Monday, July 16, 2012

Relationships and Behavior

I was once asked if I felt it was important that my students love me.  My response, was no...what's important is that they know I love them.  I am a firm believer that we can get to students' heads through their hearts, which is why building relationships is a main goal of mine each and every year.

I am fortunate in that I teach in a multi-age school; therefore, I get to keep my students for two years.   On the first day of a typical year, I already know and have an established relationship with half of my students (and their families)!  During that second year, I often deepen the relationship and truly establish a sense of trust from the students.  

You certainly don't have to teach in a multi-age school in order to establish strong relationships with your students, though!  It really boils down to taking the time to get to know your students, and I don't just mean academically.  Learn about their families, interests, hobbies, fears, etc.  Take the time to initiate conversations with them to find out more about who they are as a person.  You can then use this to help work through discipline issues or change negative behavior.  When a child firmly believes that you are his advocate and truly only want what's best for him, he will likely be more cooperative, demonstrate more effort, and develop a trust in what you have to say to him.  

One particular student of mine comes from a background that I cannot even begin to relate to, including the belief that the only way to "right" a situation is to beat up whoever "wronged" him.   This 10-year old feels he has to take care of his mom and siblings and truly is mature beyond his years (too mature actually).  He is such a smart young man who puts forth so much effort in the classroom; however, if he continues down the path of beating people up when he gets mad at them, he is not going to be able to utilize his intelligence and strong work ethic because he will end up in JDC or jail!  Ruth, my teaching partner, and I were determined to establish a strong relationship with him, and do whatever we could to help him overcome the need to resort to violence when angry.   He had been in four physical fights the year before, so we knew we had some work to do.  From the minute the school year started, we spent lots of time talking with him, asking about things that are important to him, and just getting to know him.  He responded very well to this and was always willing to share and engage in conversations with us.  We even told him that we had a goal of helping him deal with anger in different ways, as he had too much to offer this world to end up in jail.  Most of his immediate family members were in jail or had been in jail, which he often talked to us about, so he almost expected himself to end up there one day, too.  :-(

After his first fight of the year, Ruth and I were in the principal's office with him, trying to talk to him about why he felt he had to resort to fighting and sharing with him how much his choice broke our hearts.  Now, you have to understand...when this kiddo was in his fighting mode, it was like another unknown evil little being came out of him!!  He was NOTHING like his normal self.  He refused to talk to us, which just killed us.  At one point, we are both sitting there with tears in our eyes (Okay, okay, the tears were actually streaming down our faces), as we could not understand this change in his behavior.  By the end of our time with him, he still was not talking to us, BUT he was actually crying!!  I've never been so happy to see a child cry, as that was a sign to me that he wasn't happy with his decision and felt sadness about it, too.

Well, I was so pleased with this emotional break through, but then a couple of months later, HE DID IT AGAIN!!  This time, I looked at him when he was in the office, told him I could not believe he did it again (Yes, with tears in my eyes, but they stayed there this time!), and said I couldn't even try to talk to him about it this time because I was too disappointed.  When I got home, however, I called his mom and asked if she would share with me his perspective of the whole situation.  She told me his version (I asked her to have him tell her while I was on the phone, so he knew I really wanted to hear his side), and I found out that he seriously did endure a lot of badgering from a new student before he finally blew.  He endured a lot more than he ever would have before.  That didn't make it right, but it did show growth.  The best thing I heard, though, was that he told his mom he was tired of fighting and making himself and his teachers feel so badly, so he was really going to try hard to stop.  

And stop he did.  We had no more incidents the rest of the year.  If he felt he was getting frustrated, he came to us to give us a heads up so we could help diffuse the situation.  This was enormous growth for him, and I do not think we would have been successful in helping him begin the process of changing this mind set of fighting if we did not have such a strong relationship with him.  We mattered to him; therefore, he did not want to be the one to cause us pain.

If students know they matter to you, you will likely  matter to them.  Taking the time to build relationships with your students is just critical.  We are working with young human beings everyday...not robots who are just moving through a factory.   They have thoughts, feelings, likes, dislikes...just like us.  Take the time to get to know your students and even share with them things about you...let them know they matter to you personally and watch the difference it can make in their lives!

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