Building positive relationships with colleagues, students and parents | Education Support
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Building positive relationships with colleagues, students and parents

3rd September 2019

The success of a school or college is based solely on the quality of its relationships. There I said it. That is essentially what a school is all about – relationships. I strongly believe that learning comes secondary to the core fundamental aim of developing positive relationships. Without good relationships very little learning will actually take place. And I’m not on my own when I say this – research shows that a sense of belonging in school is fundamental to learning (Ryan and Powelson, 1991), and in a blog by Prof. Dylan Wiliam, he said that without good quality relationships between teachers and their students “all the research in the world won’t matter.”

But its not just about the relationships between students and teachers that count, if we forget about parents and colleagues then we miss out an important part of the jigsaw. Below are five key ingredients you need to build successful relationships at school.

Keep it (largely) positive

Relationship expert John Gottman found that the most successful relationships are built on positive communication. His research showed that for every negative comment there were five positive ones exchanged in a happy relationship. So, take those opportunities to call parents and send notes home that tell them how well their children are getting on. And, even when you’ve got some difficult conversations to have, whether you’re dealing with students, colleagues or parents, make sure the tone is positive and that the aim is to resolve the tricky situation. This will help to move any issues forward rather than stagnating in a bog of pessimism and negativity.

Be assertive

Most people are not mind readers. This means if we want or need something from someone else, we have to be clear and let them know what it is we are asking for. Assertiveness is not about being aggressive, it’s about communicating clearly and explaining what you are happy with doing or not doing. So, if someone’s behaviour is not to your liking, or you’re being asked to do something at school you don’t feel comfortable with, let the other person know how you are feeling and explain how you would like things to be instead. When communication in schools is clear and direct, relationships really start to flourish.

Find common ground

We humans have a tendency to like and gravitate towards people that are similar to us. And when we like people, we’re far more likely to be compliant and behave in a co-operative way with them. The difficulty is that schools are full of such diverse groups of people it can be easy for a ‘them’ and ‘us’ situation to arise. Therefore, it’s essential we consciously try and find common ground with our colleagues, students and their parents. It may be that we support the same football team, or went on holiday to the same place, or grew up in a similar area. It really doesn’t matter what you have in common but find that common ground and build from there.

Show some compassion

There’s an old adage that goes, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” It reminds us that life can be really harsh and unfair sometimes and we never really know what is going on for someone at any point in their life. So, when a student’s behaviour is less than ideal, or a parent isn’t playing ball, or a colleague uncharacteristically snaps at you, give them the benefit of the doubt. See if there’s anyway you uncover what is really bothering that person and then offer to lend an ear to listen or a hand if they need help. Only when we try and put ourselves in another’s shoes and then offer some support can we truly understand one another and move the relationship forward.

See the funny side

According to some psychologists, one of the evolutionary purposes of laughter was to reduce stress and tension amongst a group. Laughter can be a great bonding tool as it helps build rapport. There’s even research that shows that humorous head teachers have staff who report higher job satisfaction and that humorous teachers increase their students’ motivation to learn. So, find opportunities to laugh with colleagues and your class and share a well-timed joke with parents when you can. There’s no doubt that using humour appropriately in schools can make life seem that little bit easier.

Adrian Bethune is a primary teacher, founder of and the author of Wellbeing in the Primary Classroom. He tweets @AdrianBethune

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