“It’s not a teacher’s job to be liked or popular, but it is their job to ensure students can achieve their potential and ideally, open their minds up to wonders of Shakespeare, Newtonian Physics or Minoan civilisation. If the strength of the relationship between teacher and pupil is the determining factor in how well students engage with their subject then maybe we need to talk about this rather than focussing on a set of ‘what works’ interventions that no matter how well evidenced, won’t work if the teacher has ‘lost the dressing room.”
He is of course, spot on. Reading this, I was reminded of some work Andy Tharby and I did last year. We interviewed a selection of some of our most effective teachers, to try and elicit the key to their success. Unsurprisingly, many of them talked about the importance of relationships.
Here are some of the things that they suggested are key to building effective relationships with students:
- Have the highest possible expectations of them – students will, by and large, either live up or down to your expectations of them. So expect excellence in everything they do -their work, their behaviour, their effort, the presentation of their work, their manners. Everything!
- Know their names – take the time and effort to learn their names. This demonstrates that you have a genuine interest in them as people and makes it much easy to direct questions at them, or give them specific praise.
- Praise their effort – not their intelligence, or doing the basics, but the effort and hard work they put into their work.
4. Make it your business to know them, as students but as people too – find out what they can do, what they struggle with, what frustrates them etc. Only then, can you really know how and when to push them that bit more, or when to step back and let them struggle, or when to go in and offer some support – to avoid them slipping into the panic zone.
5. Do smile before Christmas – you have to spend a lot of time together, so be nice! Young people are nice, interesting and funny! Enjoy their company – and show them that you enjoy their company! Don’t take yourself too seriously….but never forget the seriousness of your job.
6. Always be the adult and accept that they are children – so model respectful language, always show them dignity and how to be nice to each other. Don’t linger on an issue, deal with it and start afresh next lesson.
7. Build bridges – find something to connect with them, especially the students who can be more challenging. This could be as simple as finding out that they attend the local swimming club outside of school and taking an interest in how they are doing, by asking them about it.
8. Engage them by showing a passion for your subject – don’t worry about engaging them with fun, gimmicky activities. Demonstrate a real passion for your subject, and make this enthusiasm for your subject infectious! I want my students to be amazed at the wonders of science, as I am, and enjoy my lessons for this reason!
9. Be an eternal optimist – see number 8!
10. Believe in them – make them believe that they can achieve way beyond their expectations. You might be one of the only adult in their lives that does this.
11. Talk to all of them about their work – look at it, talk to them about what’s so good about it and then push them to improve it and make it even better. If you expect them to work hard at it, you should value what they are doing. Don’t just do this with the ones that crave your attention.
12. Find their small successes and celebrate them – we can’t just expect them to be motivated, we have to build their motivation by acknowledging their successes.
13. Be honest with them – if their work or effort is poor, don’t patronise them by telling them it’s OK. Tell them the truth and then support them to improve it.
14. Never give up on them – help them to build grit and resilience, by keeping them going – even when the going is really tough….and when they might be really tough on you! Show an unfaltering belief that they can get there.
15. Know your subject inside out – not only will this mean that you teach it really well, but it will also make students confident about your ability to teach them really well. They want to feel secure that they are in safe hands!
16. Say hello to them (by name) in the corridor – because it’s a nice thing to do.
Finally, remind yourself of this on a daily basis, from the brilliant John Tomsett:
“Ultimately, never forget that the best pastoral care for students from the most deprived socio-economic backgrounds is a great set of examination results.”