Do you remember what it was like being in school? When I was in primary school I remember being obsessed with transformers and rollerblading. I was slightly overweight, pale skinned and short and I cared deeply about the opinions of the ‘popular kids’ and strived to please my teachers.

I remember one particular day in the playground telling my Year 3 teacher, Mrs Richards, that a group of students wouldn’t let me play with them. They were being mean and calling me names. Mrs. Richards stopped her conversation with one of her colleagues and shooed me away. I persisted, and told her my traumatic tale again, and once again she shooed me away with a waving hand.

At that time in my life being accepted by my friends was a big deal – in fact, it was my world. Mrs. Richards was a great teacher; passionate, kind and dedicated; yet in that moment she was busy, probably tired and disinterested. I walked away from that moment feeling hurt and more lonely than ever.

Sure, I got over it eventually, but I wonder how often we let our students down because we’re busy or distracted by tasks that should come second to our students. As teachers, we have a unique opportunity to help our students feel heard, significant and special. We need to get into their wonderful worlds so that we can truly engage with them.

Here are some ways to engage in more meaningful ways with your students:

  • When you’re on playground duty, be present. Playground duty can be a chore or you can look at it as a wonderful opportunity to connect with your students outside of the classroom.
  • Empathize with your students. Their concerns may seem minor to you now, but think back to when you were their age. What was important to you? Just watch the faces of your students light up when you actively participate in their lives.
  • Be interruptible. You didn’t get into teaching to hide in the staff room or to diversify your photocopying skills. No matter how busy you are, whatever task ‘must’ be done, you have to allow students to interrupt you.
  • Don’t underestimate how powerful your words and actions are in the lives of young people. By taking a little bit of time each day, you can step inside the wonderful world of your class. It’s a world full of imagination, friendship drama and infinite possibilities.