The other day, I was stopped dead in my tracks when I overheard a passing conversation. One of the people was obviously a teacher, and she was saying, “I am in for a terrible time because my class is really rough, and I am not looking forward to this year.” How could this be since school had only started a few days ago? What was it that this teacher was missing when the first days of a new school year could be new and exciting for everyone?
As I walked on, I thought to myself that this person could benefit from the first part of the Guided Experience Approach, which focuses so heavily on building community and relationship in the classroom. This class was already a battlefield between teacher and students; and unless she changed some things very quickly, the year would be lost for everyone.
So I thought, if I had been a part of the conversation, how would I respond? The only answer that came to me is the same that I have learned myself… relationship, relationship, relationship! No class is too rough or tough if we teachers focus on building a healthy learning environment with our students first. Everyone on the face of the earth wants to be heard, respected, and feel that they are safe to make mistakes and learn from them. So what could this teacher do?
Like most teachers they have to follow the guidelines, maintain discipline, and make certain that students test well. Whatever the situation is, building relationship with ones students cannot take a backseat. When a healthy community is in place, the other pressures and goals can be dealt with for the benefit of all.
So this is how I would go about building relationship. I would begin by using the “Ordered Sharing” that we share on this website in the “In Schools” section. It focuses on teaching students to listen to themselves and others and to speak their own truth. I always found it invaluable whether I was in an elementary, secondary, or adult situation and can promise you that it always positively changed how everyone interacted. One of my fourth grade classes grew to love the Ordered Sharing and it was so much a part of the way we communicated that parents reported that their child was insisting that they use it at home. My seventh graders used to call for an Ordered Sharing in their project groups when things were not working well. I frequently didn’t have to say anything at all. Ultimately, the Ordered Sharing can be used for creating class agreements and rules for how to work together on projects.
I did something else that helped build relationship with my students. I would make a point of greeting the students as they walked into the room or by being at the door when the students first arrived and saying hello to each one (it took a while, but even in my middle school classes I would learn each students name and we would briefly converse about things that interested them. They told me later that this meant a great deal). I will be sharing more ideas in future blogs on relationship building and look forward to hearing your ideas as well.