Build Caring Relationships So Students Will Say What’s on Their Minds

Build Caring Relationships So Students Will Say What’s on Their Minds

A Chicago teacher turned counselor noticed that students who struggled in class were often dealing with a problem outside of school, according to Chalkbeat Chicago.

She learned that if she built a relationship they would sometimes open up.

Former English teacher Marlita Ingram has been a counselor for the past 18 years. She helps students work through a range of problems – from issues with their class schedule to dealing with gun violence.

Ingram is still learning new ways to connect with students. Recently, as her school has welcomed many new migrant students, Ingram has relied on Google Translate, bilingual staff, and trusted friends of her Spanish-speaking students to facilitate conversations.

“The more approachable you are … I think they gravitate, and they are willing to tell you more than what you want to know, but they’ll tell you what they have on their mind,” She says.

How does Ingram get to know her students? “Kids say my presence is always ‘automatic’ when I come in the room because I’m very boisterous. I’m very alive when I’m doing class instructions or class lessons with students. But I’m also a person who notices the small things.

“If a student I’ve never known is on my caseload, I might do a general introduction via email. We can see kids’ pictures; I just do a random look at the pictures so that I can start putting names and faces together. If I start seeing them in the hallway, I’m just like, ‘Hi, I’m Dr. Ingram, your counselor. What’s your name again?’ I start that very general conversation, and then I build from there.

“Every interaction builds to the next interaction. I’m in the middle of programming, so we sit one-on-one with our kids, and we start having conversations, like, ‘So what do you want to do? … Let’s start seeing where we need to plug in classes that might fit well with what you think you may want to do, and you can change your mind.’ Kids flock to you when they know that you care.

“With school counseling, the best advice for me was to be transparent to students and families, to be vulnerable. If I can show them I was OK being transparent and I was comfortable being vulnerable with them, then they would do the same. If we can have that baseline of vulnerability and respect, we can go wherever we needed to.”

Chalkbeat Chicago

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