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How can I have a positive relationship with my pupils?

It's about having empathy, understanding why they might be behaving as they are and having an open mind about learning in your classroom
© University of Reading

To have a good working atmosphere in your classroom, you need to have high quality relationships, to ensure effective use of language and work with a framework of principles. But what does this mean in practice?

Much of high quality relationships is about having empathy, understanding why a pupil might be behaving as they are, having an open mind about learning and understanding that for some it may be difficult.

Here is some key advice for establishing a good atmosphere in your classroom:

Take nothing personally

It also means taking nothing personally. Other people’s behaviour is about what is going on in their head and has nothing to do with you – sometimes you are just on the receiving end.

Effective language

In terms of effective use of language, it is important to be thoughtful about what you say and ask, learning that sometimes you just have to be quiet.

Talk in positive terms

It’s also about making sure that you talk in positive terms, for example shouting ‘don’t run’ has less effect than saying ‘please walk’. The reason being that ‘please walk’ isn’t telling anyone off. Children and young adults are told off more than any other age of human and being told off can often cause an adverse reaction rather than a positive one.

Likewise, rather than telling someone to ‘pick up your coat/paper/etc’ if you state the fact: ‘your coat is on the floor’, ‘there is paper on the floor’, will mean a positive reaction, not a kick back. This may not happen the first time you state the fact but it will once you have used this approach for a little while.

Be proactive — not reactive

In terms of principles, you need to be aware of what you are going to do in any situation, so be proactive and not reactive. Things go badly wrong in classrooms when the adults react rather than think and then respond. You need to be consistent and fair.

Be clear in your direction

How many of us remember a teacher who showed favouritism? You need to be clear in what you are asking; don’t assume pupils know the rules of school, as they can be very different to rules at home. For example, I used to read to my children as they sat on a sofa with me – I didn’t get them to sit on the floor and hold the book up. Walking in a line doesn’t come naturally to anyone, so don’t expect pupils to get it.

Fair but strict

Interestingly, the best teachers are those who are fair but strict. Pupils need to know you are in charge but also treating everyone fairly. Being fair means that rather than moaning, you need to listen to yourself and check that you are being positive.

The rule is that you should be saying 6 positive things to every 1 negative thing. Do you manage that? It means that you must never say to a pupil: ‘I am sick of you’, because there is no room for that person to change. But if you say ‘I really like you, but I don’t like some of your behaviour’, then the pupil has the chance to change. Being fair means giving pupils the choice to do the right thing. So bringing in the language of choice is a powerful tool.

© University of Reading
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