Relationships are the entire core and heart of any learning institution and of each effective classroom. In both cases the steps required are the same.
Step 1 – Agree on/reiterate, the values which are most important to you.
Step 2 – Work out how you will set up and continually improve your learning culture.
Step 3 – Safeguarding: confirm that policies are defined/ applied correctly to safely and inclusively support ALL members of the class and school community.
Step 4 – Systematically build in opportunities for developing effective relationships
Step 5 – Monitor the classroom or school ethos over time and make adjustment
Step 6 – Work on the point where you are least inclusive and improve it
The essential first step for any learning institution is to decide upon how individuals should treat each other and what the culture of learning will be.
Schools who fail to set an agreed culture of learning based on strong shared values are really just assuming that all members of the school community share a common culture and this is just not the case. In the 1960s in the UK it was recognised that a largely middle class teaching profession was not taking account of working class cultures and so unintentionally excluding students who were often already disadvantaged. More recent studies have shown that similar cultural mismatches have led to tensions within groups in the UK, most recently expressed as fears that students were being taught non-British values. Schools are now required to make sure their own agreed values align to ‘British values’ even though it is extremely unclear what these are and what makes them British as opposed to the values of any western liberal democracy.
Some, such as Head of English Jackie Swift, argue that a stable relationship between teacher and student has much more of an impact and is therefore more important than good quality teaching, but I would argue it is not one over the other. Outstanding teaching always starts with sound relationships.
In a wider sense, relationships encompass the whole areas of inclusion, community cohesion and the bringing together of support services around the individual and their family. I use the term ‘individual’ rather than student, because all staff are human too and the school needs to come together around all the individuals in the community not just the students. Some authors have indicated that schools which act as inclusive hubs for community support have a considerable positive impact on their wider community. The desktop review commissioned by the JRF and compiled by Mog Ball is one such example.
Teachers: Improving the classroom climate.
A well constructed working relationship is critical for outstanding teaching to occur. As a teacher you need to ensure that relationships are built on the values of the school. The Tripod scheme in the US suggests that the most reliable indicator of future progress by students is “if my teacher likes me”. There are some golden rules to apply to ensure they remain convinced that you do.
- They will enjoy being there if you do. Make it clear you are enjoying working with the class, avoiding any workload moans or outward frustration where possible.
- Focus on the behaviour not the individual. There is a world of difference between the following sentences: “That was a fooling thing to do” and “Don’t be foolish”. The first describes the behaviour as the problem whilst the second suggests it is a habit of the individual which is the problem.
- Three praises to the prod. As an absolute minimum you should aim to mention and praise positive actions at least three times more often than correcting behaviour. For example praising Ellie for sitting perfectly rather than picking out Ella as the one person who is not yet sitting perfectly.
- Make productive teamwork one of your objectives which you praise and record progress in. See the SECRET skills as a way of measuring and improving these relationship skills between learners.
As a team leader you have to consider the relationships between people in your team, the relationship between your team and other teams in the organisation, and your relationship to the parents and outside agencies.
It is essential you establish a school culture which defines how the who school community operates.