Relationships with each student in your classrooms make an impact on their ability to learn well. These seven power actions will build positive results with you students:
Reflect for a moment on one of your favorite teachers and think about why he/she was your favorite.
Was it the teacher’s: Fun and engaging environment? Kindness to you and others? Belief in you and your achievement? Calm nature? Care about your personal life? Care that you learned every single day? Or a combination of these items? All of these items are important in building a positive learning culture—essential in building strong relationships in the classroom.
Ask students to help you create the rules and expectations of the classroom so behaviors are managed proactively versus reactively
Students who lack positive, social attachments can show this need through acting out, acting anxious, seeking attention, creating power struggles, and other negative behaviors.
When students help you create these pieces, there is more buy-in. I actually took the students through a process called the Six Thinking Hats which is a series of 6 different types of relevant questions that formulated the rules for our classroom.
We came up with a beautiful list of rules that were posted and signed by every student. I saw more ownership, and I could use the line: “You helped create these rules,” when students were losing the “ownership” of these classroom.
Set your expectations high for ALL students.
High expectations and specific constructive feedback about assignments, efforts, attitudes, and skills portray that one cares.
The 1968 famous research, Pygmalion Effect or self-fulfilling prophecy, showed that teacher expectations influence student performance. In that research, the teachers communicated to students that they each had “unusual potential for academic growth.”
Establish a joy-factor in the classroom.
There is a wonderful feeling when you walk into a classroom that is filled with joyful teachers and students.
Time flies, students are actively engaged in relevant, meaningful assignments, you rarely see the teacher or students sitting for long periods of time, and they smile more! They are actually enjoying the learning. Kids want to return to these kinds of environments where the relationships are flourishing and positive.
I love being in classrooms where students and teachers are laughing and learning at the same time. Laughter is hard to fake and is highly contagious – it involves highly complex neural systems that are largely involuntary.
The amount of laughter, smiles, and joy we see in a classroom could be a way to measure the relationships in that classroom. Relationships where there is little trust often have the least amount of laughter among them.
Build trust among the students.
Trust is the foundation of all strong relationships.
Trust is a big concept and when you break it down, you will find the following components:
- being present,
- doing what you say you will do,
- being aware of others, keeping information confidential,
- not talking badly about anybody (if you do, you might be looked upon as possibly talking about that student behind his/her back), being open and real, listening without judging, showing empathy, and honoring the person and friendship process.
Trust takes time and is built with almost every interaction with others.
Care about each student.
Differentiate by pulling a small group of students in order to respond to daily data—this shows that the teacher cares about each student attaining the learning goal.
When teachers confer with students one-on-one during guided reading, writing workshop, guided math, or after tests, it conveys that the teacher cares about growing that one student. Consider a 4 minute investment: 2 minutes with 2 students every day— the teacher listening, sharing the data with the students, and giving specific feedback on how to achieve goals—would profoundly affect the level of growth in that classroom.
I was once told by one of my students after reteaching him a math concept in a group of about 5 students: “Mrs. Nickelsen, you are a much better teacher with a small group of students.” I was not quite sure how to respond, but I chose to take it as a compliment.
He was right! I think ALL teachers are better with smaller groups of students when targeted instruction occurs because errors are studied, analyzed, and the next steps to help students understand the learning goal are determined right then. That action shows care, concern, and a let’s-close-gaps attitude.
Ask students to create a Learner Profile.
This profile will explain how they learn best, their interests, feelings, and attitudes about the content areas.
A Learning Profile is a file folder designed by each student that is full of content that explains who that student is socially, emotionally, physically and academically. We can use this information not only to help us meet their learning needs better but also to form stronger relationships.
Put on a growth mindset and assume the best in all students.
Author of the book Conscious Classroom Management, Rick Smith, said that we should glue to our brains the “invisible contract” when kids walk into our classrooms every day
Smith illustrates, “Whenever students walk into the classroom, assume they hold an invisible contract in their hands, which states, ‘Please teach me appropriate behavior in a safe and structured environment.’ The teacher also has a contract, which states, ‘I will do my best to teach you appropriate behavior in a safe and structured environment.’”
Rick further explains, “The bottom line is that when students test us, they want us to pass the test. They are on our side rooting for us to come through with safety and structure. When students act out, they are really saying, ‘We don’t have the impulse control that you have.
We are acting out so that you will provide us with safety and structure—be soft yet firm—so that we can learn the behavior we need to learn to be happy and successful.’”
When you assume the best in your students, they lose their labels such as: Nancy is the angry girl; Raoul just checks out all the time; Shane is the class clown; and Latoya is the aggravator. We see them as a unique individual that has certain needs at certain times, and they are each worth our time to get to know and understand.
When this mindset is in place, the “discipline moments” are seen as opportunities for teaching an essential piece that students want to learn.
Bottom line: Your relationships with each student in your classrooms make a dramatic impact on their ability to learn well. My favorite saying that I placed on my desk as a daily reminder of my power to build or break apart the relationships in my classroom is a powerful statement that I hope you don’t forget.
“I have come to a frightening conclusion. I am the decisive element in my classroom. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess tremendous power to make my student’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or hurt, humor or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated, and my student humanized or de-humanized.”
Adapted from Haim Ginott