Three Relationship-Building Strategies Found in Your Classroom Library
It’s commonplace to hear the word “relationship” in any school you walk into across the country. At CT3, we take it one step further as we ask teachers and school leaders to think about building life-altering relationships. Think back for a moment to the teacher you had that truly made a difference in your life. They pushed you to another level by accepting nothing but your best and also invested time into your success. They may have attended your after-school events, such as a basketball game or dance show. Maybe they pulled you to the side when you made an incorrect decision and had a quick “talk” to get you back on track. All of these specific teacher actions lead to a deeper relationship, one we consider life-altering. You never forget those teachers!
Can you build a life-altering relationship with every student in your classroom? That sounds impossible. So it seemed to me, too – until I looked at a resource most classrooms already have but are underutilizing: the classroom library. Scholastic gives five compelling reasons for why classroom libraries matter, some of which you may have guessed:
- Supporting Literacy Instruction
- Helping Students Learn About Books
- Providing a Central Location for Classroom Resources
- Providing Opportunities for Independent Reading and Curricular Extensions
- Serving as a Place for Students to Talk About and Interact with Books
But they’re missing the most important reason. Classroom libraries are vehicles for building life-altering relationships. It’s a space you’ll never think about in the same way again!
Take a look at the work of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in her Ted Talk, The Danger of a Single Story. She’s noted the importance of having a variety of books and many stories. She says in her talk, “Show a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again and that is what they become.” The books in your classroom library tell stories. As the classroom teacher, it’s imperative that there are many stories with many viewpoints. Acquire books that showcase the multiple aspects of student culture, including race, ethnicity, sex, and gender. It is through the stories that teachers discover likes, dislikes, hopes, and passions of their students.
Chimamanda continues to say, “The single story creates stereotype and the problem with stereotype is not that they are untrue but that they are incomplete, they make one story become the only story.” Consider books that challenge stereotypes and encourage your students to challenge the status quo. It is here, in this space of challenging stereotypes and the status quo, where you begin to dive below the surface in your relationship building with your students.
Now that you’ve begun to connect the dots between book selection for your classroom library and its impact on building relationships, ask yourself, “how do I reach students whose behavior I find challenging?” Let’s consider how Emily Style’s work, “Curriculum as Window and Mirror” supports your quest in answering that question. Emily’s request is simple: have teachers select books that represent mirrors and windows for the students’ lives. Begin by selecting books that represent the window of opportunity for students to learn something new. Students are empowered to argue and critique. The teacher learns why the student liked or disliked the book while the student learns how to empathize with why the teacher chose the book. Teachers should also select books that represent a mirror for students that allows a positive view of themselves. Books that have heroes who look like them. Books that cause the student to think about the current social, political, or economic environment of where they live and encourage their voice as social activists. Teachers who are providing each student with the opportunity to experience window and mirror texts are examining more than just literature. In fact, teachers are building the type of relationship with students that allows them to break down the barriers that may be prompting the challenging behaviors.
One final element for building life-altering relationships with the classroom library is the use of bibliotherapy, a creative arts therapy modality that involves storytelling, or the reading of specific texts with the purpose of healing. It uses an individual’s relationship to the content of books and poetry and other written words as therapy. Matching students to texts is indeed powerful! It gives teachers a vehicle to begin conversations on topics that may be difficult for both the teacher and the student. A student may find it much easier to discuss their personal feelings when it is embedded within a character. Start bibliotherapy with poems as they provide a short piece of text. These short dialogues and interactions around the selected poem offer opportunities for the teacher and student to show empathy and care toward each other. Having conversations on topics that are of true interest to the student is the moment where the life-altering relationship is fostered.
When you become purposeful and intentional with the selection of books and utilize the connections made through bibliotherapy, you unlock deeper and more meaningful relationships with your students. The library moves from being a reading area to becoming a power tool for success.
Here are some books to get you started. If you have books that have yielded great results in building relationships with students, feel free to add them below.
- All the Colors of the Race by Arnold Adoff
- The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson
- Marley Dias Gets it Done – written by 13-year-old Marley Dias
- The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
by Eyka Stephens, CT3 Managing Associate
Learn more about Eyka’s background as an educator here.
Click here to read Eyka’s article in ASCD Express on Building Relationships with Students Quickly.