Forging good relationships

Students relationship with the school

Tweeted by @sirnewmalot on the 14th July 2017

You cannot make children respect or heed you or view your directions with value. But you can build it over time if you are reliable, resolute, obviously care about them academically and as people, but are stubborn enough to be consistent and retain high expectations wherever happens. Don’t try to curry favour with children. Don’t bribe them; don’t fawn or beg them to behave. Build a culture where they want to behave. Be the teacher.

Getting Behaviour Right from the Start by Tom Bennett

 It seems clear to me: either we expect students to listen to us instantly, to follow our instructions, and we back that expectation up, or we don’t expect it. Either we expect respect for teachers, or we allow students to talk back, challenge, lie to our faces, or follow instructions only after a sullen delay.

Respect by Hin-Tai

Good relationships with students are not a necessary precursor to good classroom management. And ‘good relationships’ is itself a nebulous term. Here, I try to unpick the sense from the nonsense, with implications for every teacher, not just ones at the start of their careers. 

One of my favourite former colleagues, Dan, was a brilliant mathematician. He’d gone to Cambridge to study maths, and was in his 30s when he worked with us, clearly he’d kept up his intellectual interests after university and I would often encounter interesting ideas for the first time through him. He came to the school on supply, having not managed to keep down a permanent job. (Please note that this was at a previous school to the one I am working in now.)

One of the things about Dan was that he dressed unusually. He also had an unusual manner. His looks lent themselves to him quickly gaining a pejorative nickname with the students, an unpleasant use of mockery that I have no time for. Incredibly to me, I heard some staff using the same name about him, how pathetic of those staff.

I learnt a lot of maths from him, he was knowledgeable and would think about my questions and then give me nice, clear explanations. He was a natural teacher. And at the end of the term? He wasn’t asked to come back.

Were his lessons terrible? No. He was diligent and hard working and he was always interested in improving his practice. He could have improved, as we all can, and he had the same problems as all staff do who join a new school, but the lessons were fine and his classes’ results were in line with the rest of the departments. So why didn’t we keep him?

I believe it’s because people thought he was weird. People thought how is he going to build strong relationships with the students? Our students were denied the expertise of a brilliant mathematician because of the idiotic view that teachers have to forge good relationships with their students prior to them learning. This is the wrong way round, as Tom Bennett says in the quote at the start, good relationships with students are the product of good teaching.

The quoted tweet at the start is key here. If the students expected to behave and do their best for every teacher, I have no doubt that Dan would have won them over. I have no doubt that he would have become extremely popular. Kids like teachers who teach them well; who know a lot and can communicate it well. Forging good relationships is about the relationship between the school culture and the student. If the culture is clearly: students must respect their teachers and do their best in lessons, then we don’t have to worry about supply teachers or teachers who initially look a bit different.

If the culture is not expressed like this clearly, then teachers can still use the culture of ‘school’ in general terms. We can connect students with the culture of needing to do their best, to learn our subjects well, to be knowledgeable, to form good habits and to respect our expertise.

Our expectations as teachers, as Hin-Tai says must be that they do what we want them to do. Students get a great deal out of the Education system, our relationships with them must be built on respect for the institution of school.

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