Tag Archives: mutual respect

Relationships are what heroes and teachers are made of.

More and more these days, schools are full of danger and tragedy. But a friend of mine recently challenged me to focus on the beauty in the world rather than the evil. This article does just that.  Teacher Ryan Heber talked down a 16 year old student-gunman in his California school, as I’m sure you’ve heard by now. Could there be a more powerful testament to the importance of developing relationships with students? Seeing them as little humans rather than test scores, cute stories, annoyances, or chores?

“David Heber wasn’t surprised that his son played a key role in diffusing the situation, saying Ryan Heber makes a point of getting to know his students — including the suspected gunman — on a personal level.”

Then, the article goes on to state the Heber doesn’t want to be known as a hero, only as a teacher. Maybe it’s the language arts teacher in me, but what does that tell you? He considers the courage he showed to be all a part of his job. And maybe to him, teacher is a label that carries more honor than a hero.

What a challenge! Would we have that kind of relationship with our students if we ever found ourselves in such a tragic situation?  There’s no way to know, and of course, there are countless other factors. Still, it’s a challenging thought. I really admire this man. This hero. This Teacher.



Filed under Classroom Management

Poverty and Relationships

I haven’t blogged in ages. National Boards is sucking the life out of me, and I fear sometimes out of my teaching as well. But I think (or maybe hope?) it is supposed to make you feel that way. Ah well. I’ve still been learning a lot lately, and I’ll plan on updating about that learning over the next few weeks.

About two weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending (for the third time) a training on Ruby Payne‘s research on poverty. It’s absolutely fascinating. If you have not read A Framework for Understanding Poverty, I’d really encourage you to do so. It’s an easy read, and I really think it’s applicable for anyone with any job, but if you teach kids in poverty, you’ll learn so much that can dramatically improve your practice!

Payne explains that poverty is not just defined as people at or below a certain income level. Poverty is a lack of resources including financial, emotional, mental, spiritual/hope for the future, physical, support systems, relationships/role models, knowledge of hidden rules, and formal register.

For people living in poverty due to lack of resources, their greatest value is relationships. In the middle class, we value achievement. We see it as our ticket to successful lives, and since we live in a predominantly middle class world, achievement is the ticket to success for most of us. Achieving makes us proud of ourselves. It makes us proud of our children, students, and loved ones. It’s really what school is all about.  But in poverty, relationships take that role. Relationships are the ticket to successful lives in poverty. If someone threatens you, you need relationships … people to have your back. If the money runs out, you need relationships … someone to allow you to stay with them. Payne explains this all so much better in her book, but you get the idea.

So for people like me who teach middle school kids living in poverty, this is so important. We know from science that adolescents are driven by biology to seek out and pursue relationships. Their brains process the need for relationships much in the same way as their brains process their need for food and water. They feel as if they’ll quite literally die without them. If you spend any time at all around adolescents, this should make sense. They’re not just being dramatic. It’s hard-wired. So then how much more should we focus on relationships if we teach adolescents growing up in poverty?

A key to building appropriate relationships with students is developing mutual respect. In the workbook that accompanies A Framework for Understanding Poverty, Payne details 15 behaviors teachers can practice to build relationships and develop mutual respect with students. They aren’t necessarily what you’d think … at least not what I’d think.

1. Calls on everyone in the room equitably.

2. Provides individual help.

3. Gives wait time (allows students enough time to answer).

4. Asks questions to give students clues about the answer.

5. Asks questions that require more thought.

6. Tells students whether their answers are right or wrong.

7. Gives specific praise.

8. Gives reasons for praise.

9. Listens.

10. Accepts feelings of student.

11. Gets within an arm’s reach of each student each day.

12. Is courteous to students.

13. Shows personal interest or gives compliments.

14. Touches students (appropriately).

15. Desists (does not call attention to every negative behavior).

These are things I need constant reminders of. I need to hang them up in my classroom or something. I hope you can find them applicable. Every time I examine them, I realize improvements I need to make in the way I deal with my students.

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Respect and Relationships

People who work with me probably get sick of me going on and on about building relationships with students, de-escalating conflict, mentoring, blah blah blah. But I’m telling you, it’s powerful! Over the past week and a half, I’ve come across another example.

I have a student who got a D first quarter. He was a little sassy and a little resistant to work at times. He didn’t get some of his assignments turned in, and while he wasn’t “bad” in class, he wasn’t giving 100%. So basically, he acted like a teenager. 🙂

So last quarter, this student was being disruptive, so I asked him to spend a few minutes in our “step one” desk. We have a school-wide behavior plan, and this is basically a desk removed from other students facing the wall where students can chill and refocus before returning to class in a few minutes. When I went to ask him to rejoin the class, I found a mean message scribbled onto the desk. I waited until the next day to confront him about it because he still seemed a little mad at me. When I confronted him, he denied it, but I had him clean it anyhow. I told him I didn’t want to say he was lying but that it was hard to trust him because he was the only student who sat in that desk the day before.

Well, a few weeks later, through my super sleuth abilities, I learned that another student wrote on the desk, not the one I accused. I felt bad about this. Sure the student I accused was a little rude and showed me some attitude, but I falsely accused him. So I decided to apologize. It’s not really fun to apologize to kids. It feels embarrassing and even kind of scary, but it was the right thing to do. So I did it.

In the past two weeks, this student has been amazing. He is focused, super attentive, diligent with his work, and studious. The quality of his answers has improved as have his input into partner discussions. On the way out of class the other day I praised him for being so on fire in class. He said “I decided I didn’t like my grade last quarter. I’m going to do better.” And I just updated my grades today. He has an A.

Now, maybe these events are totally unrelated, but I doubt it. I don’t mean to undermine this student’s new found motivation, but if he was mad at me and thought I was unfair, I don’t think he’d have changed so much so quickly. So, bottom line: we are all human. We make mistakes. But when we do with our kids, I think we ought to own up to it, show some humility, and apologize. It shows students we respect them, and it makes a big difference in their progress.

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