Needs Focused Teaching

Stepping Stones to Positive Relationships (Part 3)

Hi again,

Let’s get to the first of the strategies. We’re up to Stepping Stone 2 – ‘Best Relationship Builders’. There will be quite a lot coming so I wouldn’t bother filling in the sheet just yet – wait until you’ve seen them all and then pick your favourites.(If you haven’t downloaded your ‘Stepping Stones to Positive Relationships’ desktop reminder yet you can download it from here:

Feel free to add your own strategies to the comments beneath each post – there are thousands of people reading this so between us we should be able to come up with some great ideas!)

I’ll kick us off with a few…

1. Ask them for advice

Being asked for advice on a topic you know about is a great compliment and we all love to be able to show how much we know. There are some fairly generic topics for boys and girls – asking a teenage girl for advice about make-up, hair styles, decent clothes shops in town and, dare I say it, ‘shoes’ (sorry, I know it’s sexist but stick with me) will generally create some interest and serve as a conversation starter. Similarly, most boys will respond to questions about football/sport in general and technical issues. There aren’t many kids who won’t jump at the chance to give you advice on the music you should be listening to, or the best computer game to buy.

These are sweeping generalisations – I’m aware of that. Taking the time to find out particular strengths of individuals and asking them advice on these specific topic is obviously better.

2. Referral Marketing

If you are struggling to make connections with a particular student but you know of a colleague who gets on very well with them, get your colleague to introduce you. Businesses use referral marketing all the time – because it works. If the student trusts the judgement of your colleague, a joint meeting can be set up where the three of you can sit down and discuss ways to help the student succeed. Barriers normally come down after this initial meeting.

3. Give them time

Break times and lunch times are a fantastic relationship-building opportunity. A friend and colleague of mine would never venture into the staff room in his free time. He spent break times and lunch times in his room with his door always open. Students came in to play chess and board games or just to chat; he  rarely had a problem with classroom management. His reputation as being ‘there’ for the students had spread throughout the whole school and they all knew him to be fair, and he was respected for that.

Reputation is key in relationship building: students talk, your reputation spreads. Do you ever wonder why some teachers can walk into a room of rowdy students and get them all silent without even saying a word? It comes down to their reputation. If you show that you are there for the students, willing to listen to them, interested in them and available for them, they grow to respect you. The more students who feel like this about you in school, the wider your reputation spreads. Peer pressure, as we all know, is a very powerful thing. I’m sure you can see where this is going.

Eventually you can get to the point in school where the vast majority of students respect you and like you.  From this point forward, peer pressure becomes your ally. Few students want to upset the trend by doing anything in class to annoy you. Building relationships becomes easier as students are swayed by the majority – and actually WANT to be on your side.

Of course, we are not only concerned with the majority. Sadly, some students do get left behind and choose not to run with the rest of the pack. It is these who often resort to causing problems in order to get attention or to attack a system they feel is against them. These students need extra attention if we are to reach them. We will cover strategies to do this as we move on.

4. Connect with the written word

Marking work can be a chore but it’s also another opprtunity to connect, to strengthen bonds or to begin to communicate with students who don’t like engaging in conversation. The following comment, for example, was a note I placed in the file of a boy who was visiting his father for the first time in several months. He was apprehensive about the visit, this was a quick way of giving him a bit of support. Often students respond to such comments and a ‘Post-It Conversation’ develops. As does the relationship.

Here’s another example along the same lines. It’s part of a post I found on a forum several years ago from a parent who was very worried about her fragile, withdrawn young daughter, Megg, who was starting at a new school…

We waited anxiously for her to return home that day and asked her the inevitable question: “How’s your new teacher?”

“Pretty nice. Her name’s miss Nunes. She smiles a lot – and she smiled at me. She said she liked my new shoes.”

Each day that week, Megg shared tales of Miss Nunes. She was beginning to enjoy school again. She smiled at supper and she laughed when getting dressed for school. She ran to the school bus. We were cautiously optimistic.

Friday evening, Megg went to her room to do her homework. Within five minutes she ran to the kitchen, beaming.

“Look Daddy,” she said. “Look what Miss Nunes sneaked into my maths book.”

Miss Nunes had secretly placed a note between the pages so it fell into Megg’s lap when she opened the book. It read:

“You had a great first week Megg. I think this will be a good year for both of us. See you MOnday.

Miss Nunes

PS I love your shoes!”

Maybe she did that for every child in the class but the point was that it made them feel special and it helped turn our fragile little girl around.”

More tomorrow…

In the meantime please leave your comments and ideas below this post.


Francis says 4th June 2010

Very good. Very helpful

Andy says 15th May 2010

Sometimes it’s hard to get a group to be quiet (especially tough groups but even a great groups who are working with motivation on practical tasks). The trouble is that the first few who kids were ready to listen have become bored of waiting for their classmates to pipe down, and are now themselves fidgeting and talking again. You end up shouting for quiet (!) and the atmosphere soon doesn’t exactly lend itself to positive relationships.

Just think: BEFORE I get quiet, I FIRST need their attention. Try this…

* Clap a short rhythm pattern (e.g. ‘Tea, Tea, Cof-fee, Tea’) and indicate that you want the kids to echo, to the beat. Don’t explain this in words – just clap the pattern, then point to them with both index fingers.

* Even if they don’t know what’s going on, or don’t do it in time, stick with it. They are GUARANTEED to get it almost immediately.

* When it’s your turn, clap the same rhythm again and indicate that they should echo. Things will begin to improve rapidly.

* Then vary the rhythm a few times, each time waiting for them to copy. Don’t wait or lose the beat if they are not initially doing it in time.

* Once you’ve got everyone’s attention, hold your palms up (to indicate ‘stop’), then whisper, “GREAT!” and give your next instruction quietly.

*You could have as few as three or four rhythm patterns in your repertoire – but I’d recommend always starting with the same one twice. This works pretty much EVERY TIME.

Vary this strategy if you’re not getting what you want.

For example, for those groups who mess around with each other whilst echoing your rhythm (i.e. the smart-ass), build silent moves into your rhythm pattern, such as patting your head silently in places. This almost forces them to look as well as listen.

When you have established this system of getting their attention, you can have more fun with it.

For example, your really wacky class will love it if you go a bit daft, such as substituting a high-pitched scream for the last beat of a pattern … but never come out of beat, so that your control is not in question.

More able/musical classes (who, if badly behaved can be far worse than the other kind) love it if you throw other sounds/body percussion into the mix: slap your thighs/ chest/head and include vocal sounds, as well as clapping.

Although this is a long comment (sorry!), this strategy for getting the kids to remain focused and the atmosphere positive, the activity itself can be as short as you like.

    Rick says 17th May 2010

    My group (grade three) moved away from the clapping to get their attention this past year. We hold our hand up and say Aviators (our school mascot) and wait. The teacher then starts counting 1,2,3 unitl all is quiet. We paraise them for getting quiet so fast and comment on how quickly this time they were quiet etc. The pur[ose is to have them calm down not add to the noise with claps and riled up excitement. So far it works well. I even give rewards for fastest quiets.

    Gloria Thomas says 30th May 2010

    Whta a lovely strategy. I wish to have more, just in case. Sometimes you need to be in the mood in order to do them.

Michael says 14th May 2010

How about some wonderful tips for the primary grades 1-3. My school is increasing class size 33:1 next year. I think we’ll need extra advice.

Nina Eriksen says 13th May 2010

This is superb Rob.

Angie says 12th May 2010

This is my first year of teaching under 18s and it has been very challenging. The fashionistas have been unexpectedly great in relationship building. Thanks for the great tips

Abbey says 12th May 2010

Some great ideas there, thanks! One of the boys in my class with aspergers syndrome likes to speak in different accents. One way I’ve connected with him is to sometimes call the register in a different accent!! A bit silly, I know, but it helps him to feel part of the class, and his responses are priceless!! 🙂 🙂
Looking forward to more top tips…

    Rob Plevin says 12th May 2010

    Hey Abbey that’s great – thanks for adding that. Silly? NO!!! Just a great way of connecting and bringing much-needed humour to the lesson. Nice one!!


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