Needs Focused Teaching

Stepping Stones to Positive Relationships (Part 6)


Just to re-cap… We are currently working our way through some ideas for building relationships with challenging students. To help keep us all on track I produced a ‘Stepping Stones’ process map which we are all following. We are following it aren’t we? 🙂

If you didn’t download yours you can get one in Part 1 of this series.

We’ve covered some ideas for the first two stepping stones so if you want to you can add some ideas to them (we will be covering a lot more so you might want to save a couple of spaces on the ‘Best Relationship Builders’ stone. Remember, this is just a space to record key points).

Today we’re going to look at two more ideas which often get overlooked. (Stepping Stone 3).

1. The Franklin Effect

Psychologists give us lots of clever ways of striking up bonds very quickly with people – mirroring body language, altering our facial expressions, using the same tone of voice, giving compliments, offering to do nice things for them etc.etc.

18th Century politician Benjam Franklin found an alternative, counter-intuitive approach which was equally, if not more, effective. To cut a long story short he had been trying to connect with another politician but wasn’t able to. The other man wanted nothing to do with him.

Franklin knew that this man happened to have a certain rare book in his personal library and he asked if he could borrow it from him. Surprisingly, the man’s attitude to Franklin changed completely from that moment on…

“When we next met in the House, he spoke to me (which he had never done before), and with great civility; and he ever after manifested a readiness to serve me on all occasions.”

Franlkin attributed this to a simple principle – if you want to increase the likelihood of someone liking you, get them to do you a favour.

Russian novelist, Leo Tolstoy, agrees with this: “We do not love people so much for the good they have done us, as for the good we do them.”

(I found these quotes in a fascinating book called ‘:59 Seconds’ by professor Richard Wiseman – a right riveting read it is too. 🙂

If you think about it, it makes sense – when you do someone a favour it draws you to them, you feel a connection with them and it feels good. There is joy in giving and by asking students to help us we can successfully employ the ‘Franklin Effect’. Ask a troublesome student to help you sort something out with your car, choose an outfit for an upcoming party, pick a CD for your own child’s brithday, decorate your house, do your ironing…

2. Relationships are built on dialogue

Relationships can’t grow very fast without dialogue; as the old BT advert said, “it’s good to talk.” Indeed, conversation is your very best relationship builder.

The thing is, there are different levels of conversation and the level at which we communicate will dictate how fast relationships with students develop…

In this pyramid you can see the most basic level of communication is the ‘Gossip Zone’. This is playgroud chatter and banter. Conversations about football scores, latest soap happenings and politics take place at this level.

At the second level we talk about facts and we give out information. Most  teacher-talk in the clasroom takes place on this level.

Finally, we have the top level where emotions and feelings are discussed. When conversations take place at this level there is more risk for those taking part – more of the self is revealed. Leaders who communicate on this level truly inspire their listeners because they reach them on a deep level – they connect with them.

Relationships can develop very quickly when communication involves feelings and emotions. Share your life with your students, share your feelings and you may find they respond to you more positively. Laugh with them, joke with them and if you’re down, explain why – let them see that you’re human and it will encourage them to do the same.

In the next post (hopefully tomorrow) we’ll take the issue of communication a little further and look at ways of discovering students’ interests so that you actually have something to talk about with them that interests them.  In the meantime you can add  The Franklin Effect and Dialogue to ‘2 you might not have thought of’ on your Stepping Stones’ process map.

Michael Graffin says 19th September 2010

It is nice to know that I am not alone in developing relationships using small talk & wandering around at breaks.

I’ve been blogging extensively on behaviour management from an Australian relief / substitute teacher’s perspective. I have found this blog & some of the free website resources to be incredibly useful for clarifying & sharing my approach to building relationships with my most challenging students.

Keep up the great work.



Making Time to Build Relationships With Students says 15th June 2010

[…] mentioned earlier that relationships are build on dialogue and that the top level of the communication pyramid is the […]

    Nina Eriksen says 18th June 2010

    I have tried this out throughout the year and concluded that more I ask my students to help me with things the more they feel responsible and stronger in confidence. Today I asked a student to work out how to use Logic Pro then teach it to me and the other students, knowing this student is a technocrat! So asking for this favour actively enhanced motivation and a sense of purpose. I have always found it difficult in the past to ask for help or to allocate jobs, but this method is proving to be very effective in building a sense of student/teacher trust and working together as a team.

Mustafa says 27th May 2010


Thanks for the update on Relationship builders. The Franklin effect is an interesting one. I’ve heard that one way of building a relationship with someone is to do them a favour but this is the first time I’ve heard of getting someone to do something for you as a means of building a relationship.

I’m going to have to test it out.

emma vaughan says 21st May 2010

I agree that commununication with the pupils goes beyond conveying facts and information, but sharing what you feel and what you think as well. It is important that you establish a rapport with the pupils so that they will feel that you are there for them and that they can trust you.

I am a new subscriber and this site is helping me with my homeworks for my teaching assistant course and my school volunteering

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