Building productive classroom relationships

Tim Fredrick's ELA Teaching Blog: Building productive classroom relationships:

"Every beginning teacher struggles with issues of "classroom management". I put the term in quotes, because I don't really like it. My philosophy, built up through various workshops, books, and experiences, is that what we are actually doing is building classroom relationships. When we build productive relationships (notice that I did not say positive relationships, because I fear that will be interpretted to mean that we must make sure our students like us), learning occurs in the classroom. And, that's what it is all about, isn't it ... the learning?
Here are some tips that I've found to be very helpful to me. I apologize in advance for taking other's ideas from the past years - it is not my intention to say that any of these ideas are my own.
1. A good lesson is the best way to build productive classroom relationships. A good lesson is well thought out, has a clear learning objective, and is organized. We have to make sure our instructions are clear, that students know what is expected of them, and the work is on their academic level (read more about Vygotsky's Zone of Proximal Development). When this is happening, students have no reason to act up or goof off. A good, clear lesson also shows students that we care about them and their learning, which leads to ...
2. Students need to know that we care about them and, because we care about them, have high expectations for their learning. We also need to be prepared to hold them to those expectations when needed. Students need to know when they are not living up to those expectations and that we believe in their abilities to always do better. They may not like it, but at the same time it will communicate that we care about them. There are other ways to show you care. Often, a student walks into my room obviously not feeling well - either physcially or emotionally. I'm always certain to privately ask them if they are okay. Most times, especially if it is emotional, they will say they are fine. But, I almost always see a student's face get a little "lighter" after I've asked. If students don't think that we care about them, they will revolt and not give us their attention or work.
3. We need to know our own personal "line" and communicate that line to the students. This comes through time and experience. We can't be on our students back about every little thing - especially when they are teenagers. The adage "Pick your battles" comes to mind. When deciding what "battles" to fight, we need to think about those things that we will notice and be willing to follow up on. For example, I know it is a common rule that students are not allowed to chew gum in class and I understand why. But, personally, I never, ever notice that a child is chewing gum unless they pop it in my face. So, it would be ill-advised for me to emphasize that rule in my classroom because it will not be enforced. Conversely, my school is a uniform school and I notice right away if a student is out of uniform in any way. Not only will I notice, but I'm more than willing to follow up on a student who is out of uniform until the problem is corrected. Emphasizing this rule is well-advised, because I can be sure that I will enforce it. Don't have rules you cannot or will not enforce to the end. This requires that we know ourselves the most.
4. When we communicate the line to our students, we have to make sure that we use the appropriate steps. These are the steps I use:
a. Ask politely and respectfully for the student to do the correct behavior. "Please sit down and get back to your work." This is crucial because most teenagers want to be treated like adults. I've found that most students will be respectful back, often saying "sorry" and doing exactly what I asked. I will say "Thank you" in return for the student complying.
b. If the student does not, I firmly remind them that I asked politely and I will not be asking again. My voice is more serious at this point and I'm sure NOT to say please. I don't often even get to this stage, but most other times this works successfully.
c. If the student does not still comply, I walk over to them, being sure that I'm getting the student's full attention and I give them a firm ultimatum. "Either you do what I asked politely or ___________" It is important that whatever fills in the blank is something I'm going to actually do if the student does not do what I asked AND that it is something meaningful to the student. Typically, any student who gets to this point, complies as soon as I start to walk over to them, because they know that I will do what I say if they don't. It is important that you clearly state the ultimatum and AS SOON AS the student does not comply, you do it. Don't give the student any more chances - they've already had enough chances if you've gotten to this point.
I had a student last year who tried to walk into my classroom with headphones on. I asked her politely to take it off. She did and said, "That's why I like you. You treat us with respect and don't yell at us." I said, "I yell at you all the time." She replied, "You yell at us when you need to - when we don't do what you ask. Other teachers - they yell at us because they can."
5. The policies of your school make all the difference. I'm lucky to be in a school that (for the most part) has its act together and backs the teachers up. None of this would work in a school that does not do that. If you are in that school, my advice is to find yourself a school that does. We, as teachers, can only be as good as the school we are in.
There are numerous other tips and I will save them for later posts. One last thing, though ... you can't change students' behavior. You can, though, change your own. Once I took my focus off trying to change the students and looked at how I could change my own behavior, I was able to build more productive classroom relationships."

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