Welcome back my joyful friend. I am so thankful to have you here. I’m just so glad I’m able to be here. If you could see what it looks like here in these mountains, the mess and destruction from the flood, you’d understand that I mean that to the deepest extent. I’m also glad that you are well and able enough to be here too. Life is such a blessing, and so is being an educator. Today, we’re going to focus on nurturing one of the many blessings we have: student connections.
By the time that you hear this, I hope to be in my classroom with my students. If you were here for last week’s episode all about a secret weapon to supercharge family connections, you heard I was two days away from reentering the classroom with my students. I batch these episodes, so yes, I still have two days and I’m waiting patiently. And I’m still thinking and meditating on those connections. They are irreplaceable.
And so just as I mentioned last time, this information may seem delayed because you’ve been in a classroom for weeks, but hang with me, because this episode too, just like the last one, can be utilized at any time to bring better results to your student connections.
Before we get there, though, can I ask you a favor? Send me an email and let me know what you need, what you enjoy, and what you want more of. My email is toni @ teachertoni.com (just remove the spaces). I’d love to hear from you on the other end of this conversation.
Supercharging Student Connections
But now let’s talk again about secret weapons. This time, I’m going to share my secret weapon for supercharging those essential connections with students.
If you missed the last episode about family connections, please go back and listen to that first. As I teach in Joyful Teacher Academy, those family connections are the most important. Yes, I said most important, and for good reason. I explain it deeply within the course. But just know that your student connections also rely on your family connections. These two are so closely intertwined, I urge you to put lots and lots of focus on building those connections and lines of communication with families above all else. But that doesn’t mean we give our students any less.
We chatted last time about how secret weapons aren’t always so secret. But for today, this one does seem more secretive and stealthy. I also teach in Joyful Teacher Academy that our connections are just like a garden of sunflowers, and those that we build with families and students are protective and irreplaceable. So we need all the secret weapons we can get our hands on to help our own joy grow and shine.
Student Connections Strengthen Family Connections
Thankfully, student connections are the easiest to grow and nurture. And this secret weapon is not only easy, but has the capability to help us connect more strongly than ever, friend. It can also have a lifelong positive impact on your little students, something they keep with them forever. It’s amazing. It’s something I wish I had found earlier in my life as well because I’ve seen it work magic in the classroom. On top of all that this tool can also, with a few extra steps, strengthen those family connections we talked about last episode. So not only are you connecting with students, but through these actions you are connecting on a deeper level with families too. Sounds too good to be true, right? But I promise it isn’t. The cherry on top of the sundae is that it’s so easy to accomplish.
I know you’re ready to hear it plus snatch all of the tools you need to get started in the resource I’ll be sharing In just a few minutes. Yes, it’s powerful. It’s easy, and I’ve got it ready for you for free. So sweet teacher, let me share my secret weapon for supercharging student connections.
Let’s begin with a story about a third grader named Janessa, who is unfortunately a critic by nature. She curiously peeked at the girl sitting in front of her, someone whose hair is way too curly and has as many freckles as the universe has stars. Janessa thought to herself, that poor girl, she might never amount to anything if she doesn’t learn to tame that hair. Why does she slump like that? Shoulders up! How many years until she grows into those ears? With ears like that she could hear a pin drop, but can’t hear the teacher’s reminder to bring her homework. Plus, she has failed her last three spelling tests. Good luck getting all those issues fixed.
Janessa seems like a horror doesn’t she? Until I tell you a little part of the story that I’ve left out. All of this time, she was sitting in front of a mirror, and the little girl she was talking to was herself. The truth is we are all natural critics, just like Janessa. But mostly only with ourselves. We criticize, put down, and steer toward the negative side of thinking constantly. I do it, I’m assuming that you do it. Even the most seemingly perfect, happy and successful people do it until we finally become aware of it.
For me, I still struggle with this. But just the awareness that this goes on, that this is the natural way of speaking to ourselves, has improved my life tremendously. It has helped my confidence, strengthened my mental health, and it’s helped my relationships flourish. I’ve accomplished so much because I’ve tamed the monster, for the most part, that is called negative self-talk.
Once I figured out ways of doing this, it was only natural that I share this with my students. What if I had been trained at age six to encourage myself, to support myself? It would have changed many things in my life. And I want that for my students.
Beating Negative Self-Talk
And so two years ago, I incorporated today’s secret weapon. And within weeks, I noticed the change in the atmosphere. My students had shifted and so had their connection to me. They looked at me with brighter eyes with a glow that just said, I love her, and I trust her. I recognized a sense of confidence that I hadn’t seen yet. And as time went by, I knew this was a result of my one small and simple change. One tiny but mighty routine.
One of the greatest authors of all time, in my opinion anyway, Brene Brown said, “Talk to yourself like someone you love.” With this one simple change, I was teaching my students to do that. And it is my favorite way to build those deep blooming connections. It’s simply joyous. I accomplish all this with a 10 minute morning routine, using my secret weapon: classroom mantras.
Classroom Mantras for Student Connections
I know this sounds a little woo woo. Trust me, I’m from the mountains. My people don’t believe these things. But give me your trust. And let me tell you how it works and how you can accomplish it simply and powerfully.
Let’s start with the basics. What is a mantra? Well, simply put, it is a statement or slogan that you repeat a lot. It serves as a positive affirmation, a thought that you can use to reassure yourself of something. A mantra can be anything but should be specifically designed to help you overcome an obstacle.
A class mantra is one of the statements or slogans that you teach and actively use inside your classroom. I like to keep them short, simple, and general enough to apply to many obstacles that may arise. So now that you know what they are, you might be wondering why is it worth your valuable teaching time to use mantras? Ten minutes a day sometimes seems like a lot, and they definitely aren’t in our state standards and will never show up on an assessment.
It’s About Mental Health
Just kidding. I know you don’t care about that. But yes, I do want to make a case that this is worth your time. In our country, unfortunately, we are facing a mental health crisis. I’m not going to call out any statistics. But we are all pretty aware that depression, anxiety, and the like are at an all-time high. And the percentages of children who suffer are absolutely defeating. Anything we can do to help is worth it.
The effective use of mantras is a way of rewiring their thinking. I teach my students that just as Brene Brown said, we must love ourselves, support ourselves, and give ourselves the gift of positive self-talk. We all need to do this. And if we can teach our students this habit this early, maybe their lives will be easier. And they’ll have the love and confidence in themselves to accomplish more. So I hope you’re convinced. If not, I still beg you to try it. And once you hear just how easy that is, you won’t have any reason not to.
Mantras in Action
So this is how I specifically use mantras in the classroom. At the beginning of the year, I explain to my students what mantras are. I tell them the story of Janessa or a similar story. And we talk about how we all sometimes talk negatively about ourselves, whether we realize it or not.
In the upcoming week, I plan to have an anchor chart in my classroom where we compare negative and positive thoughts. But anyway, I make sure they have a good understanding of why we will be using mantras throughout the entire year.
We have one mantra per week that I pull from a list that I have, or that I sometimes create uniquely based on the needs of my students. We often also create these mantras together. But for the entire week, this mantra holds a special place in our morning routine.
Part of My Morning Routine
And this is how the routine works. Our mantra is posted clearly in the classroom. In the beginning, I read it and students echo. At one point of the year students are ready to read that independently because I teach first grade. This may not be the case for kindergarten, and it may be if you’re in second grade, they can read it independently from the get go.
On that first day, I teach motions to go along with the mantra. This is just something that I make up. And sometimes I’ll let my students help me in that process as well. If you’ve listened to me for any amount of time, you know that I love movement for engagement. So that is why those motions are added. It also helps students remember the mantra easier.
Every day during this routine, we repeat our mantra and our motions several times. After practicing those motions, this part is most important so please don’t forget it and do not skip it. This is where the magic happens. This is what brings it all together, ensures it isn’t just something we all say together, but that we understand and know how to use. I pose this question every day.
Why do we need to know and use this mantra, boys and girls? Why is this important to know and to remember?
Students Internalize These Thoughts
The answers that your students will give you are proof that they get it, that they understand. For example, if we’re using the mantra “I can do hard things,” a student may answer, “Sometimes when I’m doing homework, I feel like giving up and it’s just too hard. But then I can remind myself that hey, I can do hard things. Just keep going. And that teaches me not to give up.”
So that is a rendition of a real answer that one of my students gave me just this past year. He understood that he needed to encourage and uplift himself to keep doing things that are hard. After this discussion, I usually give two or three students the opportunity to talk every day. We then write down our mantra. This is usually on one of the pages that we use every day with some other routine things printed. And the great thing about it is that I know families are seeing this when they go through their child’s work at home.
So after we finish with a mantra each week, I post them in our classroom, and we get an entire collection of them. And we do review them pretty often, just so students don’t forget.
Family Connection Bonus Through Student Connections
Earlier, I told you that you could take an extra step to connect more with families as well, to provide evidence about just how deeply you care for their child. And if you want to accomplish that, here is how.
Take out your phone. Tell your students, we’re going to record our mantra for families to see. Have them say it and do the motions that go along with it like a chorus. Share this on your social media or whatever communication app you use, and they will love to see their child encouraging themselves. And they will appreciate and feel more connected to you, the person who cares enough to teach this life skill to their child. And of course, they’ll know what the mantra is because I have a surprise for you.
Class Mantra Starter Kit
Even though life is crazy right now for me, I have taken time to create for you a class mantra starter kit. I want you to be able to take this information I’ve given you, and also a list of steps included so that you’ll know exactly what to do. I want you to be ready to use classroom mantras when you leave this post today.
So here is what the class mantras starter kit includes. There is a parent letter that explains to parents what class mantras are and why we’re using them in the classroom. There are also templates for typing and printing your classroom mantras along with a list of classroom mantras to give you ideas. And finally, I’ll include steps to use and implement this strategy.
So teacher friend, I hope I’ve convinced you to give this connection building strategy a try. Just observe your students and notice how they will start saying this at random times of the day. You will hear these mantras in different areas of your teaching, and your students will likely say them out loud. I had many students just this past year that reminded me, “Oh, Mrs. Mullins, this seems hard. But I’m gonna say my mantra.” It’s wonderful. It’s amazing, and you have no excuse not to try it.
Student Connections with SEL
Along with that download, I’m gonna go ahead and include the SEL Toolkit that was created last year by me and my incredible friend Barbara Gruener, who is an expert and just so passionate about social emotional learning in the classroom. When we get on an emotional level with our students, those connections flourish. That download is below.
And if you’re interested, hop all the way back to this post, where Barbara and I talked about connecting with students by heart. That was one of my favorite episodes, and I use those tools inside of my classroom so you’ll have them to use as well to build your student connections. With all of this information and all these tools in play, I promise, give me your trust, you are going to connect with your students on a deeper level than ever.
Joyful Teacher Academy is coming back!
And that wraps up the main content for today. I’ve been meaning to share this strategy with you for a long time. So I’m so relieved, I finally found the opportunity to do it, and I know your student connections will be amazing. Before we say our goodbyes, I want to let you know that this content was inspired by Joyful Teacher Academy, my signature professional development course designed to help you reconnect with joy as an educator. Module two is all about building connections with our garden, and today’s information relates directly to the SNAP framework, which are guidelines I’ve created to help teachers connect with students more joyfully than ever.
For now, I’m still working to serve my current group of students, but the doors will be opening soon, and I know you are a perfect student for me. So if you’re interested, sign up for the waitlist. That just means you’ll be notified before anyone else that enrollment is open. With that, I’ve got some important work to do in my classroom today. It’s the Saturday before the Monday that we’ll begin. So I’ve got to go, but be sure to join me here next week for a super fun episode all about how to tame this scary blob called classroom management. And you know I can’t end without saying, until we meet again, go make a difference, my joyful teacher friend.