Discipline to Build Student Relationships

Discipline meaningless punishment

 

The best teachers have great relationships with students. Part of this can be attributed to who they are at heart, but part is also intentionally focused energy and effort. 6 things the best teachers (and educators in general) do are:

1. Set kids as the priority every day. As educators, we have many demands, pressures, and expectations exerted upon us. The best teachers understand that putting kids first can inherently accomplish anything else on the list. Test scores, standards, grades, motivation, behavior, and attendance are examples of things that can be increased by setting kids as the priority. What does this mean? Setting kids as the priority means genuinely getting to know kids, their strengths, interests, passions, aspirations, frustrations, backgrounds, and areas for growth, then acting upon this knowledge in planning for instruction and engaging students in learning. The best teachers know this transcends the content of any manual or basil reader (which can have value as resources and tools–just not end goals).

2. Treat discipline/behavior as a content area to support student learning.  Just like Language Arts, Math, PE, Music, Foreign Language, etc., behavior is an area in which kids need our support to learn skills to grow. Math teachers do not send a student to the office if he fails a quiz, then expect an administrator to spend an hour or two teaching the concepts to him, call home, assign negative consequences, and expect the student to return with a positive attitude and ace the quiz; however, some educators treat disciplinary infractions this way. The best teachers meet students where they are behaviorally and accept the responsibility of supporting them as needed, just like they do academically.

3. Relish the opportunity to support student learning in the area of behavior. The best teachers know that working with students–and families–through behavioral infractions is a fast track way to building positive relationships. The disciplinary process provides teachers an opportunity to show kids they matter, and families they care. These situations take time, energy, and firmness; but so do teaching kids to read, understand fractions, and speak a foreign language. Educators who pass off these fast track opportunities to others not only pass off the opportunity to build and progress relationships, but often create just the opposite: adversarial relationships with students and families.

4. Recognize and celebrate positives (positively) disproportionately to negatives. Although the best teachers hold kids to high expectations, they still take the time to acknowledge achievements. They praise them, and also contact parents to share. This is very time consuming, but so is fielding negative calls from parents. The best teachers know this, and also understand the invested time yields much different results when placed proactively at the front end rather than reactively on the back end.

5. Remove teacher ego from student interactions. The best teachers always focus on student centered objectives when dealing with disciplinary and behavioral infractions. The root of the issues are addressed, and teachers support the skill in need. Incidents–especially disrespect and insubordination–are never compounded with punitive consequences because they were directed at the teacher, and are rarely outsourced for resolution.

6. Search for relationship building opportunities. The best teachers jump at opportunities like lunch duty, recess duty, hall duty, morning duty, after school supervision, extra-curricular supervision, and chaperoning. These environments are saturated with relationship building opportunities, as both parties can take off their “school caps” and engage on another level.

 

Perhaps this winter holiday can provide time for us to examine our priorities. If kids are not at the top of the list, hopefully this offers assistance with any necessary revision. Our kids deserve it.

What essentials would you add to this list? Please share.

23 Comments

  1. I would also encourage students to establish learning routines as a formative means of dealing with indiscipline. That way, unexpected or inappropriate behavior is not put in the spotlight, or worse, the infractor is put on the spot.

    December 23, 2014
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    • Hoda Mohtar-Mateyk said:

      “Encourage students to establish learning routines as a formative means of dealing with indiscipline’ is also a great approach in fostering mutual respect, as well as, respect for self-action to learning, leading to building student relationships. Great point Stephan!

      December 23, 2014
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      • Christa said:

        Clearly, you’re friends with TFA!! They also have this idealistic and unrealistic view of classroom management! I have been a teacher for 20 years in both the suburbs and an urban environment. I have to be more structured and discipline oriented in an urban environment. I focus on building a relationship with both my parent and student not being their friend.

        December 23, 2014
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        • Sam LeDeaux said:

          Thank you for reading, Christa. I don’t have much familiarity with TFA. Like you, I have been a part of urban and suburban educational environments. I have experienced student success in both. I believe a key factor has been–and continues to be–my approach to discipline, which I have shared to some extent with this post. You make a good point about structure. You also reference building relationships with parents and students, which was the major component I was hoping to make clear in my post, but perhaps I did not. I would love to hear more about what “more structured and discipline oriented” has looked like for you, along with more specifics on how you focus on building relationships with parents and students. Thank you for contributing to the discussion, Christa!

          December 23, 2014
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          • Jane Allen said:

            I like your 6 points very much. They have given me a focus for a staff session because a great aura of negativity has befallen our school. Just one negative staff member has been able to contaminate so many other staff members and now it is like trying gather all the feathers spilled out from a feather pillow that has been opened and let loose to blow around in the wind.

            The best teachers all know that the way forward is a positive approach and to let go of that teacher ego. Teachers have to take the lead in planning engaging lessons that cater for the needs of all their students, the weak ones, the ‘lazy’ ones, the ‘naughty’ ones and the good ones also. Carefully thought-out seating plans, assessment-for-learning tasks, many student-active tasks and fun are key elements to successful outcomes.

            Negative approaches that focus on punishment, scolding and shouting, passing the buck to other staff to deal with problems is not the way to go. These don’t work in families, office jobs, schools, anywhere!

            If teachers think this is asking too much, then perhaps they should re-think whether they really should be teachers. Children need nurturing and guidance but with someone they can trust to like them enough to want them to succeed and not just judge them as failures and treat them as failures and be dismissive of them. Students are the reasons why we get out of bed every morning and go to work – because we love our students so much that we really want to help them.

            I have met so many REAL teachers out there – in all types of schools and all over the world – it’s not about money or its not even about resources – its about ATTITUDE!

            December 26, 2014
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            • Sam LeDeaux said:

              Wow, Jane, great contribution! I am sorry to hear about the negativity creeping in, but I like the path you’re embarking on to support teachers in understanding what students need from us to foster their personal successes. Thank you for reading! I’d be interested in hearing how things progress for you and your school community in your efforts to maintain positive attitudes, as my guess is yours is not the only environment that could benefit from that kind of re-establishment.

              December 26, 2014
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      • Sam LeDeaux said:

        Agreed! Building mutual respect is also a very significant part of the process. Thank you for reading and contributing to the discussion, Hoda!

        December 23, 2014
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    • Sam LeDeaux said:

      Great point, Stephan! Fostering student ownership of the behavioral learning process is a significant piece. Thank you for the read, and for your contribution!

      December 23, 2014
      Reply
  2. Rob Pearn said:

    Building relationships is very important for teachers. You are absolutely right when you say that good teachers look for opportunities to build relationships and connect with kids on a different level. In my 37 years as a teacher and administrator I was lucky enough to coach lots of school teams and never once did I ever have a problem in the classroom with one of the kids I coached. Students don’t come back and talk to me about the great Math class we had – they want to talk about the trips we went on and the teams we had. It’s all about building those relationships. As teachers we often never really know how we have influenced the students we teach.

    December 23, 2014
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    • Sam LeDeaux said:

      Thanks for the read, Rob. Yes, coaching provides an avenue for not just connecting on another level, but provides the opportunity to do so consistently and intimately; consistently over the course of the season, and intimately through the ups and downs of your shared extra-curricular passion. Great add, Rob!

      December 24, 2014
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  3. Dan Butler said:

    I really enjoyed this piece, Sam, thank you for writing it. #6 really hit home with me, as I truly feel we must search for opportunities outside of the classroom to connect with kids. As an elementary principal, I am constantly looking to do this, as kids have their “guard down” a little more in these areas. I appreciate this post.

    Dan

    December 24, 2014
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    • Sam LeDeaux said:

      Thank you for reading and contributing, Dan! Yes, much can be gleaned from poppin’ in on a Lego Club, Chess Club, and Girls on the Run 🙂

      December 24, 2014
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    • Sam LeDeaux said:

      Thank you for reading, Andrew! You make a great point about student expectations of school. I think you’re right on. This is one of many ways in which parents can help. By working with and supporting one another, parents and educators can positively influence student expectations of school. Thank you for sharing the video!

      December 25, 2014
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  4. Lisa Kelly said:

    It’s ‘every day,’ not ‘everyday,’ in this context (#1).

    I am not sure it’s correct to say that the best teachers jump at the chances you list. Although it’s important to build relationships with students, an engagement with content, curriculum, marking papers carefully and building lessons from what’s learned when examining student work will move students to a higher academic level. Students will understand later that their success is equally supported by fine academics, which are difficult to achieve without a true commitment of TIME.

    December 26, 2014
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    • Sam LeDeaux said:

      Thank you for reading, Lisa, and for the grammatical catch! Although my focus was more centered around how to leverage discipline as a positive relationship building opportunity, there is certainly an academic benefit from engagement with content, curriculum, marking papers carefully, and well designed lessons. You also reference time, and insinuate the need for efficiency due to it being a limited resource. Whether directly applied to academics or discipline, I definitely agree that time efficiency is significant in our work as educators! Thank you for contributing to the discussion!

      December 26, 2014
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    • Deborah Ditkowskyd said:

      Lisa is correct. Teachers are human beings, and as such, should not be expected to joyfully volunteer every moment of their lives. The best teachers know who they are, and teach in an authentic way. Students respect teachers who are firm, kind, and have high expectations. Your point about positive interactions is on point, but misses the crucial aspect of humor. Humor does not have to be in the form of jokes. For example, I have very few violations of cell phone policies. I simply tell the students at the beginning of the period that the only reason I should see a cell phone is that the student is DYING to give me a really extravagant present. So, if I see one, instead of chiding a student, I gush my appreciation for the wonderful gift, and the student quickly puts the phone away. If I end up taking the phone, I play dumb and have the kid turn it off for me, and inform the student which pocket I’m hiding it in so they can collect it at the end of the period.

      Great teachers use their strengths to make a classroom that is comfortable for both the teacher and the student. Great teachers use their weaknesses as a point of humor so that students don’t waste their time on anger, but instead buy into the program to minimize the effects of those weaknesses. Great teachers help kids be okay with the fact that they ALSO have strengths and weaknesses, so when those students fail, they get the attitude: “I can fix this”…. instead of “I’m stupid”.

      January 7, 2015
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      • Sam LeDeaux said:

        Thank you for reading and contributing, Deborah. I need to apologize if I gave the impression that we are not human. I am also sorry if I led you to believe we should volunteer every moment of our lives; I am human, as is everyone I know, and neither I or anyone I know volunteer every moment of our lives. My apologies.
        Great point about humor, as that can certainly be a valuable tool in building relationships. I also like your point about weaknesses, and would add this: great teachers recognize and work to improve weaknesses, are open to help from students (and colleagues, supervisors, and families, for that matter) in the identified areas, and allow and accept support that can build up, compensate, and/or offset the weaknesses as they impact the learning environment.

        January 7, 2015
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  5. Bennie Bradley said:

    Mr. LeDeaux thanks for your contribution. I too use a professional philosophy in regards to relationship building and managing student discipline as an administrator. Chiefly attributable of the demise of business relationships, marriages, or sports organizations is “ego posturing.” If we intend to be marginally successful in education the “egos must be left at the door…of your house.” As you and other contributors have said in your posts, if the sustained betterment of students or strategies to initiate student achievement (i.e. authentic student relationship building) isn’t at the forefront of your teaching philosophy then there should be serious thought about another profession.

    December 29, 2014
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    • Sam LeDeaux said:

      Well put, Mr. Bradley. Thank you for the read and contribution to the discussion!

      December 30, 2014
      Reply
  6. Jeffrey Benson said:

    I like the post. The latest research on how we learn supports the need for emotionally safe relationships in classrooms. Some of the best times I’ve had building those relationships have been when i have really dug into the hard work of forming bonds with challenging students. You might find harmony with my short article on this subject: “100 Repetitions”, because building bonds through hard times does not magically happen after one event. (http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/oct12/vol70/num02/100-Repetitions.aspx). For a longer read on the subject, check out the book, “Hanging In–Strategies to teach the Students Who Challenge Us Most.” Happy Holidays.

    December 29, 2014
    Reply
    • Sam LeDeaux said:

      Thanks for the read, Jeff, and thank you for sharing ‘100 Repetitions’. You make several fantastic points in ‘100 Repetitions’. A couple that resonated with me were: not making student struggles personal issues, and understanding our roles in the big picture learning road map of our kids.
      It takes a village!

      December 30, 2014
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