Children playing in a safe learning environment

Teacher Tips: Caring Connections Promote Learning and Positive Behaviors

Oct 11, 2023  • by Debbie Bagley

I love working with young children! This young age when they start “real” school is so magical. Everything is so new and exciting. I love seeing things through their eyes. That developmental window up through age 5 is so special to be a part of while they learn how to do school and how to get along with others. 

Their brains are developing faster in those early years than any other time in their lives, and healthy development depends so much on healthy relationships in order to reach their full potential. Dr. Becky Bailey explains in the book Conscious Discipline, that the brain develops through, and relies on, relationships to shape its growth. Most mammals have only one attachment figure, but luckily, humans have a number of attachment models in our youth. If our models are not secure early in life, we can adjust them through later relationships and by making changes to our situation.

Creating a Culture of Caring at School

Dr. Bailey emphasizes the importance of the school family culture. When we provide a climate that is safe and connected while we teach, model, and practice relationship skills, we can strengthen the school family. 

“This allows us to be the change we wish to see in the world and allows us to create a healthy school culture for us to work in and for the children to learn in,” Dr. Bailey says.

When we create an environment that is caring and warm for our students, we help them know they are loved. Feeling loved and cared for is essential for their brain development, their success in school, their mental and emotional well-being, and in turn, their willingness to cooperate and learn.

We may not know the home situations children are coming from. Some may have secure and loving attachments. Others may not, and may act out with aggression or neediness. 

“Regardless of how they enter school, children must experience healthy connections and a sense of belonging for optimal learning. We can create a connected, compassionate class culture where all children can learn. Relationships are the gateway of all our learning,” Dr. Bailey explains.

A huge part of a caring class environment is the way the students feel loved and welcomed by their teachers. No matter how our students come to school, we can strive to create an environment that provides ways that help them combat any anxiety they may be feeling as they arrive.

A simple game changer for me was to warmly greet my students individually and by name with a fun gesture of their choice. The children felt valued, seen, and welcomed. The fun greetings promoted joy and excitement right away, plus, I could quickly assess how they were doing physically, mentally, and emotionally as they came into class.

We should also have a consistent morning routine that helps students feel connected and a sense of belonging, such as a daily Circle Time. This gathering time that occurs soon after arrival allows teachers and students a chance to get in the optimal mental and physical state to absorb new information.

As part of the circle time, we sing Hello Songs. One of my favorites is “Say Hello,” from Stephanie Leavell. You can find it via her YouTube channel, Music for Kiddos.

Hello Songs encourage movements such as shaking, wiggling, and stomping which are helpful ways for students to exit the stress right out of their bodies. This reduces anxiety while flooding their brains with feel good chemicals to be in a good mood and ready for the day.

Physical activity is very powerful!!! It brings kids into a calmer, more positive state, and helps them enjoy what they are learning. When they are joyfully learning, they will feel better about themselves, and connected in the class environment. Plus, being physically active is a developmental need. 

Movement is so good for mental flexibility, working memory, impulse control, time management, attention, emotional control, problem solving, and connecting. Any effort we make to increase playful learning is not in vain. It can increase the level of participation and engagement, diminish behavior issues, and promote a positive, caring class environment.

The best way I know to meet this need while providing caring class connections in the process is through the gift of music. And because music and movement go hand in hand, we can create positive emotional states every single day. I love using songs and activities to connect with my students. And they love it too! When we strive to create positive emotional states, it naturally infuses joy!

To quote Mary Poppins: “In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun and snap! The job’s a game.”

Creating Consistency and Routine

Young children want to be in a place where they feel safe. This positive state always helps with behavior as well as connections. Our brains are wired to benefit from connecting. So creating a caring, connected classroom can directly affect positive learning and behaviors. When students feel connected and safe, they want to learn and participate, they feel confident and cared for, and their negative behaviors diminish. 

And it shows we care. Teachers have such a huge impact. We want to be a force for good and do what we can while students are with us.

National educational consultant, Dan St. Romain encourages educators to take a proactive approach to strengthening positive behaviors in children. He explains that we, as educators, need to look beyond negative behaviors and be “good detectives with kind hearts” to get to the bottom of why they are exhibiting the behaviors in the first place.

We can ask ourselves, what does the child’s developing brain need? Then we can be more proactive about meeting those needs in positive ways so they will be less likely to try to get them met in negative ways.

He goes on to explain that we set our students up for success when we create consistency and routines. This way, children’s brains do not have to overthink because the daily flow becomes instinctive. It is not overwhelming, and it gives them more time to focus on learning and building relationships. 

A consistent routine helps children feel successful because their amygdalas are a lot calmer when they know what to do and what is expected. Class environments that are set up with places to gather, work, collaborate, read, learn, play, communicate, creativity, imagining, etc. … this helps promote successful learning. It also helps our students feel confident, involved, and take ownership in their learning.

This is why it is so important to take the time at the beginning of the school year to establish clear routines and expectations. Go slow to go fast in the beginning to set up an amazingly smooth flowing year. Administrators should help teachers feel supported by ensuring they have the time needed to do this effectively the first month of school. It will bring huge dividends. 

There are so many ways to create positive connections with our students, and every teacher will find what works for them and their students.The biggest thing to remember is that healthy relationships and connections supersede everything else, because once they are established, learning and positive behaviors will come naturally.

I know we all desire kids to have healthy, caring relationships with people that matter to them. And while we can’t control what is going on in their lives, we can make a difference during the time they are in our care. As teachers, we may not always get to see the results of our efforts, but it is fundamental that we lay a foundation.

As we advocate for our students, we must include opportunities for connection because we never know the extent of the difference we could make. Any effort we give will create a successful year, and quite possibly, a successful life.

This is what it means to have a teacher’s heart – a teacher who understands that the feelings of acceptance, goodness, and caring are tangible elements that can be felt within the walls of a classroom.

As we carry on, I wish you all love and luck! ❤