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Guest Post: “Walk & Talks” Are Extremely Effective Way To Connect With Students – Here’s A “How-To” Guide

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Over the years, I’ve written a lot about the work of Jim Peterson, our school’s principal. You can see a video the Association of California School Administrators recently did about him here, and access the many posts where I’ve described his work here. In addition, he’s contributed to some of my most popular Education Week Teacher columns – Several Ways to Connect With Disengaged Students and Ways to Cultivate ‘Whole-Class Engagement.’

He’s recently revised a guide for teachers on how to do “walk and talks” with students, and has given me permission to share it here. I, and many other teachers, have found it to be an incredibly effective strategy for connecting with students and helping them to move forward:

The Power of the Walk-and-Talk Technique

Jim Peterson

Why Walk and Talk with a Student?

Many recent studies have found that the teacher-student relationship outweighs most other factors that influence student achievement and that are within the teacher’s control.

Psychological Benefits to the Walk and Talk

There are multiple psychological benefits to “walking and talking”:

“Body mirroring” is a technique that builds rapport between two individuals. The intent of body mirroring is to have your posture (i.e. leaning forward or backward in a chair, legs crossed or not crossed, etc.) subtly reflect that of the person with whom you’re communicating. This congruence between two individuals facilitates rapport building. Mirroring the body language of a student while sitting with her, can feel unnatural, contrived and distracting to a teacher who is not accustomed to using this technique. Walking next to a student keeps the teacher and the student in very similar postures with no conscious effort on the teacher’s part, which contributes to the rapport-building process. Therefore, the teacher doesn’t need to be conscious of the body mirroring technique but reaps the benefits of it nonetheless.

When you do not yet have a positive relationship with a student, she does not necessarily feel comfortable with looking you in the eyes. In some cultures it is a sign of disrespect for the student to look you, the teacher, in the eye. Walking with a student takes the question of whether to make eye contact out of the equation. It feels perfectly natural to have a conversation with someone and not make eye contact if you are walking alongside each other.

Students who are angry or frustrated will feel better if they are given a chance to walk. Sometime, when you find yourself feeling angry or frustrated, try walking one hundred yards. At the end of that distance, note how you feel compared to when you began the walk. You will not be gleefully jumping up and clicking your heels together, but you will have progressed from feeling bad toward feeling better. And, if you walk one hundred yards more, this sensation of relief will progress. This is why students who arrive to the vice-principal’s office angry often ask if they can remain standing, and if granted permission, will often pace.

When you walk with a student who is frustrated or upset, the student experiences a progression towards a better-feeling state. On a subconscious level, the student associates this positive feeling with your presence and contribution to it, the same way the person you delivered the bad news to made an association between you and the bad news. In the case of the walk-and-talk, however, this positive association is yet another element in the process that builds a positive relationship.

Doing walk-and-talk’s with your students, will, over time, change their behavior, improve their performance in your class and transform your experience as a teacher.

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Walk and Talk Steps (shortened version):
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1. Find out what class the student has during your prep and contact the student’s teacher to let her know that you’ll be stopping by to go for a walk with him. By doing this first, you can make sure that you’re not pulling the student from an exam or a lab he can’t make up, and when you come to take the student from class, it will be less disruptive.

2. Print the student’s grade and whatever data you have that explains the grade. If you use a spread sheet, simply print that student’s line. Make sure that it is simple data and not a narrative; the student is going to be walking while he looks at this. Take the sheet that the data is printed on and put it in a manila folder. You are going to give this to the student to keep. This is a simple step but there are multiple psychological corollaries behind it. Carry the folder on a clipboard along with a pen and a sheet of lined paper.

3. When you show up at the student’s class, ask the teacher, “May I see __________ for a moment?” When the student steps outside, say (in your own way), “Hey ______ walk with me for a second.” Immediately show him the folder and say, “Here’s your current grade. Go ahead and take a look at what you have so far. I have a plan that’s going to help you get it up to a ____. “Then hand the student the folder saying, “That’s for you to keep” and keep moving. Make sure that there is a clear path in front of your student. He’s already a little thrown off by your unexpected visit and is now looking down at a sheet of paper. It would be un-cool to do this ten feet before a pole or the top of the stairs, unless your walk-and-talk goal is to get revenge for any misery he may have caused you.

By holding the folder up and mentioning his grade, you’re not only capturing the student’s attention, but you’re also distracting him from the awkwardness of your showing up out of the blue. It also takes his attention away from any negative associations he may have with you. If he has a behavior issue in your class and you’re giving him an “F” (Yes, I know he’s earning the grade, but he likely doesn’t see it that way.), you may not be his favorite person in the world.

You’re ten seconds into the walk at this point, and here’s what you’ve done so far: By saying to the teacher “for a second” or “for a moment” you announced to the student, “Don’t worry; this is no big deal.” You immediately got the student moving, which relieves tension and awkwardness. You captured the student’s attention and distracted him with the folder that you said had his grade. (Have you ever noticed that even if you ask a student who has been absent from your class forty five out of fifty days if he wants to see his grade, he’ll say yes?) When you told your student that he could keep the folder, it was like saying, “Here’s a gift for you.” And, let’s not forget that you’ve shown yourself to be going out of your way by showing up at the student’s class. You are a rapport-building machine my friend, and you haven’t even gone twenty feet yet!

4. When the student is done looking at his grade, and you have answered any questions he may have, it’s time to discuss with the student your plan for helping him improve his grade. If the student wants to argue any part of his grade, redirect his energy by letting him know that he’s going to be able to move towards the grade he wants by following your plan.

5. Acknowledge what the student does well in your class. If you honestly can’t think of a single thing he does well in your class, find something positive about his personality that you can tie into helping him be successful. (i.e. “I noticed that you think quickly on your feet. That skill is going to help you a lot, once we get on track following our plan.”) Not only does this compliment go toward building rapport, but it gives the student something to feel competent about in your class.

6. Ask the student to share ideas of what he/she thinks you can do to help him be successful. Then, ask him/her what he/she thinks they can do to help themselves be more successful. You can help him along by making “I’ve noticed” statements, such as, “I’ve noticed that when you focus and do your work without talking to anyone, you don’t get confused and end up finishing your assignment.

 

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Student Interests

Students not only appreciate when you get to know their circumstances, but their interests as well. Take the opportunity, during your walk and talks, to get to know your students’ interests outside of the classroom. If you have a student who is on the bike team, for example, you can ask him a question during one walk about his last race. During another walk you can ask him about his bike or how many miles he rides a week. This interaction may only take a minute or two (or five in some cases) and contributes greatly to the relationship-building process.

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I’m adding this post to The Best Posts On Classroom Management.

Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.

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