When I first started teaching, I wasn’t very good. I had no teaching experience and really no interest in being a teacher. I never really had a positive school experience in the different schools I went to. I attended private schools for over 19 years of my schooling throughout my childhood and into adulthood. During those years, I honestly thought a good education could be summed up into 3 areas:
- Teachers having control over the classroom and students;
- Writing notes and doing it as fast as you could was the recipe for success;
- Never question the teacher’s or professor’s knowledge or teaching practices.
When you attend private schools for all of those years and see the same practices and rules over and over again, that’s really all you know about education. I believed that was the way teaching was done everywhere and how everyone had to learn in order to be successful.
Believe it or not, there is research and data that supports the theory that many teachers teach the same way they were taught to when they were in school if the practice was successful for them. As you can imagine (and is usually the case with many educators), when I first began teaching, I taught the same way as the teachers did when I was in school:
- I dictated and controlled the learning environment;
- I presented information to students the way I wanted it presented and in the manner which was most comfortable to me; and
- I expected students to memorize the information I had given them and regurgitate it to me when we had assessments.
Thus, I was sharing my awful learning experiences with my students. Sort of taking it out on them. That’s all I knew about education.
While my methods needed a lot of work and my expectations for students were out of touch with reality, there was one area where I was progressing nicely. During my life, I have always been a pretty good judge of people. I have also been able to build relationships with many different people throughout my life. While I had a lot of work to do when it came time to presenting content in an engaging learning environment, I was pretty good at building relationships with students. So while I felt I had a long way to go to be a good teacher, I knew I could relate to students and staff members. The ability to relate and work with students and staff really kept me in teaching. It pushed me to get better because I wanted to be the best for the people who counted on me each day to be the best.
I will always remember one student I had in particular during my teaching days. He was a transfer student and this was his third school to date and it was only November. His appearance was different than the rest of the student body: piercings, tattoos, hair over his eyes, black leather clothing. He was distant and kept to himself. In a small community, I’m sure it was difficult for him to make friends at all, let alone with one person.
The student was in my Web Design class and had academic success in the class. He completed projects, he took notes while watching online videos to learn how to create better graphics, and he was always respectful and polite to me and the other students. In his other classes, he was completely the opposite. It seemed no other staff members could reach him and connect with him. Once grades came out, he was failing all of his classes, except Web Design and my wife’s class (who is a master at building relationships).
One of his other teachers asked me what I was doing to get results from him. I didn’t have much to say, I told her “Nothing.” She replied, “Well, you must be doing something.” I said, “Well, I treat him like a human being.” The teacher laughed and said, “We all are doing that.” I replied, “I disagree. In my daily conversations with him, I’ve never heard him mention another staff member’s name or anything about his other classes that he enjoys.” As you can imagine, that wasn’t taken very well, but it was the truth.
The point of the story is to show sometimes it just gets down to treating people the way we want to be treated and want our children or family members to be treated. While I wasn’t the greatest teacher, even in my own department, I utilized my ability to build relationships to help others and help me get better. Let’s take a look at 4 key aspects I always keep in mind when it comes to creating meaningful relationships:
- Don’t make excuses
I don’t think making excuses helps anybody in education. We can’t say, “I have over 150 students each day, I can’t build relationships with everyone.” Each student is an individual. Each parent of our students expects their student to be given the best learning environment as possible. We need to make that happen each day.
2. Listen, Respond, Ask Questions, Repeat
Every student has a story. Instead of always thinking the worst, we need to listen to students to feel where they are. Model the behavior we expect to see from our students.
At some point in all of our lives, we have needed something. Someone has had to help us out at some point. Always remember this when working with students. Instead of initially feeling students are trying to take advantage of us, let’s look at it as students are reaching out for help.
How much time and investment do you put in each day for students and other staff members? If our job as educators was easy, everyone would be doing it. To be the best, in any endeavor or occupation, you have to make sacrifices. Whether it is before school or after school sessions, being a part of teams and committees, or advising a club, we all need to make a sacrifice for your students and/or staff. It will make a difference.
The above quote by Robert Meehan really does say it all. The little things add up to a lot in education. Little things are what make relationships successful. Its our job to find the little things that help build relationships with students and staff. Try making building relationships with students and staff a daily exercise and practice in order to improve the culture of your school and classroom.