I’m an AHT working in a challenging 11-16 comprehensive school, with challenging students who by enlarge come from challenging backgrounds.
Part of my job is to challenge their behaviour, to help them to see their role within a problem and lead them onto a path of reconciliation. The relationships requiring reconciliation are mostly student-student or student-teacher.
In this post, I’m going to focus on the problems between student and teacher and some ways in which to act before a reaction.
Minimising student-teacher problems
Student teacher relationships can breakdown for a myriad of reasons and often these reasons have nothing to do with the here and now. Often, a problem has manifested before the student has entered the class. Triggers will then occur that tip the student from rational to irrational e.g. lateness to class followed by teacher challenge can lead to an irrational response from the student. I must be clear here, would I challenge lateness – absolutely. It’s the method by which behaviours are challenged and the relationships built beforehand that can minimise a potentially explosive situation.
Act or React – The Power of Relationships
For me, education isn’t just the chalk-face or more e-face nowadays! It’s the day to day, moment by moment interaction with people within the school community.
Face to face contact outside of the classroom is one of the most important wins a teacher can have. Being at school for the morning meet and greet. Get outside as the students group together. Get involved. Say hello. Ask questions about their weekend, a forthcoming event or about their day ahead. At first, the students will be on their back foot. With consistency of application, you’ll become the teacher who cares, who’s interested in their lives. You’ll build relationships. Conversation will become ‘normal.’
In your PPA time get out onto the corridors. Smile at colleagues and students you meet. Say hello. Question why students are out of class positively…’Hi, where should you be now?’ ‘Nice to see you….but where should you be?’
Regardless of how you feel, meet students and fellow professionals with a smile. Be positive. Challenging students will often be surrounded with challenging circumstance. Added to the swathes of hormones, it makes for a complex and reactive human being. Smiling and being human will break down defences and build relationships.
By investing in relationships you’ll make it difficult for students to say NO. Asking them to take their ear phones out; phone away; coat off; scarf off; explain why they’re late; stop, because you need to chat; stop running, etc etc etc will become a given. The students, including the challenging students will do as you ask when you ask it.
BECAUSE YOU HAVE BUILT UP A RELATIONSHIP.
Telling someone to ‘expletive off’ is made incredibly difficult when you have a relationship with that person. They know you care, they respect that you care, they follow your instruction, they respect your instruction. Why? Because you respect them.
So now, be consistent
Once you have developed a climate of respect. It’s essential that you do not waver. Always be positive, always show your students respect, always challenge appropriately. In turn, students will mostly respond positively. Always be consistent. Consistently positive.
The problem with managing sanction systems.
They’re always abused.
I’ve met so many teachers that employ different techniques for discipline. Often discipline is what you are met with at the door: – No mobile phones, coats off, don’t shout out. Not a smile and a welcome.
Some students are met with sanctions e.g. for those that use the consequence system, I’ve seen the ‘C’ system sanctions are up on a dedicated wall already, before the class has begun. As if, the expectation by the teacher is that there will be consequences. There will be names on the board, come what may.
Flip it to Positive Reinforcement
Instead of sanctions, meet students with praise. Have a positivity wall or tick chart. Meet and greet with a happy face and a positive comment. Train the students i.e. first to sit down with their stationary out and their books out gets a tick on the board.
I’ve literally seen the most challenging students from 11-16 sit straight backed with their arms folded because they wanted a tick on the board. They want and need positive reinforcement.
I’ve done this in assembly of 14-15 yr olds. The best side (for my rule that day it was the quickest side) to put their hands on their head. No prize offered, they just wanted to impress, to be the best.
One of the toughest students came to me with his card. He was elated. Not only had he received great scores but he had received STICKERS of praise too. He was grinning from ear to ear. He wouldn’t stop with his delight; that he was bestowed with such a hollowed reward. This was also in the company of member of staff and his after school football session. Attending were droves of our more challenging children. He wasn’t embarrassed with his reward.
It took me by surprise but it reminded me that he was indeed, a child.
I’m not suggesting that we languish our children with stickers. But rather, we reward more, especially those that do it right constantly with: –
- Stickers (when absolutely deserved)
- Phone calls of praise
- Public recognition within the classroom
- Postcards of praise
- Department certificate of recognition
- Headteacher commendation
It’s a timely reminder to me that positive reinforcement and relationships are a key driver in our system of education.