Don’t get me wrong, relationships are important. They make life and the classroom more enjoyable and add to the experience. A solid, positive relationship in the classroom can ease stress and enhance the learning environment. I am not saying relationships don’t matter. They do. I don’t understand this push to devote the first week or more of class to relationship and/or culture building while ignoring the content of the classroom. I read some time ago one educator vying for the first 20% of classdays being devoted to this, which seems quite ridiculous. Most of the time, when I see this presented as a viable idea, the sentiment is the material can wait and Maslow before Bloom’s…or something to that effect. “Students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” is a quote that is usually closely associated with this belief…but there are many instances where this is not true.
I guess I wonder why this has to be an either/or situation? Why do I have to choose between either presenting material or relationship building?
Why can I not do both?
For example, when discussing hindsight bias, I discuss how my friends tell me how they just knew one team was going to win.
When covering a unit on developmental psychology, I always mention my three children when discussing Piaget’s stages of cognitive development and how they are a bit arbitrary.
During a unit on social psychology, we discuss cliques in school and how that affects school culture. I relate that to how awkward I was in school and how I coped.
During a unit on therapies for psychological disorders, I tell of my aunt who is a major player in the use of electroconvulsive therapy to treat depression.
In all of these situations, students then share similar stories and thoughts they have as a result and/or ask pertinent questions.
Sharing of myself and my life in this manner is more organic and authentic, which can lead to a more genuine caring. For example, I needed to be absent Monday of this week to care for a sick child at home. The first thing my students asked when I returned Tuesday was how my Jane is feeling. They genuinely care for myself and my family. This all occurred without me devoting a week of class to introductions and ‘getting to know you’ activities while avoiding content. Also, I believe this strategy of integrating relationship/culture building with curriculum combats the staleness that icebreakers and ‘share a fact about yourself’ activities are becoming associated with.
So, instead of having an either/or conversation with respect to relationship building and content presentation, why not strive for both? Instead of a possible one off of sharing about yourself to start the school year while ignoring content, why not just share all of those fantastic anecdotes and stories as they present themself throughout the year? If authentic and real is what you’re going for, I think it’s the best way.