Relationships. Such a loaded word. And so many get it wrong. They use the wrong cement, or the wrong dimensions, or don’t dig deep enough (or some dig too deep!). Getting it right is key to the success of the rest of the building.
I call them an “in”. Getting an “in” with a student opens them up. Being able to get “in” can be your key to success in being able to reach a student; to be able to meet them where they are and teach them effectively.
How to build relationships
- Use humour
This is the number one tool that you can use to break down those barriers that people put up when first meeting each other. The kind of humour that works is making fun of situations, never of people themselves. Getting the students to laugh with you is key. The other factor is to be able to laugh at yourself, and getting them to laugh at themselves.
A good joke once in a while is good fun. Puns also work a treat, and are especially good when half the class miss it, while the ones who pay attention and who understand get it. It becomes a little “in” for those students and you can build on it from there. Humour is highly effective, especially for those hard to reach kids that are too cool for school.
- Be Genuine
They say that dogs can smell fear. Well… kids can smell fakery. Building relationships is one of those things where you can’t “fake it ’til you make it”. You have to be genuinely interested. You have to genuinely listen. You have to genuinely care about what the student is telling you, or what they’re interested in – even when you have a million other things to do. Failure to be genuine undoes any hard work you might have tried prior to it. It tells students you don’t care, that you have other things that are more important, and that you don’t value them.
- Get to Know them
This kind of goes without saying, but it needs to be done. Get to know what your students do in their spare time. Get to know what they think about when they’re waiting for the bus. Get to know what your students get up to in the weekends. What do they do with themselves? Who are their friends? Who lives with them? Then begin making connections. If they play sports, let them know what sports you used to play when you were their age. If they are learning a musical instrument, share with them that your sister plays the same instrument. Don’t make it up. Be genuine. These “in’s” are key to making connections with people. It’s why Māori begin speech with their Mihi and explain about their whakapapa, their maunga, their iwi, their whanau; all so that those who they are addressing might be able to connect with the speaker over common ground.
- Be Unrelenting
Never give up on building the relationships. Maybe one child had a bad day yesterday and you had to discipline them… don’t let that affect how you treat them today. Maybe one of your jokes didn’t hit the mark. Don’t stop trying another one to break the ice. Just because you’ve asked how they are today, don’t give up on asking how they really are.
- Be equal
Okay. We all have favourites. But don’t let the students know that. And don’t let yourself know that. Tell yourself that you don’t have favourites. Don’t let that thought enter your head where you start to rank students in your mind from favourite to not so much. Not even on the last day of school and they’re all no longer your students.
Let them know that you value each of them as individuals – not just with your words, but your actions as well. Sure; you will have more input into some students than others. Some students will crave more attention from you than others. Some will be better behaved, be more responsible, and do more awesome things than others. But each of them are still in your class.
- Actions or Words
Actions speak louder than words and words can never hurt me. Both words and actions are important. Words can pick people up and put them down. But actions speak volumes when it comes to relationships. I can turn up to the after school touch rugby and cheer on my students from the sideline, not say anything to them about it before, after, or during and the mere fact I was there can mean the world to some kids. It shows you value them. It shows you care enough to come watch them.
- Be their Teacher, not their friend
Teachers often get this wrong – especially beginning teachers. You are not there to be their friend. They have those already. You’re there to be their teacher. You’re there to instruct, ask questions, model, explain, and challenge. You’re there to push them towards greatness. You’re there to encourage them to be better.
You’re also there to call them up when they step out of line. Stick to your expectations for them all. Students might not like you for an hour when you issue the consequence for their constant disruptions, but they will respect you forever for sticking to your guns and calling them on it.