Oct 14

Building Relationships with Students

Posted by Pamela M. Jones in Fair Is Not Equal on Oct 14, 2012

JillianAn Interview with Jillian Crowther, 9th Grade Teacher

Recently, I sat down for a virtual chat with Jillian Crowther, a 9th grade teacher and Bank Street College graduate. What follows is the first in a 3-part interview series where Jillian shares her approach to building relationships with her students.

Pam: Jillian, if I were to ask you to describe relationship building with your students, what would you say?

Jillian: I would say that relationship building is the key to meeting any academic or personal goals they might set for themselves. It's also the only way we can have a successful year together. If teacher and students do not have a relationship in which they respect one another as human beings, then they cannot evolve to a relationship in which they learn together. I am a firm believer in viewing the whole child and relationship building requires that I do just that--it's the foundation to my work with children. (Hope that all makes sense.)

Pam: It definitely makes sense, Jillian. Could you tell me a bit more about how relationship building is connected to supporting our students' behavioral and socio-emotional growth (in your experience)?

Jillian: In my experience working primarily with adolescents--but I believe this to be true of children of any age--they must trust you before they are willing to collaborate with you in the aim to reach their academic goals. Moreover, trust is the key to them respecting your expectations and classroom norms. If you develop a relationship with them, they are apt to see that these norms/expectations are fair and keep them safe. Also, if they know you view them as a person with outside interests, talents, and personal needs, they are apt to be open and share who they are with you. This is a gift because what they share you can draw on as you attempt to help them grow as learners.

Pam: It's as if you're reading my mind, as I was just about the ask you to provide me with an example. First, I'd like you to think about two different students with whom you've worked--students who presented with some similar yet some different strengths, challenges, personalities, dispositions, etc.

(Jillian chose the pseudonym “Angelique” for the first student she discussed; our discussion continues below.)

Pam:  If you would, please give me a brief synopsis of “Angelique”—her personality, strengths, challenges, etc. (in the academic, behavioral, and socio-emotional realms). This will help us get a baseline before we move on.

Jillian: Sure! "Angelique" was an 8th grade student of mine last year. She'd been held back mainly due to her poor attendance. Angelique takes on many adult roles in the household, including the cleaning and cooking. She's an avid reader, questions everything and has sharp critical thinking skills. However, she will only exhibit these strengths if something is of interest to her and she is engaged. "Angelique" primarily struggles with attention and organization. She does amazing writing projects but never turns them in. She tries to pay attention in class but needs to chew on things to self-regulate; most of her teachers won't allow this. "Angelique" can exhibit regressive, childlike behaviors (hiding under desks, holding onto teachers legs, etc.) when she is frustrated by an activity or when she feels safe around a particular adult.

Pam: Given "Angelique's" unique set of strengths and challenges, how did (and more might you, knowing what you know now), initiate the relationship-building process with her at the beginning of the year?

Jillian: With "Angelique," I was patient, calm and available. I worked with her after-school and before we even started with the academic-based activities, I talked with her about her likes and dislikes. I recommended books and let her borrow some of mine. We talked openly about her difficulties to pay attention and feel organized. I suggested ways I could help her. During my class, I always checked in with her and provided her with a checklist of some sort. Moreover, I told her how I could relate to her situation at home. I also took on an adult role in my household. I think the pivotal moment occurred when "Angelique" hid under a desk after becoming overwhelmed by an assignment. I got under the desk with her, talked calmly to her about how we would do the assignment together, and how I was giving her 2 minutes to herself to think and calm down before I would need her to come out from under the desk. I went and helped another student. In two minutes, she was up and back at the computer. Something about that moment felt significant. At the beginning of this year, I've already been checking in with her. I push-in to many of her classes and allow her to come by my office when she needs to visit. I also text her and remind her of when assignments are due and allow her to email me with any questions she has about those assignments as that is something we did last year.

Pam: Sounds like you have approached Angelique's situation from a number of different angles, with the aim of providing her with as much support as possible. It seems as if the foundation you've laid with her in the past is helping you interact and negotiate classroom situations in a more effective way. Would you say that this is an accurate statement?

Jillian: Yes, I would say that's an accurate statement. Recently she remarked that I would leave her eventually. Therefore, I am now trying to figure out how to show her that I am available in the present, so she won't worry about being wrong to trust me because she fears I will abandon her. That's something I need to work on!

Pam: It's a real testament to how successful your relationship building efforts have been (to date) that she sees the bond you've created as one she relies on and can't imagine not having in her life. Before we leave "Angelique's" case study, is there anything else you'd like to share with our blog visitors about how relationship building helped you negotiate situations and relate effectively with Angelique?

Jillian: I just want to add that recognizing, as well as clarifying for Angelique who she is a learner probably also helped me. Being honest and transparent about what she needed and advocating for that also strengthened our bond. I had opportunities to discuss her attentional needs with her other classroom teachers and some allowed her to doodle or wear her sweatshirt. By advocating for her, she started advocating for herself in ways that were less distracting or behavioral-based.

Pam: I am so glad that you mentioned the role of advocacy (and the importance of teaching and modeling this). Learning how to self-advocacy can help students negotiate some rather challenging situations (and this can have unexpected and positive effects on students' behavioral dispositions).

Does Jillian’s approach to building relationships with her students resonate with you?  Did you learn about some new ways to bond with your students from her story?  Share your thoughts and come back soon for part 2 of this interview with Jillian Crowther

tagged advocacy, building relationships, high school, relationships, strategies
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