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by Erica Fischer on Nov 16, 2015

Cultivating Relationships in a 90+% Target Language Classroom? 100% Possible!

Last week, Langchatters were 100% ready to talk relationships in the 90%+ target language (TL) classroom. They started off the hour by discussing features of the best teacher-student relationships. Participants then reflected on factors that affect their decision not to use the TL when connecting with students. Langchatters also thought up ways to share information about themselves in the TL and design engaging TL tasks to connect with students more deeply. Before the end of the hour, participants even considered how to continue to build relationships with students outside of the classroom.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to #langchat last Thursday, Saturday—or both! We extend a big thanks to both Thursday and Saturday’s moderating teams, which included Colleen (@CoLeeSensei), Kris (@KrisClimer), John (@CadenaSensei), Laura (@SraSpanglish), Amy (@alenord), and Sara-Elizabeth (@SECottrell)!

Question 1: What characterizes the best teacher-student relationships?

Langchatters reminded one another that the best teacher-student relationships are built on mutual respect, a team spirit, and good listening. Here’s what they had to say:

  • Mutual Respect: @MlleSulewski highlighted the impact of “[mutual] respect and genuine interest in one another as people.” @la_sra_hinson added that mutual respect should entail an “understanding that we both learn from each other.” @profesorM commented that this also means relating to one another as human beings: “Treat your students like human beings. Share your stories with them, let them know you’re human.”
  • Team Spirit: Others commented on the value of a supportive team spirit. @SoyBolingual wrote, “[Teachers] and [students] should see each other as team members, not [as] a threat.” @profepj3 agreed, writing, “[Students] need to know we’ve got their backs!” and @MlleSulewski said, “[My students] want to trust that I will not let them fail!” @MmeFarab pointed out students may not recognize our desire for them to succeed: “[Students] think we throw parties when they fail.” @profepj3 mentioned that instructors serve as a float, supporting students and helping them stay above water: “I had a student say that, though my class is sink or swim, I provide a float for them.”
  • Good Listening: Positive relationships are sustained by communication, which entails good listening. Langchatters suggested that instructors listen to students’ goals, needs, and concerns. @profepj3 said, “We actually talked about this today in class. My [students] were floored that I asked them how I could improve their learning.” @CoLeeSensei replied, “Why don’t we ask our ‘clients’ regularly eh?” and @VTracy7 noted that students’ voices aren’t listened to enough: “Being a good listener [matters]! The kids really want to be HEARD but spend the majority of their days listening to adults.”

Question 2: What prompts you to switch out of the TL when connecting with students?

Sometimes, even those who commit to maximum TL use find themselves pulled back into their L1. Langchatters reflected on factors that influence the decision to switch out of the TL. Participants cited serious behavior issues or emotionally charged situations, temporary prioritization of relationships or cultural knowledge, and out-of-class interactions as motivating factors.

  • Behavioral issues and emotional situations: @MlleSulewski mentioned “serious behavior management issues” as a justification for momentarily abandoning the TL. @oowwoo wrote, “If [there’s a] behavior [issue,] I take [students] aside to find out what’s going on and have a conversation in English.” @SoyBolingual also switches into the L1 in emotional situations: “When [students] are obviously mad [or] upset… L1 [use] shows [that] you care more about the [student] than the [language] at that point.” @MmeBlouwolff agreed, commenting, “When there’s negative emotion – [for example] crying, [when] everyone bombed an assessment, [… etc.], – then I want [the] L1.”
  • Prioritization of relationships and knowledge: In the words of @CoLeeSensei, “[When] the class ‘relationship’ or the ‘knowing’ is key [and] more important than the ‘expressing’ [I switch into the L1].” @profepj3 sometimes uses the L1 when putting relationships first: “If there’s something that really makes me or my [students] seem like a real human being, I opt for [the] L1.” Others cited the communication of cultural knowledge as a motivating factor. For example, @mttslsn considers “depth of discussion,” writing, “When opportunities arise to talk [and] connect that are beyond TL knowledge, I flip to English.” @SraSpanglish pointed out that in such situations, learning is still taking place: “I love when [students] get excited [and] curious about a culture. They’re growing, so that’s worth [using the] L1.”
  • Interactions outside of class: Time out of the classroom can also offer opportunities to meaningfully connect with students. @Sra_Kennedy wrote, “[During morning and] afternoon duty out of [the] classroom, I try to connect [with] kids in [the] L1. In class, I want [to use the] TL but [I am] still getting to know them.” @doriecp also generally reserves L1 use for out-of-class interactions: “[If] I’m using [the] L1 to connect [with students], it’s usually outside of class or [one-on-one with a] student while others are engaged in something else.”

Question 3: How can teachers cultivate relationships with students by sharing information about themselves in the TL?

Langchatters recognized that opening up to students and sharing things about yourself in the TL is a great way to connect. Some try to make this a part of the daily routine. For instance, @MlleSulewski wrote, “I always include myself during [our] ‘what’s up[?]’ chat to make [students] more [comfortable] at first. After a while, they just ask me :).” @kltharri wrote that “anytime we can personalize a lesson with info about us or [students, it] helps.” Langchatters encouraged instructors to share personal photos with students and talk about their favorite things.

  • Visual connections: @CoLeeSensei proposed that instructors offer insight into their lives “visually with key words #whyhaventIdonethis?” Similarly, @virgilalligator suggested teachers share “photos, images, scrapbooks, travelogues, slideshows, [etc.] accompanied by TL [text].” @profepj3 makes photos from his life available to students online: “I post on a (separate) Twitter, Instagram, [and] Snapchat in Spanish for my [students]. They’ve seen [pictures] of my races, family, etc.” Some Langchatters reflected on how to draw on personal photos for specific units. @MlleSulewski said, “[I introduce] family [vocabulary with] my family photos [and] daily routine [with] silly [pictures] of me around my house, etc.” @SoyBolingual commeted, “Ooooh now I’m thinking I should introduce my own childhood pics in [our] ‘Cuando era niño/a’ unit.”
  • Me and my “thing”: Several instructors like to share their “thing” (@kltharri) with students—what interests them and gets them talking! @SraSpanglish wrote, “YES! The ‘thing’! [This is not] necessarily a book or novio [boyfriend], but maybe a pet or place?” @la_sra_hinson said, “[This is something] simple but effective: I make references to [‘Mean Girls’], chocolate, and my puppy in almost every class…[There’s] no need for [the] L1.” Others mentioned celebrity crushes. For example, @SraSpanglish said, “[Students] have to have some view into who [or] what you are that you can refer to, [e.g.] Spanish boyfriends.” As an example, @MmeBlouwolff wrote, “YES! Ma maison idéale avec George Clooney [my ideal house with George Clooney]… that works in [the] TL .”

Question 4: How can we design engaging classroom TL tasks that connect us to our students more deeply?

Instructors brainstormed ways to design tasks in the TL that engage students and promote deeper connections. They emphasized letting students be creative and personalizing learning.

  • Let students be creative: As @BeaverSensei observed, “[It’s] great to let students get creative with a task (even something simple like a brief presentation).” Langchatters shared some suggestions: @SenoraLauraCG wrote, “If you do la Persona Especial or something similar, put yourself in the hot seat, too! They’ll remember your answers for sure!” @Sra_Kennedy proposed collective creativity: “I LOVE making classroom books – where each [student] contributes a page. Then we read them aloud together. Very personalized!” @VTracy7 also wrote in favor of class stories: “Writing a class story with my 6th graders was the BEST time I’ve ever had teaching. It was hysterical.”
  • Personalize learning: Langchatters really can’t stress the benefits of personalization enough! @virgilalligator urged instructors, “Think about voice and choice, personalized learning. [Give students opportunities] to craft their own inquiries [for] learning [and] go [with] it.” Some participants suggested organizing class themes around the personal interests of both the instructor and students. @MlleSulewski wrote, “Go beyond typical class themes and teach to YOUR passions!” Considering student interests, @doriecp said, “[Design] lessons that allow [students] to talk about what they’re truly passionate about.” @MadameKurtz asks students about their likes very early on and keeps them in mind throughout the year: “In [September] I ask [for students’ favorite] band, TV [show], movie, [etc.] Then [I] use [pictures] of their answers in lessons. [Students] love it [and] it starts [a conversation].”

Question 5: What other strategies (in and out of class) make teacher-student relationships have a lasting positive impact?

Don’t think that your influence stops at the door! Langchatters encouraged fellow instructors to continue to build relationships with their students outside of the classroom. They explained that this could mean making a point to greet student, going to school events, and generally showing that you value students as individuals.

  • Say hello! @SoyBolingual noted that “[even] saying a quick hola when passing in hallway” can have an impact. @profepj3 makes an effort to memorize names when greeting all students: “I make it a point to know kids’ names who pass my door on a regular basis even if they’re not in my class.”
  • Be a friendly face at campus events: Langchatters encouraged one another to attend school events to offer support outside of the classroom. @MlleSulewski recognized the importance of “[being] there [by going] to sports events, plays, concerts, [etc.].” As @WHS_French_ wrote, “[This shows that instructors] care beyond [the] classroom #lovethewholekid .” @lovemysummer also mentioned the value of “going to [students’] ‘stuff’–games, etc.,” and added that “positive phone calls home [and] positive notes home” are another nice touch.
  • Value your students as individuals: @MrsCoblentz acknowledged the importance of displaying genuine concern for students: “[Show] the student that you value them as a human being, not out of obligation, but because you really care.” As @KrisClimer wrote, this means “[investing] time and attention in their LIVES, not just their TL proficiency.” @MlleSulewski advised that, to this end, instructors should try to “[remember students’] interests, friends, family, etc.” @senoraCMT added, “[Love] them! Just as they are! Even when they aren’t lovable!!! #fakeasmile.”

@kltharri commented that cultivating relationships takes time and gets easier: “[Honestly], it is so much easier when you know each other already. You can be ‘you’ in the L1 or L2. Newbies are tough.”


Last week, Langchatters discussed relationships in the 90%+ target language (TL) classroom. They began by identifying features of the best teacher-student relationships. Participants then reflected on factors that affect their decision not to use the TL when connecting with students. Langchatters also thought up ways to share information about themselves in the TL and design engaging TL tasks to connect with students more deeply. Finally, participants considered how to connect with students outside of the classroom. As @CoLeeSensei reminded language teachers, relationships are crucial: “[If] you don’t build the [relationship,] the language [acquisition] won’t matter.”

Thank You!

Thank you to all those who #langchat! Instructors voiced their appreciation for this PLN; for example, @sr_la_hinson wrote, “[I] don’t know how you guys survived teaching prior to #langchat. [It] keeps me encouraged and passionate!! #grateful.” Don’t forget that you can get your #langchat fill twice a week– both Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET AND Saturday mornings at 10 a.m. ET!

Due to space limitations, many tweets had to be omitted from this summary. To view the entire conversation, you can access the full transcript on our tweet archive. Got a question you’re eager to discuss?! Send us your ideas for future #langchats so that our weekly discussions can become as relevant and inclusive as possible!

Elementary in Spanish
Erica Fischer
Erica is the founder and CEO of Calico Spanish. Her passion for teaching her own children to speak Spanish led her to create Calico Spanish. Our mission is to give all children the opportunity to learn to speak real Spanish for life.

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