There are many broad starting points for building positive classroom relationships between teachers and students based on trust and encouragement.
1. Never pretend to be perfect. Don’t pretend to know everything, or to get everything right. Apologise for mistakes. Cultivate an atmosphere where it is not shameful to make mistakes. In fact, I would go further. Congratulate kids when they notice that you have made a mistake. Praise them. Likewise, congratulate kids when they ask you a question to which you don’t know the answer. Encourage them to research the answer and come back to you so that they can recognise they are teaching you something. They will respect you for it.
2. Always follow through with a promise. If you have promised a reward, ensure that it is applied. If you say you’re going to put on a credit/merit/house point, do so without fail; if you said you’d call home to notify a parent of something great a student has done, ensure that you make that call. Likewise, if you have been driven to the point where a sanction is unavoidable, do not be talked out of it. You have a clear strategy – do not be deflected from it.
3. Tell the truth. This may seem simple, but it isn’t. False praise doesn’t work, and nor do false threats. Kids aren’t stupid. You can praise very small things, but they must be real. Positive behaviour management doesn’t mean that everyone has to be praised all the time. “Well done – you’re working hard!” when the student has only just put pen to paper makes you look like a mug. So does saying you’re going to send the student to the Head if they don’t modify their behaviour, and then finding an excuse to back down at the end of the lesson.
4. Look for the good in students. The more widespread their poor behaviour, the more negative their associations with their name will be. We have all observed lessons where we have learned the name of the miscreant within seconds and then heard it repeated over and over again. Associate names with good behaviour by employing the basics of Positive Behaviour Management – effusive public praise and silent sanctions. If they don’t normally take their books out without being asked, notice if they do so at the beginning of a lesson and comment on it positively; it will spur them on.
5. Try and read the communication behind the behaviour. Ask yourself WHY the student is exhibiting certain behaviours before jumping to deal with them. There is always a reason. Verbalise your response to behaviour. Wonder aloud to the student. “I wonder if you’re getting angry because you don’t understand the question and you’d like a bit of extra help…” Read body language and try to help. Be emotionally intelligent.
6. Don’t hold a grudge. Even if a student has had a terrible lesson, disrupted the learning of all around them and made your life a misery, let it go. The next time they come into your classroom, act as if nothing happened. Try to find a way to get some genuine praise in early. If you indicate that you remember that dreadful last lesson, you are set up for a continuation.