Think Better: Connecting with the Unconnected

Lindsay TitusBlog, Connect Better, Teach Happier


  • It is important to connect with all students, even the ones who seem like they don’t want to connect with other people.
  • Three steps to connect with students: Love them where they are, not where you think they should be. Keep interactions simple and easy. See and honor the endless possibilities with students.

As educators, we continue to hear how important building relationships are with our students. And I 100% agree with that statement. But something I always used to wonder, and quite frankly still get stuck on, was “what if I can’t connect with the student?”

I think sometimes we hear things in education such as “build relationships” and have this belief that it will be easy. At least that was my story. Back when I was in the classroom, just beginning my teaching career, I thought building relationships would be something I’d be good at. Something that would be a highlight of my day. And instead, I found that this was something I struggled with at first. Simply put, it was hard! 

Over the last 16 years in a variety of roles in education, I‘ve discovered that it wasn’t building relationships with every student that challenged me. It was building relationships with the students that seemed to be unconnected, or in other words, the students that didn’t seem like they wanted to connect with other people. And before I go further, I think it’s important to note that the important word in that previous sentence is “seem.” I truly believe the goal of 99.9% of our student population is to be connected in some way to someone. 

Two Questions to Consider

So that begs the question then: Why is it that some people are easier to connect with than others?

It also brings up the question: How can I connect with those students who may seem to be unconnected? 

Lately, I’ve found myself reflecting deeper on the second question. When I reflected on what I do now as an Assistant Principal to connect to the students who seem unconnected in my building, I came up with 3 steps I take every day. 

Love them where they are, not where you think they should be.

It can be easy to fall into shouldville when it comes to connection. Our brains like similarity and so we can fall into the trap of comparison when it comes to our students. Students who may have walls up for connection still need your love today. Even if they aren’t reciprocating the connection, it’s important to love them and have compassion for the student they are each day. 

Keep interactions simple and easy and build from there.

Just like we don’t know the baggage that adults are coming to school with, we don’t know the baggage that our students are bringing. Students who may not easily connect may have experiences happening in their lives that are a barrier to connection.

To help get the momentum rolling with these students, keep your interactions light and simple. A quick ‘hello’ is all it takes sometimes to get that ball rolling. A simple “I love your shoes” as you are walking by in the hallway can make all the difference. A genuine “thank you for being here” is a way for students to feel welcome in all spaces. As you continue these little moments, they build into bigger moments that help to strengthen the connection between yourself and the student. 

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See and honor the endless possibilities within them.

I was one of those students who was unconnected. I kept my walls up high when I was in school. I didn’t want anyone to know what I was going through at home, or the challenges I was living day in and day out. I wanted people to like me, and I thought that in order for that to happen, I needed to keep my guard up. I thought that if they saw the real me, they wouldn’t like me and I’d lose the connections I did have.

With this, I can’t even begin to tell you the negative narrative I would tell myself day in and day out. I was never able to see the possibilities available to me because I was so focused on staying hidden and quiet. It wasn’t until my swim coach started to tell me the possibilities available to me. She frequently shared with me what she saw in me, without expecting anything in return or for me to respond. The simple fact that she shared this with me was enough for me to start taking down my walls brick by brick over time. 

How Am I Showing Up?

Something I remind myself of every day is that even if someone isn’t immediately connecting with me, I can still show up for them as the person I am that day. There is no race or timeline for connection to occur. Instead, we get to show up each day as our best selves and work step by step to create those long-lasting connections with all students, including those who may initially seem to be unconnected. 

Looking for more steps? Check out Episode 98 of the Define YOUniversity podcast! In this episode, I’m sharing two additional steps you can take to connect with all students you may interact with on a daily basis! 

About Lindsay Titus

Lindsay Titus is a K-12 Behavior Specialist with a license in behavior analysis. As a Board Certified Behavior Analyst, Lindsay coaches and trains educators on the study of behavior and how to implement evidence-based behavior principles in simple and easy ways! With experience as a classroom special education teacher, and behavior specialist in public schools, residential placement, and private settings, Lindsay enjoys working with all educators looking to reignite their passion for education, connect with all students, and conquer challenging behavior in any classroom setting.