Friday, October 27, 2017

WHEN TEACHER-STUDENT RELATIONSHIPS DON’T COME NATURALLY


Every educator will tell you that teacher-student relationships are critical for establishing a cooperative classroom. However, what we mean by “relationship” can vary greatly. After all, most teachers and school leaders believe they have good relationships with their students. 


Some relationships are actually counter-productive to students' growth. Empathy about a student’s difficult life journey has caused many an educator to reduce or lower expectations that the youngster needs in order to persevere and overcome adversity. On the other hand, dogmatically driving students toward achievement, with no acknowledgement of their personal challenges or interests, can result in checked-out, disconnected students who appear unreachable.




Sometimes, the issue we think is related to the teacher-student dynamic is actually a hidden fear of student-student relationships, or a fear of failure, or shame about a personal experience, or trauma that has silenced a student or walled off his ability to respond. 

Developing effective relationships with every one of 75 to 150 teens per semester  (for middle and high school teachers) seems nearly impossible.

Relationship Hack #1:  Start with your whole class. Plan to share briefly.


How do you know that any person wants to know you and relate to you? They show you by relating an experience and sharing how they feel about it. Then you share something in response. Then they share something a little deeper or more important to them. Then you do. And so on. If you are open about your own life with your students, they will feel more like you want to know them.

Expert teachers do this by talking to the class in a comfortable, familiar tone. If you find it difficult to let down your guard in a natural way with your students, you can still build a relationship with your whole class in a more controlled approach by planning and sharing a short anecdote from your life each day: 




It’s that easy to show the whole class at once that you want to have more than a professional, distant, antiseptic relationship with them. It will be well worth the little time it takes to prepare each week’s list. I can see myself preparing a “share” for each day of the week on Sunday afternoon, or even on the drive to school each morning.

Don’t over-do it. You have a lot of teaching to do. One or two minutes is all it takes to send the message that you think about your students outside of class time, and you want to relate to them as people, not just students. 


Notice the difference in how individual students begin to reciprocate. They will try to pick up the topics you share in individual conversations with you. When they do, just smile. If all you say is, “Oh, really?” In an interested tone, that’s all most of them need to feel adequately connected.