When a former colleague of mine, Joe Turner, was named teacher of the year, a reporter asked him for his advice to new teachers. He responded, “Teach every child like you’re their lifeline—like you’re their last chance to succeed.”

His comments inspired an initiative at our school that we simply call “Lifelines.” It’s not a formal program—it’s not structured, and there is no paperwork. We simply asked our staff members to be a lifeline to one or two students who would benefit from an adult in their corner. As a faculty, we are committed to going above and beyond to care about these students.

When our counselor gave me my three “lifelines” last fall, one of my challenges was that I didn’t teach these students. I may not even see them every day. The hallways are crowded, so class changes aren’t always great opportunities to have conversations with students.  And it can sometimes be awkward calling kids into the office just to check on them.

But I had an idea for a new strategy for making regular connections with my three students. I called “Caleb” down to the office, and I said, “Caleb, will you do me a favor?”

He smiled and nodded yes.

I continued, “I usually have good days, but not always. Everyone can benefit from others checking on them. Will you do me a favor and check on me every day, just to make sure I’m doing all right?”

He smiled again and said “okay.” I documented this process on Twitter.

The results speak for themselves:

I had similar conversations with other the other two students. All three students began making regular eye contact with me in the halls. They smiled at me, and they asked me about my day. This gave me a regular opportunity to connect with them, and it is teaching them to think about the well-being of someone besides themselves.  As the year progressed, I had longer and more substantive conversations with these students, but as a starting point, I had three students checking on their principal every day.

How do you connect personally with students? What are ways you can encourage students to make connections with the adults in your school?

Danny Steele has served as the principal of Thompson Sixth Grade Center in Alabaster, AL, for the past five years, where his passion has been building a school culture that values connections with kids, fosters collaboration among teachers, and focuses on raising student achievement. He is now an assistant professor of instructional leadership at the University of Montevallo. In 2005 Steele was recognized as Alabama’s Assistant Principal of the Year, and in 2016 he was named Alabama’s Secondary Principal of the Year. He has written two books with Todd Whitaker: Essential Truths for Teachers and Essential Truths for Principals. Follow him on Twitter (@SteeleThoughts) and check out his blog, Steele Thoughts.

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