I think you all know how much I value relationships in the classroom. I’m a firm believer in the idea that no significant learning can happen without a meaningful relationship. Earlier this week, I was listening to one of the episodes of the podcast “We’re Doing It Wrong”, and it was a reaffirmation of that belief.
In the podcast, the host Joseph Pazar (a middle school math teacher) was interviewing the authors of Angels and Superheroes, Jack Jose and Krista Taylor. The conversation covered a wide variety of topics including relationships, behavior, and student misbehavior (I included a link to the podcast below).
I’m guessing that you’ve all heard the great TED Talk from Rita Pierson, “Every kid needs a champion” (if you haven’t, take 8 minutes right now and watch!), and in that talk, she shares the wisdom that kids don’t learn from people they don’t like. Krista Taylor takes it a bit further. She says:
I heard that quote and then rewound to relisten to that section of the podcast. Leading up to this comment, Taylor shared that most teachers don’t go into teaching because they want their students to get a good test score. More likely, they go into teaching because they want to:
- Work with students
- Build the whole child
- Have social emotional learning happening
- Raise responsible citizens
- Raise students who care about each other and their community.
To accomplish any of these goals, and so many others that might come to mind for you when you pause to think about why you became a teacher, it takes meaningful relationships! Meaningful relationships aren’t built just because you make class fun, they don’t happen naturally for most kids. True relationships take work! So, how can we go about building those real relationships with our kids? Here are a few ideas for ways to build relationships:
- Get curious and ask questions – Find out what they like to do when they aren’t at school. Engage with them on their interests, even if it isn’t an interest of yours!
- Take your students outside of the classroom – I loved my 6th grade class and teachers. I remember doing a camping trip on the property behind our school one night. I remember walking from school into the neighborhood next door where one of my teachers lived to have a picnic. Those were powerful events to build relationships with my teachers and with my classmates! I can’t tell you much about what we did during class time, but I definitely remember those fun moments outside of the classroom. And I still think fondly of both of those teachers.
- Listen to your students concerns and pause to re-examine ourselves – the reality is that implicit biases creep into all of us! And the more tense a situation may be, the worse our decision making process becomes. When students share concerns about something you are doing in the room, hear them out and reflect. It’s tempting to defend our actions, but if it’s bothering one brave soul enough that they tell you, there may be a few more who feel the same, but aren’t brave enough to share!
As the conversation in the “We’re Doing It Wrong” podcast went on, Jack Jose shared that when we work to build relationships, we also have to:
“Trust that the child in front of you wants to behave, wants to succeed, wants to do well… then, work with that child to get past those gaps so that they can be successful”
If we think back to what we’ve learned from Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, misbehavior from a student is a form of communication. It lets us know that some need is not being met. Most likely, the missing need is a feeling of belongingness. When we don’t fulfill that need, they continue to misbehave. Our punishments might redirect that need in the short term, but it will not solve the overarching need that is creating the misbehavior.
Let’s think about a typical situation, and how we might respond:
A student in your class is often off task. He talks to his neighbors and generally goofs around. Occasionally, that student will raise his hand to answer the question, so we call on him, excited that he wants to participate. We praise his answer to the question hopeful that it will instill a greater desire for participation. The next day, he comes in, goofs around, and causes a disruption. You schedule a conference with his parents. On the day of the conference, you and the parents gather with the child around the table and share that the student is “so bright” and capable of so much more. In the meeting the student commits to doing better. The next day in class, you see a little improvement, but later that week the behavior returns to what you were seeing prior to the conference.
Now, let’s look at this from the perspective of the student who is misbehaving:
- The student has a need for the feeling of belonging. During class he gets to talk with the friends he likes, they laugh at him and make him feel good.
- He cherry picks the questions that you ask to only respond to the ones he feels confident in because he knows that he will get it right, then he gets your praise for being bright, fulfilling yet another need. And do we really know that he’s that smart if the child is cherry picking the questions he wants to answer?
- He creates a situation where there are several adults (most of whom he likes and trusts) around a table telling him how bright he is.
- He returns to class and goofs around again because that fulfills his need to belong with the other kids.
Our traditional methods do not fulfill the needs that this child has – only a true and meaningful relationship will allow that child to have the sense of belonging he needs to help stop the misbehavior. Keeping that kid in the room, making them do the work, holding them to a high standard is not “letting them off.” In actuality, kicking them out of class or sending them to the office is letting them off because now they don’t have to do the work, they will get one on one attention – the secretary will talk to them about what happened, maybe the counselor will too, another teacher might talk to them, and they get one on one attention from the principal or assistant principal. These all give the student attention, and may allow him a sense of belonging with those people, but it doesn’t lead to that sense of belonging in the classroom where he needs it most!
A more powerful method – have the student complete a reflection form on what they’ve done and have them return to class when they are finished. Maybe that’s done in the back of the classroom, maybe it’s done in another teacher’s classroom, or maybe it’s done in the hallway. By sending them out we all get a break from one another which allows us to re-regulate, the kids reflect on the situation and process that, and then when they walk back into the classroom, they will most likely be ready to learn. The child sees that misbehavior isn’t going to lead to his needs being met, and they will trust that you will treat them fairly, and that trust helps give a sense of belonging.
What are your thoughts? How does relationship building help you? What are some of the ways you build relationships? Share out your best strategies so that we all can have some new ideas!
We’re Doing It Wrong Podcast: http://www.weredoingitwrong.com/podcast/6-angels-and-superheroes