The most recognizable feature of a happy, well-running classroom is the presence of positive teacher-student relationships. When those relationships exist, student behavior and student learning are both greatly enhanced.
The concept of building relationships is nothing new. Most teachers realize that students who feel appreciated, validated…loved…will do almost anything they are asked to do.
For me, an educator of nearly forty years, relationship building has always been an integral part of my philosophy of education. It has always seemed such an obvious ingredient in teaching to me. However, early in my career, I was often scoffed at by other teachers for “trying to be friends” with my kids. What they did not understand was that building a professional relationship with a student is a process of creating a connection to that child’s mind and heart, not an attempt to become best buddies, and that that connection will have everlasting benefits.
As an administrator, I preached relationship building. I practiced it in my day-to-day interactions with students. I knew almost every child in my school by name. I knew a little of each child’s life. I knew that if there was a behavior problem, I could talk calmly with each child. All it took was an “I’m so disappointed,” in most instances to bring about real change. My kids did not want to let me down. There was a relationship between us.
However, I realized as a principal and now as a retired teacher who has returned to the classroom that, even within the confines of a relationship, there will be times when misbehavior will require consequences. Ask any parent, and he will tell you that, despite how much you love your child, you must occasionally mete out discipline to keep your child on the straight and narrow pathway.
A disturbing phenomenon has begun to surface in school settings in this new millennium. The entire concept of building relationships has been warped to mean that discipline is a deterrent to a positive school climate. Perhaps discipline should be withheld as a means of preserving whatever teacher-student relationships are supposedly in existence. Perhaps the goal IS to be best buddies with those in our charge.
Once as a teacher, I had a boy in class who had some very severe emotional and behavioral issues. I worked hard throughout most of that school year, gradually building a bond between the boy and me.
One day, while the class was lining up in the hallway, I walked up to the boy and asked for the rubber bands he was shooting at other students. It took several minutes to get him to relinquish the items. But as soon as he handed them over, he swung at my face. Instinctively, I backed away, but not in time to prevent him from grabbing my glasses from my face.
I wrote the boy up. Later, I was called to the office and presented with an article describing how to build positive teacher-student relationships.
The boy was returned to class.
Over the years, I have been “trained” in at least five different discipline programs. I’ve learned how to be assertive yet kind and fair. I’ve learned how to be proactive and how to develop a positive classroom environment. I’ve learned how to excel at building relationships with my kids.
Embedded in every single one of these programs have been consequences for poor behavior. These have included one-on-one conversations with a child, parent contacts, lunch detention, after-school detention, suspension…
Never, though, has discipline included “relationship building.” That process is something that should have already been in motion, something that is fortified on a daily basis, something that will help the child understand, appreciate, and hopefully learn from the real consequences given.
I have been reunited with hundreds of former students over the years. Not once has anyone raved about a lesson taught. Not once has anyone ever complained about a consequence received. But every single student has smiled and reminisced about how he or she felt while in my classroom.
That is what building relationships is about.
Copyright, Tim Ramsey, 2020.