What do you think the single most important part of effective teaching, in high school, is?
Breaking down classroom management and teaching into a lock and step routine is impossible. People are too variable. And, especially in high school, we are talking about the interactions of 150 – plus people a day!
It is because of the nature of how people behave and interact, how our motivations to fit in and get along guide a lot of our decisions that I claim establishing relationships is the single most important aspect of effective teaching, in high school.
I didn’t always feel this way. I believed that discipline, structure, and content were king. They’re certainly first tier, but they’re not king: Relationships are.
For me the light first clicked on when I watched an episode of Undercover Boss. Here's a clip of the episode.
In this episode the corporate offices wanted to see why one location, that was not geographically or demographically different than the other stores, outsold the other stores. Was it management, something on the retail side?
It turned out this woman, Dolores, had worked there for 18 years and she knew EVERY single customer by name and knew about them. People just kept coming back because she knew them, took care of their needs because she knew them, and also, because she knew them, they felt welcome.
Do I Really Need a Relationship with the Students?
In high school students don’t have much choice. They have to come see you daily. But that alone will not make them respectful, engaged, and willing participants. Dolores showed me that if you just get to know people, and are warm and welcoming, they’ll be willing and eager to show up. This translates nicely to high school.
When you have a relationship with students that are far more compliant out of genuine respect. They’re willing to participate and enjoy being in your class, even if they don’t like your subject (happens to me a lot with math).
By having relationships with students your day is also a lot nicer. If you’re down, or off, for whatever reason, instead of taking advantage of you, like sharks smelling blood in the water, they’re on their best behavior – if you have a good relationship with them.
How Do I Build a Relationship with So Many Students?
So how can we build relationships with students when you have 35 per class shuffling in and out every 55 minutes or so? I mean, there’s teaching, testing, checking homework, discipline, interruptions from the office, … the list goes on and on. How can we develop relationships with students with all of that going on?
The first way is just small talk. Not everybody is good at that, but it is easy with kids. Ask them simple things like if they have pets, and then about their pets or if they wish they could have a pet. Ask them about the nature of their family, how many siblings they have, where they fit in (birth order).
Another way to build this relationship is to have a “Pet Wall” where students can bring pictures of their pets and place them on that part of the wall. It generates conversation, which is what’s needed to establish these relationships.
Giving sincere compliments is a great way to build relationships. But, they must be sincere. There’s almost nothing more insulting than an insincere compliment, there’s certainly nothing more condescending. When students see you treating others with kindness and generosity it endears you to them. They gauge a lot of their relationship with you on how you treat others.
How you handle discipline is very important, too. If you berate a child in an unprofessional manner, you lose a lot of that hard earned relationship with other students. They may not like the kid who is always a distraction, however, again, they gauge their relationship with you by how they see you treating others.
The last thing I’ll share here is that you can share things about yourself with them. It can be funny stories or minor conflicts in your life, nothing that crosses a professional boundary, but things to which they can relate. A story about how your toast fell and landed jelly side up (or down as the case may be), and so on.
It is incredibly difficult to site one thing as most important because no one factor of teaching stands on its own. If too much focus is placed on one thing, at the expense of others, an imbalance will lead to poor teaching.
All that said, I believe that establishing relationships is the most important thing you can do as a high school teacher. It will not only make the students more willing, it will also greatly improve the quality of your day!
Let me know your thoughts. Thanks for reading.