Getting to know students can be overwhelming at the start of a new school year. You may have a large caseload or may be the only counselor at your school. How can you make individual student connections when this is your situation?
Use Duty Assignments to Make Student Connections
If you have an assigned duty station before and/or after school, use this to your advantage. My early morning and afternoon duty in the front hallway allow me to make individual student connections every day. After only a few weeks, I already see some patterns. I get to know the late arrivers, sleepy heads, friend groups, talkers, non-talkers, bus riders, etc. Last week I had a sixth grader high-five me as he walked to the bus when he saw my blue house shirt. He exclaimed that “our house is the best.” This made me smile! Other duty locations like the cafeteria, bus line, or car line will give you a window into the students in your building. This can help build relationships throughout the year.
Be Visible to Students
Another way to make connections with students is to be where they are. Standing in the hallway, visiting the playground at recess, observing gym class, or hanging out in the cafeteria are ways to just be visible and observant. I learn so much in the cafeteria during the first weeks of school. It gives me a picture of the social situations in each grade level. I get an idea of who may need some extra TLC with friendships. Observing different classes and being on the playground lets students see you and provides opportunities for impromptu conversations.
Co-Teach to Create Student Connections
Something I’m working on this year is to collaborate with teachers more. I will be co-teaching an SEL lesson in some content area classes. I will continue my monthly classroom curriculum as scheduled. In addition, I will work with an ELA teacher to create some SEL lessons targeting anxiety and resilience. The ELA curriculum has SEL embedded and will not take away from students mastering their learning targets. This will give me an opportunity to see students in a different setting, but will also help them see me in a different role.
Use Data to Make Student Connections
Look at attendance, achievement, and discipline data to identify certain students who may need some intentional one on one time with you. The chronically absent or tardy student, the low performing student, or the student with multiple discipline offenses could benefit from positive contact at the beginning of the school year. This will help to build that individual student connection so that when intervention is necessary, you already know the student. They trust you and are more likely to cooperate because you have that relationship.
Use Name Cards
Having almost five hundred students on my caseload makes it a challenge to make individual student connections. I use name cards to help with this. I print out class rosters for each class I will be visiting. This helps me just to see the name on a list. Then, during my “Meet the Counselor” lesson, I have students take a sheet of paper and answer a few questions about themselves. They use this paper to make a name card and decorate it however they choose. I keep these in folders and bring to my classes each month. Before the next class I set aside time to look at the name cards and read the answers to the questions. This helps me make a mental and visual connection that I can use throughout the year.
Sponsor a Club
Extra-curricular activities provide a great way to make connections with students. It does take additional time out of your day, but can be very rewarding in growing relationships. It gives students a different perspective outside of your regular counseling role. Having this individual student connection can provide the opportunity for you to be available when they have a need or they know someone else who does.
Remember Student Birthdays
Student birthdays is a simple way to connect with each student. Use your master student list to sort students by date of birth to get organized for each month. Use bookmarks or postcards and address with student names and homeroom. Attach a piece of candy, a pencil, or a coupon to each card. The week of their birthday, divide the cards by homeroom and put the cards in the teacher’s box to pass out. I was surprised by the positive reaction of students to this small gesture. This made me realize that it really is the little things that can help make student connections.
For me, making those individual connections is so vital, but yet so challenging. It is not an easy task, and I will not know each of my students by name. My goal is that I will do better on improving these relationships by building these connections.
Share what you do to connect to students!
I’m a school counselor, former special education teacher, and adult educator. I am an advocate for students and implement a comprehensive program based on the ASCA National Model and the TN counseling model. My hope is that all students reach their full potential without limitations.