother faster than you can. Learn about student's family situations: divorced, single parent, new to the area, need food or clothing support, etc… BONUS POINTS - Getting trained on Home Visitations and set up some meetings with parents. Support families by connecting them to school-based and/or community-based services: food pantry, social services, doctor's office, transportation, etc…

7. Attend Some After School Activities - Connect with students by attending an after school activity such as a football game, a dance recital, a community play, or other event. Choosing events that have multiple students is more efficient. Taking your family, even your own kids, to their events creates a stronger community bond, and also let's their family know you care. You also can model to your own kids that spending time together as a family is important. BONUS POINTS - Make it to one event for each of your students in your class. Track it so you don't leave anyone out. There are always going to be kids that don't do anything…invite them to a high school football game with your family or other event.

8. Meaningful Work Jobs - Create a meaningful job hiring process for your school. Have students interview and complete a two week trial period for jobs that teachers and other staff members find. Jobs needs to be as varied as possible, and a staff member needs to help manage or supervise: playground game supervisor, computer controller (turns on all computers each morning), sweeper, flag support, lunch counter, message deliverer, office aide, etc… BONUS POINTS - Connect meaningful work to kids who may have behavior issues or attendance problems. Kids who have a job build responsibility, they are contributing to the school environment, and they build positive relationships with multiple staff members.

9. Service Projects - Once a month have students fill out an application in order to raise money, collect donations, or volunteer for a cause. Students must have researched the cause, get their idea approved before going further, and have at least one parent supportive of the project. Encourage multiple students to submit project proposals, students can even team up. Chose one cause per month, or as many as you can manage. Students create posters, get on the PA system each morning, collect money, count money, report back to the students, and even meet with the people (the cause) that their raising money for. BONUS POINTS - Each month have a different theme: local, state, national, or world cause. Here are some great service project ideas: popcorn Fridays for a Cause, Hat Day for a Cause, food donation drive, clothing donation drive, and more. The whole point is getting kids to do the work, create a sense of empathy, and you are connecting with them.

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10. Kindness Campaign - Have students identify acts of kindness going on their school. Then teachers can acknowledge them in front of other classmates...spread the kindness and focus on how kids treat each other. BONUS POINTS - Start a Kindness Tree. Students write down specific acts of kindness and they read over the PA system in the morning. Then each writing, which could be written on a leaf (a Paw for Lion) cutout and stapled to the tree. Watch the tree grow.

11. Lunch Buddies - Eat lunch with students in the lunchroom. Pull students back your classroom for a special lunch date with the teacher. Principal can eat 1:1 with kids at lunch, especially those that may have earned a special award or prize from the teacher. BONUS POINTS - Connect older students with younger students. Help facilitate these conversations. Prompt the older students on questions they can ask the younger students. Work with the younger students on questions they can ask the older students.

12. Walking 1:1 - Pulling students from class may detrimental at times due to the lost instruction time. Hopefully you and your team realize there are students that need to get out and move. Instead of sending a student to the office, have the principal come do a walk-and-talk with the student. BONUS POINTS - Start a walking program before school, at lunch recess, or even after school with parent permission where students walk around a given path. Spend time talking with them, maybe use other tips from this list.

13. New Student Orientation - Spending time with new students the first or second day is vital. It says to that student and the family that you care, in fact you care enough to meet with and talk with their kid! Learn more the student, family members, favorite subject, etc… BONUS POINTS - Take a walking tour, introduce all new students to key people in the school: lunch lady, secretary, janitor, other specialists, etc…

14. Cleaning - Work with kids to clean the school. It seems there are always kids who want to volunteer to help you. Working alongside kids in the school lets them know how important we think our school is to keep it clean, gives us more pride in our school, and lets them know it's the correct thing to do. BONUS POINTS - Have your janitor or office personnel have signups for jobs around the school. For example, the janitor can have a sign up for lunchroom support. Students can sign up a week in advance for a day that they would like to stay in from recess and help clean, etc…

15. Tools, Not Toys - A good teacher or principal has a set of tools that are like toys. We stres to students that these are tools and not toys. Fidget types of tools (Tangles, Obelic, putty, squeeze balls, etc…) help students concentrate on the teacher, while keeping their hands busy. Use these tools when talking with students when they are showing anxiety, stress, or frustration. This can cut down on full blown tantrums. BONUS POINTS - Set up contracts with teachers and students for using the tools. Set expectations for the use of the tools, making sure to teach specifically how they are to be used, as well as how they can be lost. Spend time talking to students.

16. Recess Games - Get outside and play games with kids. Teach the rules to specific games that need to be cleaned up. Kids will ask you to go out every day after you do this just once! They love having you outside playing games with them. BONUS POINTS - After setting up your school's Facebook page, post pictures of students playing games correctly, staff members playing with students, even the principal playing 1:1 basketball with the big dogs!

17. Practicing Procedures - Have a set of students that are ready to teach procedures to others like hallway expectations, lunchroom, coming into school, departing school, transitioning, and more. For the most success, use older students with younger students, as same age students may get ridiculed. Do practice sessions with students, rather than disciplining the students more…a mistake is where the new learning goes. Students know that the consequence is going to be doing whatever it is again….and again…until they are ready to do whatever it is on their own. Always building towards independence. BONUS POINTS - Do assemblies just for celebrating procedures. Have students, staff, and principal model procedures and situations. The amount of time spent here will come back with more instructional time gained.

18. After School Support - Walk with students to their parent's car, to the bus, or even walking with them across the crosswalk. Spend time talking with them. Give the parents a positive comment about their kid. BONUS POINTS - Choose certain parents and students that you would like to target more positives which will lead to more success. The idea is to use all your time in a targeted fashion; walking and talking after school with kids and then parents can be a great proactive strategy.

19. Bus Buddies or Bus Stop Support - Spend time riding the school bus a couple times during the school year. Sit with kids in the back of the bus, talk with them about how the bus experience can be better. Show up in the morning at some of the hot spots (where problems persist) bus stops. Talk with kids before they get on the bus. Connect with parents if they supported the student getting to the bus. BONUS POINTS - When having bus problems, spend time talking with bus students. Start with a daily plan. Implement an idea, talk with parents, students, and the bus driver. Talk with younger students about bus expectations and let them know how they can help make bus riding a better experience.

20. Hand Written Notes - Write positive notes to students. Acknowledge an academic challenge met, a sports accomplishment, or something else positive. Deliver it yourself. BONUS POINTS - Track the number of positives you write a day, week, or month. Target 10-15 students with notes every 3-5 days over period of a quarter. Decide if this strategy helped, and adjust.

21. Positive Phone Calls Home - Call home to give a positive comment to the parents about a student's recent success. Be specific with your praise; don't add anything negative to the conversation…just positive. BONUS POINTS - Have teachers give you specific praise on every student in their class at least once throughout the year. Call home with one positive comment on every student every year. You may want to call specific parents more depending on the situation.

Being genuine, honest, caring, and dependable are great traits for an educator. Putting those words into action with the 21 tips above will give you back so much more. As an educator, you will get back time in instruction, spend less time managing behavior, and more time creating positive relationships. Do you want to be a teacher that is liked, or a teacher that is revered?

Try out some of these strategies and let me know how they went. As you know, you can't implement all these tips all the time. Pick and choose a couple to implement successfully. When you make the flip of how you spend your time, you will learn like I did, the ratio is not one person with power over 400 students, but the growth mindset of an educator having 400, 1:1 relationships!

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Jon Konen