Be Relevant: How to Make Connections with Students

By Corey Krampen, MEd
Alumnus, College of Education

two people high fiving

Take 10 – 20 seconds to think about who your favorite teacher was. I bet you thought of someone who had the ability to make the content in which he or she taught relevant to you, in some way, shape or form.

This is an important part of connecting with students. Oftentimes, I walk into classrooms and see teachers having a hard time relating with students. The humor they use does not work, or the guard they have up is limiting them from having fun with the students.

So, how do you make things relevant?

Great question. I do not have an exact answer for this one, because it will depend on the kind of school you work at, the students you serve and other varying factors. What I can share with you is my experience in being relevant.

To do so, you need to understand a bit more about where I work, what I do and the students I serve. I work in Pasadena ISD, a school district outside of Houston, TX. We are a Title I district, meaning our students come from low-income households. I am a special education math teacher.

One thing that I found extremely effective is the use of observation. We had several minutes to pass into the new class period. During this time, I would stand at my door and listen to the students talk.

Most of the time they were talking about some form of social media, like a post on Facebook or Twitter. When I heard a school-appropriate topic, I would look it up on my Twitter account, and spend the next few minutes reading about it (to make sure the conversation cannot go anywhere inappropriate).

When the bell rang, I would walk into class and strike up a conversation about the topic. Most of the time they were sports-related. The comment I would hear is something like, “Man, Steph Curry dropped fiddy last night!”

I would then start my special ed math class with a comment like, “Daaaaang! Did y’all see how many Steph had last night?”

BOOM! Engaged, focused and transitioned from their last class: It is that easy. I had their attention. I did NOT just walk in and tell them to sit down, be quiet and start their warm up. I was networking with them, learning about them and engaging their interest.

While I was learning about those who are engaged in the sports conversation, I was also learning about those who were not. In my case, it was usually less than 5 percent of the class. Ninety-five percent of them were into sports and loved talking about sports with me.

The direction I would take this conversation is, as the kids say, “where the magic happened.” My mind was always on getting into math as quickly as possible, but without the students even realizing they were now doing math. So my transition comment would be something like, “Man, 50 points – wow! I wonder how many threes he hit?”

Now, this does not sound like math, but it is! Without even knowing about it, the students are now thinking, “How many times does three go into 50?”

Regardless of what number the students responded with, my response was always the same. If the student said, “Twenty! He hit 20 threes!” I would say, “Really? Twenty? Wait, what is 20 times three?”

And we are now into math, officially.

What is great about this, is that you can dictate where the conversation goes. In the example I gave, I was showing how you can take anything and make it relevant. But really, being relevant is much easier than just going with it.

If you know your lesson and find a current event that is relevant to the student, you can make a conversation about the current event and lead into your lesson.

Ultimately, making things relevant to the students played a huge role in my ability to relate to students with both learning and behavioral disabilities.

Grand Canyon University’s College of Education offers education degrees that focus on learning, leading and serving. To learn more, visit our website or contact us using the Request More Information button at the top of the page.

More about Corey:

Corey Krampen is from La Porte, TX, a city located 25 miles southeast of Houston. He is a 2004 graduate of La Porte High School, where he was a member of many student organizations. He is a 2010 graduate of Texas Tech University with a degree in multi-disciplinary studies. He is a 2014 graduate of Grand Canyon University with a master’s degree in educational leadership.

Corey spent five years teaching high school special education and coaching basketball. He has been a part of revitalizing a struggling basketball program as well as ensuring a positive educational experience for students with special needs.

He is currently the district-wide transition teacher in Pasadena ISD, where his primary focus is to help students transition from their high school setting to their post-secondary setting. Put simply, he is in charge of helping special needs students identify what is next in their lives. 

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.