I am about to launch a whole school rapport and relationships campaign to improve our staff’s communication with pupils. How do you think I should go about this to improve pupil attainment? (Anonymous)
Happy children learn well. Children who are comfortable with the staff members who are teaching them learn better. The link between learning and accessing a child’s rationale brain function is so important. If you’re feeling anxious, worried, or scared you can’t access the rational brain, you need to access that prefrontal cortex where higher order thinking happens, and memory starts embedding. It is therefore important to remember relationships and rapport are important from that perspective.
You can have thousands of strategies for building relationships and rapport between young people and their teachers/staff, but we are also interested in how you build rapport and relationships between the adults. If you try and do one without the other, you’re only doing half a job. If you only focus on building relationships with the students, you’re forgetting that as teachers we are interdependent as well. We rely on each other for our happiness, our wellbeing, our stress management etc.
Happy staff communicate better, build better relationships and are more comfortable around their students. To build relationships and rapport amongst staff you could introduce ‘secret staffroom’. This is where you put all staff members names into a hat, everyone picks out a name, then between the draw and the end of term you must do three secret acts of kindness for the member of staff you have chosen.
For instance, you might leave a chocolate bar in their pigeonhole, or put a flower on their door, or write their name in the snow outside their classroom. At the end of term, you then guess who completed the acts of kindness towards you.
This is a very practical way of building that rapport quickly. Positive notes are also not just for children, positive notes are for members of staff as well and you could issue one to a member of staff who has done something for you in previous weeks, those who deserve a little extra thanks. That little note is significant.
You must also look at conversations with students where they could potentially go very wrong. When you’re talking to a student who has dug their heels in, and they begin shouting ‘I’m not doing it’, or ‘you can’t make me’, how do you deal with this? How you behave is critical because many teachers will choose that moment to put their relationship on the line.
The whole relationship is then based on the ups and downs of daily behaviour. To prevent this turmoil, introduce scripted interventions, and plan so that all staff can intervene and deal with difficult situations by falling back on the scripted intervention, rather than trying to improvise their way through. The most damage to relationships is done when children or when the member of staff is angry.
If you can stop those fractures in the relationship, then that has a huge impact on sustaining a positive relationship. Do not risk your relationship on a behaviour issue, it is too valuable for that. Remember ‘they won’t remember what you taught them, but they will remember how you treated them’ and this is important here.
With all of this in place you can then start to introduce lighter strategies such as the praise, the positive reinforcement, the recognition. These will imbed quicker because you’re not having to restore or repair damage that’s happened in a difficult situation.
For more information on the Classroom Culture train-the-trainer programme, our Hearts & Minds INSET, or how your school can get a Behaviour Health Check, go to our Classroom Culture programme page and fill in the consultation form.
For more answers to your questions see our Q&A introduction page.