• Aaron Daffern

Take CHARGE of the Classroom #2: Relationships


This is post #2 in a 20-post series designed to disrupt outdated behavior management models and help you create the classroom culture of your dreams. This post contains excerpts from my book Take CHARGE of the Classroom.


Children’s neurology is affected by the relationships they form with their teacher and other students (Bailey, 2015). Personal connections create the brain circuits responsible for such basic things as the formation of meaning. Relationships also affect the regulation of bodily states, the modulation of emotion, the ability to focus and sustain attention, the organization of memories, and the capacity for interpersonal communication.

Basically, relationships affect everything.


Positive, nurturing relationships, whether they be between students and parents or students and teachers, lay the groundwork and mental infrastructure for all learning activities. Without these support systems in place, trying to teach is as difficult as trying to run up a greased metal ramp in your socks.


Why is that?


Our brains have a hierarchy of needs that must be met for us to be open and receptive to new learning. First, we must feel safe. If there is an imminent threat to our safety, whether physical or psychological, our mental energy will be spent on finding safety rather than diving into the complexities of adding fractions with unlike denominators. Students don’t have time to learn when they are full of stress or fear.


More than that, though, is our need for connection. Once safety has been established, we must feel loved and connected to enter into a beneficial learning state. For our brains to develop fully, for us to enter into the sweet spot that lies between security and challenge, we must feel cared for. From this strong student-teacher partnership flows optimal brain development, academic success, emotional well-being, and the willingness to cooperate.

So why are relationships so important? Because nurturing, attuned alignment with others builds neural connections within the brain that literally wire it for willingness and impulse control.


Do you want your students to stop fighting every time you ask them to do something? Focus on deeper relationships.


Do you want your students to resist the urge to lash out at their peers when angry? Focus on deeper relationships.


Our brains are wired to connect, attune, resonate, and learn with each other. Only when children feel safe and loved can they begin to develop skills like setting and achieving goals, regulating themselves, and getting along with others. When children have positive interactions, their neural pathways are being strengthened for future success.


What can you do tomorrow?

Observe. Choose one of your troubled students to shadow for a week. Get to know him, learn his likes and dislikes, and even eat lunch with him.


Forge connections. Find ways to spend time with him outside of instruction and see how your relationship changes. Imagine a typical day through his eyes to gain a clearer picture of his world.


What does this look like in the classroom?

The teacher develops and maintains positive relationships that are reflected in:


· Social conversations between teacher and students;


· Interactions with students that are relaxed and open; and


· Frequent laughter and nurturing facial expressions.

Humans are hard-wired for connection.


In both instances, parts that are essential to the execution of the sport are removed from play. In both instances, the only result would be frustration and failure.


Can you honestly say, then, that every one of your students comes in with his or her relational needs met? That none of your students suffer from a sense of being alone, of not having anyone to support them or watch their backs? Many of our students suffer not from ADD but BDD – belonging deficit disorder.


And you hold the cure.


There are many ways to develop a sense of belonging in the classroom. One of the most effective is the one that has the widest effect.


Help students help others.


Encouraging children to help their classmates creates a communal sense of belonging. The intrinsic desire to be of service can be nurtured and send attention-seeking behaviors into remission. Built on a foundational belief of connectedness, fostering an environment of aid and assistance creates a compassionate culture that focuses on unity and togetherness.


There is value in emphasizing the triumphs of the whole class over individual wins (Willans & Williams, 2018). Students who are committed to the success of the class are less likely to disrupt others. As the pronoun shifts from me to we, behavior problems surface less and less. Students who lash out are likely to do so toward strangers or those they are disconnected with. They have difficulty, however, maintaining their negative behaviors toward those close to them. Those actions become self-inflicted wounds.


What can you do tomorrow?


Plan random acts of kindness. Think about how you can integrate noncontingent reinforcement into your daily interactions with a student. Choose a student with whom you have few positive interactions and decide on an initial interval, from five to ten minutes.


Stay consistent. When your notification or reminder dings, have a short positive interaction with the student (e.g., smile, gentle touch, kind word). Note how the relationship improves.


What does this look like in the classroom?

The teacher develops and maintains connection rituals, which can include:


· Greeting students at the door with a smile and handshake;


· Classroom rituals (e.g., walk-and-talks); and


· Using humor (sharing jokes, puns, or comics) with students.


To read more posts in this series, click here.

References

Bailey, R. A. (2015). Conscious discipline: Building resilient classrooms. Oviedo, FL: Loving Guidance.


Willans, A., & Williams, C. L. (2018). Freedom to learn: Creating a classroom where every child thrives. Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers.

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