What is the number one secret to classroom management?
Tremendous news! I have found it!
You might pride yourself on being able to keep a secret but I really don’t mind if you share this far and wide because everyone needs to know.
The secret is in Chapter 5 of Rob Plevin’s book ‘Take Control of the Noisy Class: From Chaos to Calm in 15 Seconds’.
Rob says, “After 25 years of working with emotionally damaged and ‘difficult’ children, I’ve come to the conclusion that there is just one true key to successful behaviour management. It really doesn’t matter how many ‘proven’ strategies you have in your arsenal because without this, your efforts will almost certainly come unstuck. The secret ingredient, sadly overlooked by many teachers particularly those of the punishment-focused, oppressive variety is… (drumroll please) a positive teacher-student relationship.”
This ‘secret’ might not come as a surprise to you but it is surprising how many teachers don’t have the trust and respect of their students because they don’t ‘know’ them.
A teacher is only as good as the relationship she forges with her students (and colleagues) and this is the number one condition for growth.
Veronica Weusten notes, “A golden rule is relationships first, lessons second.”
Some teachers don’t have to shout and they don’t possess some superpower or natural ability to teach either. What they are exceptionally good at though is getting to know their pupils and finding out what makes them tick. They don’t rely on theories, techniques and case studies but they focus on students as individuals and as a class. They don’t have any magic dust but they do have a relationship knack that is built up by spending time with students, chatting with them supporting their interests, showing an interest and being authentic not at arm’s length and distant.
As Rob says, “students will always respond more positively to a teacher they know, like and trust; they will always work harder and behave better for a teacher they get on with.”
This is where your persona and presence enter the frame.
Take Into Account
Rob encourages us to see a relationship as a sort of bank account. We put money into an account and we get something back in the form of interest. So the more money we deposit, the more we get back. Positive input equals positive return. When we invest in relationships we give ourselves by showing we care and by making regular contact and communication with them.
“By concentrating solely on these two essential factors – frequent communication and showing we care – I believe we have the simplest possible formula for building relationships with our students.”
Building relationships with our most challenging students means making a lot of deposits and you might not see much interest straight away but it will come. By focusing on their likes, hobbies and interests we can begin to earn their interest in us too. Rob encourages us to use a ‘record card questionnaire’ system, a simple tool that asks students to reveal a little about themselves so we can gather interesting titbits of useful information to build a library of insights for striking up conversations.
If you have hard to reach students who would rather not speak to you then Rob recommends three ways to kick-start a conversation:
1. Ask them for advice – music, fashion, hairstyles, jewellery, games, sports, anything practical ask for help fixing something – just ask for an opinion.
2. Ask a favour – this is also called the ‘Franklin effect’ and seems counter-intuitive but the principle is: if you want to increase the likelihood of someone liking you, get them to do you a favour…most times out of ten it works!
3. Give them a compliment – whilst you run the risk of a compliment coming across as insincere, giving a genuine compliment can help open up a conversation especially when a student’s name is used, you tell someone why you are giving them a compliment and you finish with an open-ended question.
The Bottom Line
Relationship building conversations show that we care about all our students and making regular deposits is essential.
If you suddenly stop putting money in the bank then don’t expect much back – the account has to be active. The little stuff we do everyday matters the most and small deposits need to be made unfailingly and frequently.
Try and make a withdrawal from someone you haven’t made sufficient deposits with means your relationship is under-funded and this might mean they don’t let you make future deposits. By unswervingly making deposits and maintaining a surplus of good feelings and rapport, means we are making wise investments for the future, as students will try harder and give us plenty back in return.
At the end of the day, as well as at the start and in the middle of the day too, relationships need plenty of ‘family maintenance’ in the way mega monk Haemin Sunim describes in his book, The Things You Can Only See When You Slow Down.
If we devote time to our ‘classroom maintenance’ then our relationships will grow and glow but we need to slow down, ignore the ‘data’ and get to know students for who they are.