Relationships are Everything: Introducing Myself

I know that my READ 180 students are those that sometimes experience frustration because they are below grade level. Many of them "hide" in their regular classrooms, not wanting to draw attention to themselves or have their challenges with reading revealed. I know each of you already understand this, but sometimes saying it out loud among other READ 180 teachers immediately creates a bond. I work hard to build my students' confidence by building meaningful relationships. I also know that creating an environment where striving students are excited to learn, feel safe taking risks, and confidently believe they are part of a strong classroom community are viable to student success. I find the best way to build meaningful relationships and create such a classroom community is by showing interest, speaking honestly, and motivating my students.


Showing Interest

Showing an authentic interest in students is critical to building strong relationships. I try to learn as much as I can about each student, and then I strive to find ways to show them I care by asking them questions or talking with them about something that is important to them. Making connections is key to establishing and maintaining relationships, and one way to do this is by greeting students with a smile as they enter class and as you see them in passing on campus. Asking them a question or making a point to mention something that excites them is also a great way to connect and show genuine care and interest. For example, the other day I was walking across campus and saw one of my sixth grade students. I said hello and asked him how his pug Bosco was doing. This student is always eager to talk with me about his dog, so I knew that I could connect with him, build trust, and help strengthen our relationship by asking about Bosco.

At a professional development session a few years ago, I was introduced to a Deeper Data Tracking Table. I use this table to keep a log of information about my students, and it enables me to learn more about them and keep a record of the information I discover. This gives me talking points if I am struggling to find a way to connect with a student.

Here's a sample of how I track, along with some sample data I have collected on a few of my students:






Student 1

-2 sis, 1 bro, mom & dad

-Just moved into a house

-color- pink

-food- pizza

-movie- Secret Life of Pets


-Playing with her dog Skip

-Drawing & art

-Watching TV with family

-Spanish was first language

-Attended preschool here



Student 2

-2 older bro, mom & dad, lives with both parents, aunt, uncle, & cousins

-Color- blue

-food- pizza

-TV show- YouTube videos


-Video games (Fortnite)

-Older brother J. (8th) was in Read 180

-Struggles to stay on task in her regular classroom-- can be distracted by other kids

-Lives far from school family drives him in each day to go here

Student 3

-1 older sis, mom

-color- blue

-food- tamales

-ST Math


-Loves pandas


-Older sister K. (7th) was in Read 180

-Highly Proficient in math

-Very methodical, takes a long time to test

The Do Nows that are part of the READ 180 Universal curriculum also provide an excellent way to get students discussing and sharing information about themselves. Many times after class I will add new information to the data table based on what students have shared during the Do Now part of the class. Additionally, the Do Nows also allow students the opportunity have the full attention of either a partner or the group, which helps build confidence, resulting in them being more willing to share information that helps us connect with each other as a class. As they build comfortability with each other, the classroom environment becomes one of greater respect and connectedness, which helps students want to come to class. One Workshop that sparked quite a bit of interest and personal connections was Think Big. Students particularly enjoyed the article "Lending a Helping Hand," and were eager to brainstorm ways they could help others in our community.


Speaking Honestly

Intervention students know they are not at grade level. It's no secret to them or their peers that the reason they come to READ 180  is because they have challenges with reading. My students are well aware of our classroom policy that states I will always speak honestly with them. I inform them, from Day 1, that they are in READ 180 because they struggle with an aspect of reading. I promise them that I will work hard to help them grow to grade level and beyond, and I let them know that if they too work hard they can and will absolutely make the growth they are each capable of making. We talk about how important it is to face struggles openly and without judgment, and we develop together a mutual sense of urgency toward their improvement as readers. I regularly remind them that everything they do in class should be done to help them be a better reader. When they take the RI test, if their results are not what they wanted or expected, we have an honest conversation about what happened. If they are not working in class to their potential, we again have an honest conversation about what changes they can make to be more productive and successful.

I also show them my own vulnerability by modeling the process of learning from my mistakes, and they love to catch me making mistakes! I appreciate having the chance to show them how, with a growth mindset, mistakes can be a positive learning opportunity. I regularly use technology (my phone or laptop) to look up words or show them visuals that are connected to what we are learning, highlighting for them that I do not know everything and rely regularly on references to help me find answers. I strongly believe that adopting a growth mindset and being honest with students about where they are, along with the steps they can take to grow, is vital to strong relationship building.


Motivating Every Student

Motivation is directly tied to success, and not all students are intrinsically motivated to work hard. Finding ways to motivate struggling students can be challenging, so I try to find out what drives them to want to succeed, whether it's a certificate, celebration, personal acknowledgement, etc.

I work with students to set goals for Lexile growth using tracking charts. We talk about what a reasonable amount of growth to make is, and we celebrate when they achieve their goals. Students set independent reading goals, and we track progress on two different charts in the classroom, one that is a whole class tracking chart and one that is an individual tracker. I use the certificates from SAM and make a big production out of handing out certificates once a week to those students who have completed a computer workshop or passed an independent reading quiz. When students meet an independent reading goal as a class, they are invited to come eat lunch with me in the classroom. They love doing this, and it is such a great and easy way to motivate them to continue to work hard.

I strive to create a positive, happy classroom environment where creativity and imagination are encouraged. We laugh together, have inside jokes that make us smile, and genuinely care for each other. I know that compliments go a long way in motivating students, so I try to give each student at least two compliments on their classwork or behavior during each class. I want my students to look forward to coming to READ 180, not just because the content is interesting and engaging, but because they feel valued as individuals and as members of our READ 180 classroom team.

Putting it All Together

My students are often are quiet students who have gotten very good at attempting their work and not drawing attention to themselves in their regular classrooms. One of my biggest personal goals is to create an environment where all of my students are encouraged to take risks and are comfortable doing so. In here is a safe environment; so, let's be bold together. 


Jessica Button is a fourth generation teacher, having been preceded in teaching by a great grandmother, both grandmothers, and her mother. She earned her B.A. in Education from Arizona State University in 2006, and her Masters in Reading Education from Arizona State University in 2010. She has been teaching at her current school since 2007. In that time she has taught sixth grade for two years, fourth grade for three years, then fifth grade for four years prior to being hired as her school’s Reading Specialist in 2016. This is her third year teaching Read 180 Universal to classes of fourth, fifth, and sixth grade students. Jessica is a member of her school’s Leadership Team, serving as a TAP Mentor Teacher, and she coordinates her school’s after-school program, which hosts over 120 students two days a week in sports and enrichment-based intervention classes. She is passionate about building relationships with students, and greatly enjoys helping them unearth their strengths and find things about reading they enjoy. She is married to her husband of ten years, and in her spare time enjoys reading, hiking, cooking, and spending time with her husband and pets.