Relationships for learning: Top 10 tips for teachers

Any teacher will tell you that successful teaching is  “all about the relationship”. It is curious, then to discover how little investment schools are making in this “relationship” between teachers and pupils.

It is part of your job as a teacher to put yourself in the Quality World of your pupils. If you are not in their Quality World, you will not be influential as their teacher.

Here are my Top 10 tips to get into your pupils’ Quality Worlds:

1.  Be big on welcomes: if a pupil feels you are pleased to see them, you help them to feel worthy and valued. An experienced teacher I know always tells newly qualified colleagues to find as many ways to show that they like the pupils, especially those who are causing the most trouble. Jacqui says, and I agree with her, “It’s hard to be rotten to someone who lets you know they like you”. Smile!

2. Share information about yourself: we like to be able to feel we have something in common with people in our Quality World. Your age and role in school you will never have in common. However, when you talk about what you enjoy doing in your free time, you give your pupils new possibilities for feeling you and they may have something in common.

3. Spend time with students outside the classroom: eat lunch together;  share library and work preparation space; dance,  jog or train together at lunchtime; sing or play music together; run a club. One Deputy Head said that he first became interested in the pastoral side of teaching when he went on a school trip. The students Graham got to know on that trip became the ones that worked hardest for him afterwards, even those who had been disengaged beforehand.

4. Take a personal interest in all students: this is not as hard as it sounds. If you show a personal interest in one student and others witness this, they will see you as a teacher who is “interested in us”. I remember a maths teacher called Mrs Rymer for just this reason. During a lesson, as she was walking around the class, she stopped and asked how my violin playing was coming on. I can trace my positive view of this teacher back to that moment of personal interest, lacking in many others who taught me. A Deputy Head of a comprehensive school here in Hertfordshire described to me how he had come to the realisation that he knew very little about certain students other than the trouble they were in. Understanding the value of Problem Free Talk, he wanted to gather some facts that could be used as openers to conversations with these students. To this end, he posted photos of the students onthe staff notice board and invited colleagues to note down any information about the student that was not about problems. Initially, the blank sheets confirmed that he was not alone in his ignorance of these students’ lives, but gradually, information started to appear: “His brother has just started college”; “She has a Labrador puppy”; “He supports Chelsea”; “His dad fits kitchens” and so on. Armed with this information, staff could then attempt to draw the youngsters into conversations and were duly rewarded with a more positive relationship.

5. Learn their names: A teacher who does not know his or her students’ names may be perceived as remote and unapproachable. When a teacher engages a student in personal conversation, uses her name, and seems to include her in the domain of attention, the subject matter seems more accessible. The nonverbal message goes out that the student is a part of the community of people who can do Chemistry, Mathematics, English,  or whatever your subject is.

In large classes, the task of learning student names can seem daunting, but even if the teacher learns the names of only a sample of the class, an inclusive, caring  atmosphere will be established.

This comes more easily to some teachers than others, especially in a secondary school – so cheat! Make sure that you have a list of the names of students in your class before the lesson. Find a way of dividing the list up so that you have grouped the names: for example, I separate out the boys and girls first and then within these I may list them alphabetically. By doing this you have already familiarised yourself with the range of names in a class and know that there is  Jacinta and a Carl, even though, at this stage, you do not know which name goes with which face. When you meet them, you can make a brief note to remind you who’s who. I recommend that you keep this coded or private as the best reminders are not necessarily the most flattering.

Passport for Class. I like this technique it as it can be used in large classes and gives you information as a future investment.

Ask yourthe students prepare a “passport” for your class. This is an exercise in creativity and an opportunity for you to get to know about the student as well as their name. Using an old notecard, ask the student to make a passport or document that tells you about them. They must include a personal photo, some information about their likes and dislikes, and something about where they have been and where they are going. This is especially helpful later, when the student calls and asks for a recommendation…you can use the card to jog your memory.

6. Learn together: If you model the learning process to your students, they will view you as a fellow student, with similar struggles and risks. Finding something that you are not already an expert in and sharing your learning journey is a powerful way of building connection with your students. I know one teacher who had started a fitness regime and shared her objectives and progress with her class. They began to be more open with her about their struggles as a result.

7. Ask for their help: This is such an important one for building a sense of empowerment and responsibility. Use ordinary daily events to seek their help: problem solving about something that has arisen in class; putting one student to help another; or simply those small practical ways of helping that are always with us such as helping you to tidy a cupboard, asking for their ideas on how to make the homework more interesting. I once asked a student if they could carry my briefcase to the car park. You would think that I had given him a box of chocolates. The next time I was in the school, he came up to me and asked if there was anything he could do for me. He now saw me as someone with whom he felt useful, needed, trustworthy, special: I was in his Quality World!

8. Have fun together: if students have fun with you they will enjoy their learning. Their perception of you as a “fun teacher” does not rely on you being a clown or entertainer. Finding ways of having fun can be a class task: write a quiz; Have a class party at the end of term; go on outings; ask students to prepare a joke for the end of the lesson. Your intention to help the students enjoy their learning and have fun in your lessons will convey itself to the students if you talk about it and seek their ideas. Like many of these ideas, it will run itself once you get started.

9. Give them choices: By this I certainly don’t mean, “It’s your choice, you either finish the work or you miss play”. I ask you, where’s the choice in that? I mean real, acceptable options that help the pupil to feel in control and free to make a real choice. This could be options for where and with whom you work ( although some less popular students don’t really have that option); the order in which you do things ( all the Geometry pages first then the Algebra); to work on your own or with others; to write, draw or record your ideas; to answer the questions on the board or to do those on page 25;  or to do an easy, medium or hard test or worksheet.

10. Surprise them from time to time. That will keep you on your toes if not your students!

Now read: EBD to Mainstream

Choice Theory: The Quality World

1 comment to Relationships for learning: Top 10 tips for teachers

  • Naomi

    Great top 10 tips :) I have monitors for everything in my classroom, and they love the responsibility of helping me keep our room and routine in order!

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