California Educator

August/September 2023

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Page 27 of 71

W H E N I F I R S T S T A R T E D teaching, I found myself in a lively middle school classroom unsure of how to connect with my students. While we shared similar skin tones and cultural experiences, our backgrounds were different due to our places of birth being over 1,000 miles apart. I grew up in a small town, and here I was in a city with a population of 5 million. Having moved to the area only two years prior, I was unfamiliar with the unique challenges and opportunities the children in that environ- ment faced and how their surroundings shaped their educational experiences. Meaningful relationships with my students blossomed when I began to understand their perspectives and empathize with their lives outside of the classroom. Some simple acts allowed me to establish a nurturing classroom environment that created a community of mutual respect and care. Relationship building with my students created a foundation of high expectations and sup- ported effective classroom management. 1. Start the school year with a visit It's hard to see someone's perspective unless you can see the world through their lens. As a teacher who never lived in an urban environment, I knew there was no better way to truly know my students than by visiting their communi- ties. This could include meeting parents during their child's extracurricular activities or simply engaging parents in conversation on the sidewalk outside of their homes. I con- tacted parents through email, text or phone and scheduled a convenient time and location for them. It was important that parents saw this outreach as support and an introduction to the entire family. The conversations were more informal than parent-teacher conferences, and I focused on being social and relatable as a new person in the community. These meetings showed my commitment to stu- dent/parent engagement and relationship building. They also developed a sense of trust, where I was seen as an extension of the student's network of care, and led to a crucial change in the parents' connection to the classroom. The meetings were key for classroom management because students knew that their parents were "on my side" and supported my efforts in their yearlong learning journey. 2. Learn about cultural differences In my first years of teaching, I had a few mishaps when it came to culture. As a social studies teacher who loved "A willingness to be reflective and humble so that you remain respectful to students and the school community will create an environment of mutual support and respect." ...whose backgrounds differ from yours. A thoughtful approach that appreciates diversity within the classroom can help. By Jaslynn Laurence Building Relationships With Students... 26 Feature

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