Who are the students you naturally connect with? Chances are they are students who share similar stories, experiences, or interests. If you expand the circle even larger, I bet that most of the people in your life are also people who share similar stories, experiences, or interests. This is just part of the human condition.
There are people that we just naturally click with. We get used to hanging out and joking with people like us, which is great for building friendship among our peers, but means that we are a little out of practice when it comes to getting to know new people, especially people who we have nothing in common with. Because we are out of practice, it can be really intimidating to try and connect with students who are nothing like you. For me, it often feels like the less I have in common, the harder it is to connect. But I think the inverse of this rule might actually be true. The less you have in common with students, the better chance you have to make a genuine connection.
The awful reality is that students don't really care about us adults, about our stories, about our likes or dislikes. They could care less what music we like or teams we cheer for. We get so used to sharing our story and thinking that students like to hear from us that we miss the most important truth.
The Truth: Students want to share their stories, their passions, and they want us to respond with love and acceptance.
Having nothing in common with students is actually the best starting point we could have. Everyone loves talking about themselves. This is for sure true for us adults, but even more true for students. When we have nothing in common, we are forced to do what we should be doing all along, asking questions. The less you know or understand a student, the more questions you will have and the more questions you have the more the student is going to have an opportunity to share their story and to be seen and heard by a loving adult.
It is difficult to get our heads around the idea that our stories, jokes, and interests are of little concern or value to students. But what we have to offer them with our questions and our genuine interest is of so much more value. We get to be adults who actually see students, to love them for who they are and where they are at. It isn't helpful when students feel the pressure to fit in and perform in one more setting.
Asking questions and getting to know students is our number one task as volunteers and youth staff. It is only when students feel seen that they can then feel cared for, and it is only after they feel cared for will they be willing to wrestle with the deeper things of life and faith with you.
It is normal and natural for people to collect themselves around common stories, experiences, and interests. Students do this naturally, and we do to. But as adult youth staff our job is to connect with all of our students, even the ones we have nothing in common with. Instead of this being an intimidating or scary task, it actually gets to be a great reminder that it is not about us at all, it is about them and their stories. And the secret with connecting with any student is to simply ask questions.