I often joke about wanting everyone to be my BFF. In an idyllic world, that would be possible. Unfortunately, we have an invisible professional barrier that we need to keep in place so we can do our jobs effectively.
That said, we still need to build professional relationships with our students and our peers. I hope the following does not sound preachy in any way, because I need to work on all of it myself.
- Learn names
- Bring the joy
Recalling peoples’ names is a difficult task for me sometimes, and when I see someone outside of a familiar location it is nearly impossible for me to remember their name. Unless…I write it down, repeat their name, and say something about them to someone else. I am the queen of sticky notes.
Some people are really good with names. I don’t know if it just comes naturally, or they practice some unconscious habits in the process of saving and recalling. I find that people are really impressed when you remember their name and are secretly disappointed when you don’t. I claim most of the responsibility for learning names, but if a student is practicing the camouflage-in-the-classroom technique, I blame them!
Each semester I learn between 50 and 80 new student names. When I think about that, I wonder how I ever survive a semester! Before a class begins, I print out the roster, study it, notice commonalities and differences, and practice pronouncing names. Once in the classroom, I begin with first-day introductions. I scribble notes feverishly, usually illegibly, and then draw a map of the classroom so I know where everyone was sitting. Any paperwork I collect, I will go through and alphabetize after class. I do this with each of my classes.
When a student shows up at my office door or says hi at the Student Union for the first time, and they are not sitting at their designated classroom map location, I am typically stumped on their name! I listen and wait for clues in their conversation and hopefully can save myself the embarrassment of having to ask their name and which class they are taking. At the beginning of the semester it is not so embarrassing to ask, but after week four it is downright flabbergasting!
The students I do remember are the ones who ask questions in class and show a genuine interest in the subject matter. They are the ones that email me after class to ask questions, or have to take a makeup test. If I have three Mikes and three Marys in one class, then it will take me the full four weeks to sort them all out!
Smile. When I concentrate really hard on something, I am not smiling. I have my game face on. If I am desperately trying to remember a name, it is likely that I am not smiling. Strike 2! It turns out that when you maintain a half smile and belly breathe, you turn on the parasympathetic nervous system, get out of fight or fight mode, and turn on your pre-frontal cortex so you can actually begin thinking again. That’s a bonus!
When you smile at someone, you can change the course of their day and simultaneously affect the people they come in contact with. The ripple effect is insane! Imagine if everyone smiled at three strangers every day, and each of those people smiled at three more people and so on…imagine the impact!
Bring the joy. Let’s face it, we seek to be around people who make us happy. What can we do to ensure this? Well, smiling is a good start. Knowing people’s names really helps too. Using tasteful humor, even when things seem bleak can really help. If you know that you are about to face a difficult day and difficult decisions, it is good to plan ahead. Ask yourself “what would my best self do if xyz happens today?” “How will I bring my best energy to the people I engage with today?” Try setting a reminder on your phone that simply says “bring the joy” once every hour. See what happens!
So to recap: Remember names, smile, and bring the joy!