This year when we returned from Winter Break, I set my Latin I students on a task: think of every Latin word worked on last semester that you can and write it down. The goal was to remind them of how much they've grown and learned since they started at the beginning of the school year (called "Collective Memory," the brainchild of Bob Patrick; after they listed words, I'd ask them to group them into themes, then we'd write the themes and words on the board, then have them try to think up new words for the themes and ultimately we'd have more than one hundred Latin words gathered).
While they started their lists, I took the opportunity to do something I really like to do, but often forget: I sat down by each group of students and asked each student how he or she was and what he or she did on break.
This seems like a small thing, but it tells my students I care. When I ask and they say, "Oh, nothing really," I push a little bit. "In a good way or a bad way? Because sometimes I like a vacation where I do nothing." And then I get a little bit more. And that means I'm not just paying lip service to checking in on them, I'm listening to their replies and I'm responding with a little information about myself.
And yes, in a class of 30 kids, this takes T-I-M-E with not just a capital "T" but every letter capitalized. I got through a good third of the class, then put students on the next step, and sometimes, I was in the middle of a conversation when it was time to transition, and I chose the conversation over the transition. But I don't regret that choice.
Because I got to know my kids better, and I am creating a culture in my classroom that values them.
They know I care. They know I love them most.
That means that when I chase them down, tackle them (metaphorically of course), and force them to do an assignment, it's because I want them to be successful. They know I'm on their side. So that time I gave up to talk to them at the beginning of the semester is time saved trying to convince them that I want their success now.
It seems like a little thing, but talk to your students. Get to know them. Ask them questions and really listen. Build a relationship with them so you have that to fall back on when you need them to trust you and your intentions later on.