Building a strong relationship with students is a key tool in achieving success for students and as a teacher. By creating a strong relationship, we can begin to understand the attributes and characteristics our students and gain a stronger understanding on how they learn. Understanding a student’s background, whether they are from overseas, interstate or of an indigenous descent is essential in assisting teachers to differentiate across all abilities and specific learning needs. I believe that a teacher who spends time to understand student abilities, interests and personal backgrounds will create a more successful learning environment. As my final placement was going to be in a special education school, which had students with very diverse learning needs and accommodations, it was important for me to gain an understanding of my class.
Once I became aware of the school that I would be attending, I reached out to my mentor teacher to introduce myself and gain an understanding of the students in my class. An agreement was reached for me to come visit the class for an hour before the end of term to allow me to introduce myself to the students and gain an understanding about them.
Before arriving, my mentor provided me with a copy of all the students one plans and an overview of each of the students. The overview was especially important as it provided me with an understanding of their disabilities, their backgrounds, and the interests each student has. I discovered my students had a variety of disabilities, some that I had never heard of before. Some of my students were also non-verbal and used different forms of Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) to communicate (4.1). My first task was to research each of the disabilities, how their disability can impact their learning and how I can manage the environment to allow safe, interesting and engaging learning (1.1, 1.2). My second task was to start using the different forms of AAC at home to practice communicating with my students.
By working with my mentor teacher and the student support officers in my classroom, I was able to build a strong relationship with each of the students. Knowing their key motivational tools allowed me to connect with each student on a personal level. One student was fond of Matchbox cars, so I would talk to him about Matchbox cars. Another was fond of trains and one student loved to dance, so I would dance (poorly) with her at recess or lunch. By slowly building relationships with each of the students, I was able to understand more about them, their background and what ways I could differentiate the teaching so I could gain their full participation and meet their specific learning needs.
One student in my class has complete vision loss and has autism. He is 15 years old and only lost his vision 5 years ago and was wary of new people, especially men, who were coming into his life. Due to his disability, his daily routine would see him retreat to the sensory room as loud noises and distractions would heighten him. Every day, my mentor teacher or an SSO would enter the sensory room to teach him math and English. To build a relationship with him, I was slowly introduced to the room. The person who was teaching him would ask if Craig could join the lesson. I would say hello and I would sit silently as the moved through the lesson. Gradually, I would begin to make comments and praise the work his was doing. Over the next couple of weeks, I was able to bring the student out of the sensory room and run full lessons with him on a 1 on 1 basis, in particular maths.
The goal for this student was to teach him the necessary skills which would allow him to function on his own in real life. For maths, we had a focus on coin identification, coin counting and coin sorting. Being able to identify coins by touch are a necessary skill for people with poor vision. For this student, I would provide him with a bowl of different coins and place bowls in front him to sort the coins in to from smallest to largest denomination. Once completed, he would then skip count the coins to add up the entire amount. The student was always impressed with himself when he completed the activity and would often call out to my mentor teacher to let her know he was successful. Once my student was successfully counting coins, we started the process with Australian notes. (2.2, 2.5)
Working with students with a disability proved to be an eventful process. As my students and I began to connect, we were able to build relationships that allowed me to teach them as a whole class or on a 1 on 1 basis. Creating differentiated lesson plans for a student with complete vision loss was challenging. When I thought I had created a great lesson plan that would be successful, there would be something that would arise that I had not thought of when preparing the lesson. However, it was important for me to reflect on what worked and what failed and adjust my lesson to achieve success (3.6). By the end of my practicum, my vision impaired student who did not trust males, gave me a hug. The parent of one student wrote me an email to the school principal acknowledging the work that I had done with her son and the relationship we had built together. (7.3)
email from parent
1.1 - Physical, social and intellectual development and characteristics of students.
1.2 - Understand how students learn.
2.2 - Content selection and organisation.
3.6 - Evaluate and improve teaching programs.
4.1 - Support student participation.
7.3 - Engage with the parents/carers.