Tag Archives: relationships

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.

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I promise it’s not about you …

I love reading Diary of a Public School Teacher. I was recently catching up on the posts, and this one really hit me!

I promise it’s not about you … no, in all honestly, this is a chastisement to me. If you know me, you don’t believe that, and I don’t blame you. You see me cringe when I hear students described as “behaviors” rather than as “people” or “children”. And if you know me, you’ll see me being an outspoken advocate for my students, always erring on the bleeding heart side, probably to a fault. Most likely annoying and upsetting , playing the Mama Bear, to those who might seem to threaten the well-being of my cubs. But it’s true, I’ve been a bully in my classroom. Much more so in the earlier years of my career, but even today. I woke up grumpy, and when a student in my 3rd hour class was giggling, coyly flirting, and disrupting, I called her out in front of the whole class, rather than talking to her privately. I didn’t think about it in the moment, but I was really trying to shame her into submission. Power through intimidation. Sounds like a bully.  Yes, it stopped the immediate behavior, and yes, she was well-behaved the rest of the day, but it hurt my relationship with her and with all of the other students in my room who witnessed that and felt empathy for her. One grumpy morning will affect all of my students’ levels of motivation and feelings of safety in my room.

But even more troublesome are those teachers who don’t realize their “management” is really bullying and intimidating students. What breaks my heart and (I’ll admit it) brings me to tears once I’m behind closed doors is hearing education professionals speak in derogatory ways about their students. “She’s a behavior,” “He makes me miserable,” “She’s a piece of work,” “Oh, THAT student …” I swear, I’m not that sensitive a person.  I hardly ever cry, and I’d like to think I’m pretty tough (I mean, I’m from Detroit!), but these words tear apart my soul. No lie. These kids are other people’s babies. They are the future. They are little, young, innocent souls in sometimes big, growing, and clumsy bodies.  And they want to succeed … they all really do.

But I think the worst are teachers who know they are bullies and don’t care. I don’t think much more needs to be said there. You know if you are. I know that because I was this teacher in the past. The first year of my career, I was a long term sub and had a class of 43 kids in a subject I’d never taught. I had no idea what to do, so I bullied and intimidated to manage my room. I wanted to have as few referrals as possible so the principal might hire me. I did win the favor of the principal and other teachers, but I failed at all I was trying to teach. The school psych had a poster in his office that read “Are you a teacher or a bully?” I felt guilty every time I looked at it, but those times I actually dared to read the bullet points under the damning headline? Forget it! Guilt to the max! Thankfully, I was hired into an amazing school the following year with fabulous colleagues. I learned so much from them and continue to, even though only one still works with me.

I guess I’m just trying to be that poster in the school psych office. You may cringe to look at my  headline and recoil even more when looking at the details. But bullying kids should be unacceptable. My grumpy nagging today … unacceptable. Saying mean or negative things about students should be taboo on our campuses.

I’d like to think that I’ve changed. I have good relationships with all of my students (at least from my perspective, and I hope from theirs). I was less than thrilled, to say the least, about returning to work yesterday after the winter break, but I kind of lit up inside when I saw their faces, tired but ready to work hard. All these special kids who are entrusted to me. All of these one-of-a-kind personalities testing and trying new idea, ways of communications, styles, and everything else about being human. All of them doing all of this in these short 9 months I get to hang out with them. Who else gets to soak up this much of the human experience?

Most likely, my students will forgive my grumpy morning. Kids have the benevolence to forget quickly. I’d like to think it was rather out of character, and they’ve already forgotten, but who knows.  I’ll do better tomorrow, and I hope you will too. Not because we need to, but because we can. And won’t they learn so much more from a little mercy than from relentless justice (Yes, I had to throw in a little comment inspired by Les Mis. Victor Hugo was pretty cool, but I really liked Anne Hathaway.)

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Kindness Goes a Long Way

So teachers, do you have things you’d like to get your students to do? Maybe take off a hat, spit out some gum, or stop clicking a pen (over and over and over and over and over until you feel like you could scream)?

Here’s my formula for success:

Use the student’s name + Genuine smile + Genuine compliment + Softly spoken, kind request = No Stress Success

For example, a young man often is sent out of his other classes for being disruptive. Per our school behavior plan, my room is sometimes the place he’s sent. The first few times, he was terribly disruptive … calling out, throwing spitwads, roaming the room, lying on the floor, etc, etc, you can imagine! After experiencing this 2 or 3 times, I thought I’d wised up. I decided to be proactive. When he came to my room, I found a minute to slip to the back and kindly, calmly, and quietly state my expectations for his behavior. This DID lead to improvements in his behavior. But maybe it was 10 instead of 100 spitwads. Or bothering a few students rather than shouting out in front of the whole class. Either way, I wasn’t able to teach with that going on.

New plan – when said student comes to my room, I walk up and say “Hey Student X, how are you?” I listen to his response, smile, and if appropriate respond back. Then I ask “Are those new shoes? I really like them. Where did you get them?” I listen attentively, making eye contact and nodding to show I’m listening. Now I say “Hey, do you think you can do me a favor? I really need to teach my class today, so can you sit here quietly?” Student X nods and does what I asked.

Student X is pretty much EVERY KID. When needled or neglected, he’ll act out. When shown genuine care and concern (this takes about 45-60 seconds), he will comply.

Let’s stop initiating conflicts and start modeling good interpersonal skills with our students.

Student’s Name + Smile + Compliment + Request

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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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