Students are our priority. No matter what else we do, what programs we create, what books we choose, everything we do in some way should further their development as lifelong learners, users, and producers of knowledge. We build relationships with teachers because they are the gateway to the students, but we also must build direct connections to students.
We want the library to be viewed as a safe, welcoming environment for all. For students to feel safe and welcomed a relationship needs to be in place. Students need to see you as a trusted adult with whom they feel safe in asking questions of all types. Students (and adults as well) tend to avoid displaying ignorance and so may shy away from asking for help. We know it’s in the questions that we all learn and grow so creating a place where they can ask is important.
To begin, smiles are an obvious way to welcome all. It’s not just for the opening week but how you want to always greet students and teachers. Think positive thoughts as you do so to ensure your smiles are seen as real.
Using proper names is a good next step. Unlike smiles, these can be a challenge for librarians because we have the entire population to learn. In a large school, it is probably impossible, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep working at it. Try to add at least five or six names each week.
Sometimes we get help. Elementary librarians should have rosters for their classes. Mark it with the correct pronunciation and students’ preferred nicknames. You can use tents, fixed seating, and other similar techniques for the first few weeks until you learn names.
For middle and high school librarians who see students mainly as teachers bring their classes in, you can have them introduce themselves the first time. There are a number of mnemonic tricks online to help you remember but apologize in advance because you will be asking them to repeat their names as you work to learn them. You will soon know any regulars by name. And show your willingness to not know something by asking students to repeat their names when necessary.
Brief conversations can also help you remember names. Orientations are a good time to start. Don’t ask kids what they did during the summer. Some had terrible ones and are thrilled to be back where it’s safe. Instead, ask, “What do you want to learn this year?” It’s an excellent way to learn about their interests. Use their names in conversations to help you learn.
In ASCD’s May issue of Educational Leadership, Mary Ann Ware and Jodi Rath wrote an article entitled “4 Must-Haves for Positive Teacher-Teen Relationships.” Although targeted toward high school, their recommendations work with even the youngest students. You are probably implementing some of them even unconsciously. Their four must-haves are:
Consistency – Students need to have routines and boundaries. It makes them feel safe if they can count on how you will react to situations and their behavior. It helps them develop their own self-discipline.
Respect – Everyone deserves it. You will never get it if you don’t give it. Kids will reflect back to you what you demonstrate towards them. Be mindful of interrupting a conversation with a student in order to respond to an adult who came into the library.
High Expectations – Show you believe in students by letting them know you expect them to perform well. You are still there to guide and coach them to reach their goals, but you don’t make things easy. There is pride in completing a difficult task. This builds their self-confidence and motivates them to continue tackling other challenges. Acknowledge their achievements specifically including their perseverance when things didn’t go right.
Kindness – The world is a tough place, and school is often no different. There are articles now about burnout in kindergarten. Be observant and note when a student seems distressed and, if possible, quietly ask about it. They may need to just be by themselves for a bit or sometimes talk to someone. Your noticing and taking the time to reach out is how the library becomes a sanctuary and safe haven for so many students.
Your students are your priority and your advocates. How you treat them and how they feel about you becomes known to their parents and teachers. But most importantly, by building positive relationships with them you help them become global citizens who embrace learning and growing.