Building connection in your classroom with The Reach Foundation

Group of young people sit in front of colourful building smiling

The Reach Foundation helps young people to connect with one another, to uncover what’s holding them back, and to engage in honest conversations with the people around them. Reach aims to promote young people’s wellbeing by increasing their sense of engagement and building their self-awareness and self-efficacy.

The Foundation’s workshops are 100% youth-led; that is, they are designed and delivered by young people for young people. The workshops rely on facilitation to drive content and to create moments of connection. Here are some of Reach’s top tips for building relationships in your classroom and improving students’ wellbeing.

Create a safe environment

Set up some agreements for a safe environment in your classroom and allow students to create these for themselves and one another. This is a great way to set boundaries and encourage accountability. You could start this conversation by asking what’s important to them when interacting with others, or what respect means for each student and how they can show that towards each other moving forward.

Change the space

Create a change in the physical space before your students enter the classroom or during your lesson. You could move the tables and chairs around, get rid of the furniture altogether, or suggest that you have the lesson outside if it’s a sunny day. This can bring energy and excitement to the lesson, enable your students to get their bodies moving, and create time for them to interact with others and the world around them. Breaking up long periods of work can re-engage your students and help them to re-focus on their learning.

Mix up the routine

Try creating a new routine by dedicating a few minutes at the beginning of the lesson to something fun. You could high-five each student as they come into the classroom, ask about their weekend, or read them a poem. You could print out a quote that inspires you and share it with them, or get them to do the same. You could sing a song, have a dance party, sit in a circle, or get everyone to ask someone else a question and practise some curiosity. This creates a sense of spontaneity and anticipation that shakes up the regular daily routine that they’re used to. It also helps to stimulate those students who have different learning styles, and creates opportunities for your students to get to know each other better.

Check in with yourself

Be honest with yourself and check in with how you’re feeling before, during and after class. This might seem a bit unattainable, but it can be as simple as spending 30 seconds to identify what you’re feeling at any particular moment and taking a few deep breaths. It’s important to be aware of your own emotions and the energy you’re bringing into the classroom, as these may have an effect on the young people you’re interacting with. Try seeking out a colleague who you feel comfortable with and schedule regular check-ins with them to ensure that you can support one another to move positively through your day.

Be vulnerable

Give students an opportunity to ask you questions and get to know you a bit more. Obviously, you can choose what – and how much – you share, but these sorts of conversations will make you so much more ‘human’ in students’ eyes and much more than just their teacher. Keep a ‘question jar’ in your classroom where students can leave questions for you anonymously. Each day, set aside some time to answer a few of them. This will build trust not only in your one-on-one relationships with students, but with the whole class.

Be curious

Take advantage of opportunities that arise to ask questions that help you understand your students’ values and experiences. Be interested in who each of them are as a young person, not just as your student. (For example, what is their background/cultural heritage? What is the make-up of their family? What are their hobbies/interests, etc.?) The more you understand your students as people, the better chance you’ll have of motivating and engaging them in the classroom.

Walk the walk

As difficult as it may feel sometimes, try your best to walk the walk: give these activities a crack with your young people, share a bit of your vulnerability and courage with them, and role model for them what stepping out of your comfort zone looks like. There’s so much power in setting an example for connection and realness, in owning your humanness, and in acknowledging that practising these skills can be uncomfortable but rewarding.

For more information, or if you would like to invite Reach to come into your classroom, check out https://www.reach.org.au/workshops/

What can I do now?

  • Use ReachOut Schools classroom activities on resilience with students

  • Learn more about student wellbeing.