Building positive relationships with students is the secret ingredient that can significantly enhance academic achievement, motivation and overall student success.
In District 58, these positive relationships are emphasized. In fact, at the opening Institute Day Superintendent Dr. Kevin Russell asked staff to “prioritize creating strong relationships with students.”
“Positive student relationships are fundamental to success at school. When students feel supported, they’re more likely to engage in learning, feel motivated and have better academic outcomes,” Dr. Russell said.
It’s also a pivotal year in helping students adjust to school following the pandemic. At the start of the year, teachers in District 58 make a point to get to know each child and let each child get to know them. They introduce themselves, show photos of their family or pets and play icebreaker games.
This helps build trust and support. “When students feel safe and valued, they are more likely to engage in learning, take risks in their learning and ask questions,” said Assistant Superintendent for Student Services Jessica Stewart. The trust allows teachers to provide personalized guidance and individualized instruction to the student.
At Whittier School, Principal Michael Krugman visits a different classroom each morning to make announcements over the PA system and the students cheer as their class is introduced. Then a student is chosen to share a joke or a Laugh of the Day. “What better way to start the day than to show the positive relationships and connections we have with our students,” he said.
Trust and open lines of communication foster a positive environment where expectations are clear and respect is nurtured. Teachers then serve as positive role models in essential life skills such as effective communication, empathy and collaboration.
Empowering student-to-student relationships is also a priority. At Kingsley, like many of the DG58 schools, kindergarten teacher Shannon Arnold pairs her students with sixth-grade buddies weekly to read and work on projects. "Seeing them build relationships with each other is such an incredible experience every year," she said.
Connections with older and younger peers help children navigate their social and emotional growth and develop empathy skills. When students collaborate on projects together, they often feel responsible for each other, thus enhancing their commitment to academic success.
Brain science supports the idea that early relationships, such as those with peers and teachers, play a critical role in shaping children’s behavior and social skills.
Marissa Remus, a kindergarten teacher at Fairmount, recently filled out a positive office referral slip for one of her students. “As a kindergarten teacher, I find it essential to build positive relationships with all of my students from the very first day. We are still working on learning how to be learners, so filling out positive office referrals is one way that I have been able to highlight my students & their hard work.”
“The investment of time in building these relationships is never wasted,” said Dr. Russell.
PHOTO CAPTIONS from the webpage cover photo: Clockwise from top:
1: Kingsley Assistant Principal Dr. Eleni Gajewski seated at lunch said, "When kids invite, say yes."
2: Hillcrest Principal Michelle Rzepka and this student found each other at Oktoberfest and took a photo together. "When we ran into each other the feeling of joy was mutual!"
3: Kingsley sixth graders and kindergartners meet weekly with their buddies. "Seeing them build relationships with each other is such an incredible experience every year," said Kindergarten teacher Shannon Arnold.
4: El Sierra Principal Jason Lynde gives high fives daily at the door after school. One Friday, a student said, "This is my favorite part of the day."
5: Fairmount Kindergarten teacher Marissa Remus hands out a positive office referral. "That's one way to highlight my students and their hard work. Having positive relationships and a classroom community sets our year up for success!"
6: Art teacher Jon Belonio draws a cartoon for a Hillcrest student to color.
7: Whittier Principal Michael Krugman plays a problem-solving game with Mrs. Lyons' fifth graders every morning.