A lot has been said about the importance of building relationships with students. Most of the educational focused research has been focused on the importance of authentic relationships with at-risk students. I have lived in this world and I can tell you that this research based practice works. Students who lead lives that are less certain than others cling to caring teachers. They yearn for acceptance, love, and someone to talk to. They strive for the best they can give and will take pride in the knowledge that they’ve earned your respect and deserve it. Now, what about all the other students sitting in our classrooms? What about those children that come from intact homes with helicopter parents, all the food they can eat, all the support they will ever need or want? What about them? Those students also present some interesting challenges in the classroom. Those students become bored very easily, they too have ADHD, and they love a challenge whether it’s an enrichment assignment or finding ways to get rid of a sub they don’t like. Those students have a way of making teachers’ lives just a difficult as the most at-risk student, but very little research has been done on the importance of relationship building with these students. How interesting….

I thrive on a discipline issue. I know most administrators shy away from these because either they feel uncomfortable with the discipline policy in place at a school, or they don’t want to deal with a parent that doesn’t quite see things the way they do, or they don’t want to be the bad guy. All of these reasons are justifiable, but I look at discipline as an opportunity to get to know and connect with a kid. It’s as easy as that. It’s a lot of hard work, trying to figure out the true sequence of events, to identify misinterpretations of an event, and to listen to adults weigh in without the child’s best interests in mind. Yep, it’s hard work and frankly takes up a lot of time during an already hectic school day, but the leg work is worth it and I’ll tell you why.

  1. As an administrator, you don’t have the opportunities to get to know the kids like you did as a teacher. You don’t have all those hours together, riddling over arithmetic and writing prompts. Discipline issues give you a reason to meet with a student one-on-one, to listen, and to reason with them. You get to know where the kid is coming from and why she makes the choices she does.
  2. I keep the basic tenants of the discipline policy in mind, but I tailor each situation to the needs of the children involved. I read every infraction notice that is given. I am aware of the students with repeated offences, those that miss assignments regularly, and whose parents just will not take the side of the teacher and will make excuses no matter the infraction. (I see all the parent responses too.) Once I determine that it’s time to see a student in my office, I listen to the student and make the judgment call based on the history and needs of the student.
  3. I research the infraction. If a teacher or another adult sends a student to my office or requests that I meet with a student, I wait to talk not only to the student, but to any other students that may be involved if there is a behavioral event that brought them to my office. By getting all sides of a story, I not only get a chance to meet other students and talk with them, but I also know I have all the facts in front of me to make a fair decision.
  4. Once I make a decision of who is guilty and why, I talk it out with that student. I explain why I believe what I do and the punishment  that is the result of the choice he made. Invariably at this point the student accepts and agrees with my decision and is ready to face the consequence.
  5. Before I put anything in writing, I always call the parents involved to discuss and to reason. Because I have taken all the steps I needed to in order to ensure that I had all the facts, parents generally agree with my decision and grudgingly accept their child’s guilt.

It’s important to note that at this point all the students I talked to along the way now know me. It is so important for me to say hi to them in the hallways, classrooms, and in the cafeteria. I need to take time if they want to talk about unrelated issues, and most of all, I have to find time to laugh with them.

Through this lengthy process, I am making a ton of connections. I am talking with teachers and staff, students, and parents. This gets me in the door. I begin to prove to these students that I am fair, that I will listen to them, and that I think what they have to say is important. This is authentic relationship building and when this is done right, the positive long-term benefits far outweigh any negatives of the time it took to solve the issue.

Kids today are very different, or rather the way they look at school is very different. In order to motivate a student in a classroom during a lesson, you have to connect with them. In most of the schools I have visited, there is always this common theme among the staff…..they want the kids to be motivated in class to do the work and to achieve. They want the kids to be self-motivated. I believe that the only way to truly achieve this is through authentic relationship building. By building relationships with any kid, you get to know them. You know what they like, what drives them, what annoys them, and what makes them happy. You know who they work well with, who they play with, who distracts them and who keeps them on target. A teacher can then use all this knowledge to develop lessons and projects directly tailored to the students in their classrooms. They can predict distractions before they happen, can eliminate drama by separating students, can laugh away embarrassment caused by presentations and simple mess ups. Self-motivation in students will only happen when they truly like and respect their teacher no matter their background.

A quick point I just need to make…..It is not the job of a teacher to become a student’s buddy. This is not proper “relationship building”. Like a parent, a teacher has to remain the authority figure. There always has to be a line so the students knows what is appropriate and what isn’t in a classroom setting. It is the teacher’s job to draw that line clearly so that proper roles are maintained and that the classroom continues to be a professional learning experience for the students. If a teacher is a student’s “friend” or “buddy” then the student will not work for that teacher because she will think she doesn’t have to because lines have blurred.

Look at the way you interact with your students. Are you giving them the attention the crave in order to get the best out of them? Are you creating lessons with them in mind that will attract them, motivate them, and push them to their limits? Are you interesting new ways of presenting a lesson and varying assessment ideas? Are you working to connect with them so that you truly know what they need? Develop those relationships no matter where you are teaching and no matter what types of students you have. If you do, your days will be easier and your work will be far more interesting.


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