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The True Power Of The Teacher/Student Relationship

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With another school year upon us, I feel it is prudent for everyone involved with our most precious resource, our children, to be open to the new ideas which can in turn provide create great success stories. As caregivers and educators, it is all too easy for us to resort to threats and intimidation when we feel we have reached the end of our tether will our willful students, yet believe it or not, positive change can be created in even (what feels like) the most impossible cases.

I am sure that at least one time, every teacher has felt they had "that student" in their class. Those children who can display behavioral issues, are non-compliant, distant, disrespectful, hard to reach, impossible to control, if not all of the above. Those students most often labeled “the bad kid”. One of the biggest mistakes that many adults make in interacting with children, including parents, is asking the question "what's WRONG with you", when you should be asking, "what's HAPPENED to you". EVERY behavior has a reason. Whether to feed a need, gain attention, protect their personal safety net, whatever, there is a reason! So instead of blaming and ridiculing a child, which will only further damage them, why not just find that reason?

During my years of working with children and families, I have had so many people ask me, "what would you do, how would you get through to them, what am I supposed to do?" My answer is always the same..."have you tried talking TO them, not talking AT them", because there is a difference and unfortunately too often adults don't realize it. When you talk to a child, when you show interest in who there are, you are meeting a need in that child that they have been trying to meet on their own with unacceptable behavior. You show the child you BELIEVE in them and that you NOTICE them. It is a basic human desire to be noticed, to be recognized, to feel as though the life of at least one person on this vast planet would be altered if we were to just vanish. Talking to a child also provides you the opportunity to find out if there is hurt or trauma present in their lives so that intervention can be given. I would stake my career on the fact that if you asked 100 "undesirable" students what was different about the one teacher they actually liked, they would tell you, "they believed I could be something!!!"

Many people look at the challenges that some of these children present in the classroom and will tell themselves its impossible so why try? I say, it's not impossible, it can be done, but what it isn't going to be is EASY! It's taken years for this child to get to the place they are...a place of being untrusting, defensive, lashing out, pushing the world away...but they had help getting there. Our children are what we teach them to be, so at least one if not more adults helped to create this situation. Do you really think you are going to change years of trauma with a couple of conversations? There are, however some steps that teachers can take to help these children get to a place that will be beneficial for everyone. So here is my challenge to our teachers…try the following steps, at least one, but all would be great!!!

Effort needs to outweigh achievement:
It’s no classroom secret that not every child is going to achieve at the same level. The downside is we are functioning within a curriculum that is overloaded with standardized testing. The upside is that if teachers will encourage the effort side of a child, more than dwelling on the requirements of achieving at that set level as well as the consequences if they don’t, it will help to create less stress in the students combined with an increased sense of ability.

Stop using the phrase “You have failed”:
Who has ever gotten an encouraging feeling from hearing “you have FAILED”. It sounds so definite and carries such a heavy burden of finality. It makes people feel that no amount of effort will ever get them there, so why would they bother? Instead try saying to your students “you just have gotten there YET”. Not only does it sound better, the entire statement implies there is opportunity to continue going forward.

Children should have more chances:
Being young means you are going to make mistakes. We ALL did it, now we need to allow our children to do it for you don’t learn without first having made the mistake. Knowing that, who has the right to put an amount on the number of mistakes a person can make? We live in a country of “3 strikes and you’re out”, but this mentality only creates anxiety in others because they know that someone is counting and watching. Not to mention how many of us have experienced that illusive phenomenon of making more mistakes when you are trying too hard to get it right? This ideal also makes it too easy for some adults to say to themselves, “well, that child only gets one chance because after all, it’s not like they are going to do any different with more chances, right?

Do away with the reward system:
Rewards, not just in the classroom, teach children to “perform” as opposed to working towards their ultimate potential nor do they foster the feeling in a child that you believe in them! A child will do what is asked of them and nothing more in hopes of getting what they were promised if they did. If you want to implement a reward system of some kind, then set it up so it creates a challenge for them such as a reward at each level they reach (DO NOT use food or toys). Let the child know, if I didn’t believe you could do this, I wouldn’t ask you to! Also make the reward something were they have “buy-in” because children are simply going to be more motivated to work towards something they actually want.

Increasing teachable moments:
As educators and caregivers, we can all attest to the fact that when children are presented with the equation “behavior + positive choices=trips in public”, it is going to be those children who need the physical activity the most who will lose it first. How can a child possibly know how to behave in public social settings (ex. fields trips) if they are never there? When we are not successful at something, what do we do, we practice…sports, learning, music, etc…So if you want a child to be successful with their social interactions, then you need to put them in that situation or give them opportunities to have interaction. That way, when you witness the undesirable behaviors, you can use those moments as teachable moments to show the child what/how they could have done differently!

Accentuate the positive:
Everyone wants to hear positive comments and feedback, everyone wants to know they are doing well or doing something right, everyone wants to feel as though they made someone proud. Children are no different and in fact they need it more!!! As stated earlier, every behavior has a reason. So if you want a child to display desirable behaviors and/or make good choices, then you have to show them that they can still meet the same need they are working for yet doing it in a more productive, healthy way.

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