Connect to your Students as 2020 Begins


A new decade begins tomorrow. I think I speak for us both when I say "Holey moley!'

Whether you're an all-in New Year's resolutions kind of person and have already filled your fridge with green smoothie ingredients and your new planner with cute color-coded stickers illuminating your goals and dreams for the new year, or you subscribe to the chill, "New Year, Same Me" philosophy, the return from this mid-year break can be a nice time to reconnect with your students and relaunch in your classroom to level up for the rest of the year. 

Because let's face it, January and February aren't necessarily the most naturally fun months of the year (at least in my climate - hello, endless days of grayish sleety sludge and muddy feet). But they can be beautiful days of connection and progress in the cozy creative atmosphere of your classroom. 

Here are some of my favorite ideas for reconnecting with your students and starting 2020 off with a virtual leap. 


#1 Put your goals on paper together

If you'd like to ease into the school year and bond with your class a bit as you return after break, consider finding out what your students hope for themselves in the new year. I like what Marynn and Cathleen, my guests on the podcast a few weeks ago, do with student vision boards. They ask students to combine images, quotations, and text on a piece of paper and focus not just on WHAT they want to be, but WHO they want to be. Then put these vision boards up on your walls and take some time as a class to see everyone's dreams and goals. Let this information help you connect to each other and guide you as you frame your curriculum to your students. 

Another fun way to help everyone visualize their goals for the coming year is to try the one-word project.  I first read about this idea in Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love when I was teaching in Bulgaria ten years ago, but I think it goes back much further than that. You simply choose a single word to represent the upcoming year in your life, and reflect on how you can use that word to guide you towards the kind of year you want to have. Students can make posters of their words and also reflect in writing on why they chose them, and then of course, it's wall display time! You can see how I set up this assignment in my one-word curriculum set over on TPT. 



#2 Connect individually with kids who are struggling

The beginning of the year is so exciting and shiny. Yet it brings the struggle of suddenly trying to get to know a hundred or more kids in a few short days. Naturally, the focus is on getting names and faces at first. By mid-year, you know those and you've built more solid relationships with many students. But it's a time you can go deeper, especially with kids who are causing behavior issues in your class, perhaps struggling with apathy. 

I'd really recommend listening to this podcast episode with Dave Stuart Jr. about how to move beyond student apathy. Two strategies I learned from him to help you connect are to seek out moments of genuine connection with your kids, and to try the 2 X 10 strategy. 

Dave defines moments of genuine connection as short interactions that help us forge relationships with our students. "A moment of genuine connection is just thirty seconds to three minutes long. You're just indicating to a student implicit messages like I see you, I know you, I value you, I think that you're fun. It's these small little moments that make teaching the amazing thing that it is." 

You might ask a student what music they're listening to as they walk into your room, then have them play you their favorite song. Maybe later you can play that artist during a quiet writing session. 

You might comment on a student's choice of laptop stickers, trying to get the story on a cool image and understand where it comes from. 

Maybe you ask a student what their favorite part of the break was, finding out what they enjoy when they're out of your class, so you can refer back to it and connect it to what they're up to inside class. 

There are so many ways to spark a genuine connection. 

Now here's the rundown on the 2 X 10 strategy, as shared with me by Dave. "Take the most checked out kid in your class, the kid who refuses to do anything, and for two minutes a day for ten school days straight, talk to them about whatever they want to talk about but it can't have anything to do with school. If you look at articles online about 2 X 10 and look in the comments, you're going to see the most amazing gushing comments from teachers. What's happening is, that student who appears to not care at all, typically has a full history of feeling like school is pointless, no one cares about me, I don't belong here, and you're breaking that up, breaking the pattern, breaking through the static with your interaction. Usually what you're going to discover there is holy cow, this student is working at a great disadvantage. This can really change the equation, and you can connect the student with some resources to get other needs taken care of."

Another of my favorite ways to make small inroads of connection is by using attendance questions. This could be a fun practice to throw in just for January.


Attendance questions are an easy way to get to know your students a little better every day, and to start class off with connection. You'll find a free printable poster with forty questions to choose from right here. 

#3 Connect through Independent Reading

If you haven't started an independent reading program yet, now's the time!

Sharing my favorite books with my students and getting to know what they truly enjoy reading has been a game changer for me in terms of connecting to my students and building strong relationships and positive tone in the classroom. I've written about this A LOT here already, and even designed a short and free e-course to teach you all my tips and tricks for getting started with an independent reading program that works.

Launching 2020 with a new reading program or a newly polished reading program would be a great way to add joy and connection to your classroom. You can sign up below to learn everything I know about independent reading with five days of short email lessons. 


#4 Launch Genius Hour

What better way to add fire and connection to the classroom than by letting students pursue their passions? Genius hour is a structure for giving your students some time out of each week or term to pursue their own personal interests.

Whether they want to learn American sign language, design a video game, or create a business plan for their own influencer Instagram account, genius hour gives them a chance to pursue their dream and learn from doing it. You can easily incorporate ELA skills and plenty of oversight by asking them to blog about their experiences with part of the time you allot. If this sounds like just the project you've been looking for, check out this post and podcast to get all the details on genius hour.

Well, I'm thinking you won't have time for much more action than this in the few short days before the return of school. I hope you decide to do vision boards or one-word projects, try out attendance questions for January and the 2 X 10 with some of your trickier students, and consider launching an new independent reading program or genius hour project in your classroom. Whatever you choose, you have my very best wishes for a happy new year! May 2020 be a beautiful, creative, fulfilling time for you.


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