Being Human Is Not Unprofessional

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  • The #RelationshipsFirst movement: Students are more likely to learn when they have a positive relationship with you and get to know you too. We connect better with others who we know, value, and respect.
  • Share stories about life experiences and show humanity to students every day. Their experiences may be similar so by sharing, you have become someone else they can talk to or go to because you now have a connection.
  • Own mistakes. It’s ok to share mistakes because it’s human. Model ownership of struggles so students learn how to deal with failures and move forward, just like you.

Katelynn joined Rae on the Daily Drop In to chat about implementing new ideas.

Click here to watch!

Did you ever run into your teacher outside of school when you were a kid?

It was weird, right? Like they had an actual life, outside of school, where they bought groceries and spent time with their friends and family. It was so hard to fathom then that my teachers were real, human people.

As a teacher now, the notion of running into my students (or parents) outside of school is strange. Being on the flip side of this interaction, it’s definitely still a little odd. Our interactions with students are limited to one space, one circumstance, with learning at the focus.

Being Human Is Not Unprofessional: Relationships First

The #RelationshipsFirst movement in education has led me to reconsider the limitations of how I interact with students. Kids are more likely to learn from you when they like you and feel that you value them, too. They are less likely to engage in disruptive behavior when they respect you and have a solid relationship with you. This movement goes beyond just building rapport and challenges us to really know our students. In order for this to happen authentically, in order for us to have a great relationship with our students, they have to know us, too.

This idea, allowing our students to know us, is something that can seem taboo. Talk to them about your life? About your family? About your experiences? That’s so…unprofessional.

Being human doesn’t make us less professional. Relationship building is a two-way street. Building relationships is allowing ourselves to be human in front of our kids. It’s knowing who our kids really are and letting them know us too. Click To Tweet

While this might be the knee jerk reaction, it’s simply not true. I’d contend that anyone who believes this to be unprofessional hasn’t considered what teaching is—an interaction between human beings. Yes, there’s content. Yes, there are expectations. And yes, there’s learning progress. It’s our job, our professional duty, to ensure our students are developing as young people and accomplishing the goals set out for them. 

But all that doesn’t take away from the fact that educators and students are both human beings, and it is in our human nature to connect better with others who we know, value, and respect.

Being Human Is Not Unprofessional: Get to Know Each Other

In my classroom, I talk to my kids. Mr. G, as my husband is known by my students, comes up in conversation. Our cat, Chickpea, is a frequent topic when my students and I are chatting about something. My family and friends do not disappear when I walk into my classroom. They are a part of me, and I bring that part in with me every day. I share photos, stories, and commonalities with my kids. I show my humanity to them. Daily.

This has permeated into my teaching style. When I broach a new topic with my students, I’ll share my own personal experience with it. I build background for my students using my own life, and I give examples that are relevant to them, as well as to myself. As we discuss and recommend books, I share my own favorites from childhood, and with those recommendations often come stories. When we talk about incorporating detail in our writing, I shared detailed accounts of my favorite pizza to demonstrate. The examples I use to teach sentence structure and punctuation are often ones made up about me or my life (i.e. Mrs. G loves coffee and is short). My students get to know me as a person, which helps us identify with one another and build a relationship that is conducive to learning.

Being Human Is Not Unprofessional: Mistakes Are Okay

They also see my mistakes. When I mess up, whether it’s something big like a lesson plan not going the way I imagined, or something small like incorrectly spelling a word on the board, I own it. I don’t try to skate over the issue and act as though it never happened, or pretend like I did it on purpose. I tell them I messed it up because I’m human. And humans screw up. A lot. Then, we move on.

When we show our students that it’s okay to make mistakes, it’s okay not to be perfect, the pressure for them becomes less intense. Our students realize that in our classroom, failing is okay. If I can fail and move on from it, they can too. Modeling is an important instructional strategy—that remains true when we’re modeling the ownership of our struggles.

Being Human Is Not Unprofessional: Relationship Building

Beyond teaching, when my students get to know me, they often feel more comfortable coming to me as a trusted adult. When my middle schoolers are facing a challenge or struggle (aka every day), it’s not uncommon for them to seek me out to chat for a few moments. No matter how inconsequential the matter is, they know they can come see me to talk. To feel heard by someone who knows them well. To have a place to feel comforted and loved.

Many of my students are aware that at their age, my parents divorced. They are aware that it was tough for me. I share this with them not to lay my problems out for the world to see, but because for a lot of my students, this is their reality, too. Feeling as though they have someone who won’t just listen but who understands is important to them. Sometimes it completely changes the game.

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Students are shy to talk about their stepfamilies, half-siblings, and what have you. But when they see that someone they know, someone they respect, also has a stepdad and half-brother, it becomes normalized. They are less afraid to share their lives because they know it’s not weird.

Many students walk into our classrooms in need of our love and support. When we allow them to see that we, too, are human it makes them feel more comfortable in our shared space. It lets our kids know that they can make mistakes, and it’ll be okay. It oftentimes shows them that their struggles are not something they need to carry alone, that others have experienced them before and made it through. And it provides a sense of belonging for those struggling to find their place.

When our classrooms become a place where relationships are the focus, learning comes so much more alive. Our students want to be there. They want to participate. They want to engage. And they want to make you proud.

Being Human Is Not Unprofessional

Being human doesn’t make us less professional. Relationship building is a two-way street. Building rapport is getting to know our students and tailoring what we teach to what we know they like. It’s incorporating their interests into our lessons and ensuring we reach them through this inclusion. It is not at all bad, but it is largely one-sided. Building relationships, on the other hand, is allowing ourselves to be human in front of our kids. It’s more than just knowing who is interested in what books or movies or sports teams. It’s knowing who our kids really are and letting them know us too.

About Katelynn Giordano

Katelynn Giordano is a Middle Level Language Arts Educator in Illinois and the Director of Curriculum & Instruction for the Teach Better Team. She is a dynamic educator who is passionate about student voice and empowerment, promoting equity, and valuing teachers as professionals.

Katelynn has presented at various state and national conferences on assessment & grading practices, language arts instruction, social emotional learning, and equitable teaching practices. She has contributed chapters to innovative books on educational practice, including The New Teacher’s Guide to Overcoming Common Challenges and 100 No-Nonsense Things that ALL Teachers Should STOP Doing.

You can check out more of Katelynn’s work & her writing on her website or her blog Curriculum Coffee.

Katelynn is also a member of the Teach Better Speakers Network.