If you have to share a classroom with 30 young people, it’s an awful lot easier to get things done if there is an understanding between you, a tacit contract that you will treat one another with respect, that the students will let the teacher teach, and the teacher will help the students learn. To a large degree, you as a teacher are the one who creates that contract and who is responsible for its terms. Yes, a school will have policies governing every area of school life, but within the classroom it’s you and the kids, and it’s a wise teacher who takes that onboard and works with it. Just because kids SHOULD behave without necessarily liking or respecting their teacher, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they WILL. The energy expended in creating positive relationships will result in a reduced likelihood that you will have to invoke the higher levels of the school behaviour policy and probably mean less disruption to your class.
Marzano (2003) reports that students will resist rules and procedures along with the consequent disciplinary actions if the foundation of a good relationship is lacking.
More positively, John Hattie (Visible Learning, 2015) discovered that teachers are likely to have a much greater impact on the learning of their students if they forge strong relationships with them.
So what are the Strictly Positive Starting Steps to forging positive classroom relationships?
- Forget all that nonsense about not smiling until half-term. Smile. You chose this profession, presumably because at least to some degree you enjoy the company of young people. Let it show. If you don’t like young people, don’t go into teaching. Do research or something.
- See the students as people, with all the troubles and joys, strengths and weaknesses, good days and bad days as anyone else. As you yourself, for instance. If you have a shouty day, or a moany day, or a can’t be bothered day, it is unlikely that you will draw the conclusion that you are a shouty / moany / can’t be bothered sort of person. You will instead attribute it to the fact that you had a row with your partner, or you pranged your car, or you received sad news about your friend who lives in Peru, or your guinea pig died. If you behave in a similar way on several concurrent days, you would put it down to a run of bad luck, probably not to a character flaw or failing, something which needs to be disciplined out of you. Extend the same logic to students. You don’t know what’s happening in their lives.
- Greet them at the door. As students come into your domain you have a chance to make eye contact with them, smile, let them know that they are coming into your environment and that everything will be fine. Especially if the last lesson you shared did not go well, that smile and that eye contact tells them that this is a new start, and with a clean slate.
- Create a structured environment with clear, sensible, consistently and fairly applied rules and routines. Students like to know where they are with a teacher. Nothing will turn a student into a rebel like unfairness. Except chaos – chaos would make Peter Perfect riot… If students understand the reasons for rewards and sanctions, and they trust the teacher to apply them sensibly, they will accept them. A structured environment where the teacher is trusted to do the right thing by the students makes them feel safe. Chaos is no fun for anyone.
- Be positive. Any of the strictly positive techniques or strategies in this book will lead you to show yourself as a positive person and this will go a long way towards good classroom relationships.
- Teach with passion and enthusiasm. Hopefully you love your subject. Hopefully you love teaching. Hopefully you really want the students to love your subject and you want to communicate that through making your lessons fun or interesting (and interesting is fun, after all; fun isn’t just gimmicks).
- Be interested in students as human beings with life outside your class. If a student has been named in assembly, or you’ve heard about some success in in a football match, or winning an award for charitable work or playing in a concert, congratulate them on it. If they mention something in the course of your lesson, show an interest in their work with St John’s Ambulance, or busking outside the cinema, or cycling to a nearby town. Ask a question; it is unlikely that the student will want to embark on a long conversation, but in the 3 seconds the interchange took as they passed you on the way into class or as you work your way around the room, you’ll have increased their trust in you. Dont quiz them as if you’re the Spanish Inquisition, and don’t try to be too interested; that’s just creepy. Use a light touch.
- In class, involve everyone, which makes everyone feels welcome. Try not to go down the route of calling only upon those with their hands up who look as if they will burst if you don’t invite them to respond. Make everyone feel present in the lesson and valued.
- Have high expectations of all. If you reserve your challenge for those who constantly put their hands up, who are on paper the high performers, the visible people in the room, the others will recognise that you have low expectations of them and will switch off. High expectations does not mean the same expectations; if you know your students you can pitch expectations individually – high for them.
- At the end of the class make a point of praising any who did particularly well this lesson, and have a quiet word with those who did poorly, ensuring that there is a plan for the next lesson, and that they leave you with a good memory.
Developing positive relationships with your students is the most important first step to establish positive behaviour management, and create a positive environment for learning. Arguably it is a prerequisite for learning.
Most employees are more likely to want to try to impress a boss that they like, rather than one who they think treats them unfairly and does not treat you with respect. In the same way, students will like and respect a teacher who shows like and respect towards them. The key result of this like and respect is that they are much more likely to do what you want them to do, because they want to please you. So it is your positive relationship which causes them to behave appropriately within the boundaries of the rules in your classroom: they are not obeying the rules; they are obeying you.