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Week 7: Reflections on Connecting With Adult Wary Relationships and Developing Intentional Relationships

This week’s blogs are dedicated to reflections and sharing about the power of relationships. Please prepare by reviewing the videos and reading the article. This week is “lighter” in terms of required video time, so you may want to add in one of the feature movies.

Your reflection may include how we connect and sustain connections with adult-wary kids and ponder if relationship skills are “caught” or can they be taught. Another area may be the challenges of balancing empathy and high expectations. Finally, you could also focus your reflection on how you would teach other adults to develop intentional supportive relationships.

Initial posts are due by midnight on Tuesday March 13; follow-up comments due by midnight on Friday March 16.

18 thoughts on “Week 7: Reflections on Connecting With Adult Wary Relationships and Developing Intentional Relationships

  1. Reflections on Connecting with Adult Wary Relationships and Developing Intentional Relationships / March 13, 2018
    Marchia Swanson

    When I reflected on this week’s assigned videos and article, I spent a lot of time thinking about whether relationship skills are taught or caught. In the article from the Stronger, Smarter Institute; there was much emphasis placed on setting high expectations with the students from the indigenous people. The article makes the point of highlighting the difference between high expectation rhetoric and High-Expectation Relationships (H-ER). My take away from this was that while we may espouse high expectations for our students; without relationships, the expectations are just so much talk. We can voice the commitment to be stronger and smarter, but there are times when our actions do not match. Setting the expectations is important, but the relationships are crucial. The H-ER sets the expectation that quality relationships are developed with students, and with staff, parents, and the school community as well. By encouraging the student to achieve, the expectation can become the belief. When staff, students and community are respected, I believe that relationship skills are CAUGHT.
    The educational communities that were highlighted in the videos based their teaching and learning on the Stronger, Smarter concept. The staff members were trained to use common terminology, therefore delivering a consistent message. The message that came across to the students was one of belonging. Many of the students that were interviewed spoke about feeling that they had a place and a purpose. They felt that the adults understood them, and knew them. The adults knew what the students could handle, and what they could not handle. The relationships within these settings were built on respect, and everyone had a stake in the outcome. One student specifically commented that “everyone knows me, everyone knows my name”. Another student spoke about how she had some really great women in her life, and that included her counselor. When relationships are built on respect, I believe that the relationship skills are TAUGHT.
    In an interesting contrast; I did a little digging and figured out that the Stronger Smarter Institute is located about a day’s ride from the Don Dale Correctional Facility. While reading the article, and watching the videos, my thoughts returned frequently to those boys at Don Dale. The adults who were featured in this week’s videos followed the H-ER philosophy, and were taught that through positive interactions with students, they could establish emotional credit. This gave them the ability to have those challenging conversations with their students when needed, but not deplete their store of positive emotional interactions. How much different the situation was for the boys at Don Dale, and the adults that interacted with them! The adult expectation for those boys was that they would never achieve, which led to their disengagement and defeatist attitudes. The self-fulfilling prophesy of negativity led to a stunted sense of identity within the boys. The only connection those boys felt was one of worthlessness. In order to establish and sustain positive connections, the interactions needed to be reconfigured. Instead of just having a low expectation, there needed to be room to think about constructive solutions and teachable moments. The value in the Stronger Smarter philosophy is the focus on strengths of students and teachers.
    After considering the concepts put forth in these videos and the article, I equated the Stronger Smarter philosophy to developing muscle memory. We train our muscles to perform in the way we need them to by conditioning them, and practicing. We should train ourselves to engage in the positive, and work towards becoming more intentional in our relationships with our students. While we would hope that this would come naturally, it is more like developing that muscle memory. Positive, respectful relationships should become rote, and will only do so through practicing and being intentional in our teaching.
    Students and teachers would both benefit from developing Stronger, Smarter relationships. Setting the standard for the H-ER gives the teachers a direction, while also developing that expectation for the students to achieve. When we make the attempt to understand and respect our students, we can balance empathy with expectations.

    1. Marchia,

      You made a lot of great connections between our material for this week as well as your own thoughts and experiences. I agree with your statement, “We can voice the commitment to be stronger and smarter, but there are times when our actions do not match.” I touched on something similar in my post that conveys that we UNDERSTAND relationships are value – but how can we ensure that we are ENACTING these principles to work towards building H-ER.
      I am glad that you shared your research between Don Dale and the SSI from this week. Two different worlds, producing two very different outcomes! When looking at the SSI approach, the strength-based approach seems naturally embedded into every facet of the curriculum and school structure. It helps us as educators move from the reactive side of the scale towards being more responsive to our students and their needs. As you said, when we put forth the effort to understand each of our students and continuously work to build and foster those relationships, we can balance having H-ER with high expectations for all of our students!

    2. Marchia,
      I completely agree with your thoughts about the reading and videos this week. One thing that stuck out to me, (Kirsten mentioned this too) was that sometimes our actions do not match what we actually do. And, this is me playing devil’s advocate, but there is always one student who you really cannot seem to connect with, and while we KNOW we need to build that relationship, I feel that often times the pressures of our jobs override that, which is terrible. I think we really need to think about our students as whole people who have lives outside of school that impact them daily, and remember that they are children, they are not always going to be in control of their emotions and impulses, but it is our job to make sure that they have a safe place to test those boundaries and in turn learn from their mistakes.

    3. Chris Sarra started the Stronger Smarter Institute and has written a book about his own experiences in the book titled “Good Morning, Mr Sarra: My Life Working for a Stronger, Smarter Future for Our Children.” It is absolutely worth reading!

      I think there are many similarities between aboriginal children and the children who live lives filled with adversities. Therefore H-ER are relevant to those children, and generally speaking, are strategies all children can benefit from.

  2. One of my most prominent thoughts when reflecting on this week’s materials is the notion that we are always told: “relationships matter.” I’ve thought about this before, how teachers are told how valuable relationships are with their students to have a successful year, however, prior to this class (as well as a few others through my graduate program), I think every time I was told “relationships matter,” it was simply just left at that. There was little support for teachers (at least in my case) to develop relationships with their students and it seems to be something that teachers are expected to know how to do. I am sure that making connections and forming relationships does come natural to many of us. However, something that I have observed and reflected upon this year is how to form, foster, and support relationships with certain students in my classroom.
    I find that I build a fairly strong rapport with all of my students and understand them on a deeper level and to get a look at the “inner child.” However, this year has presented some new types of relationship building that I am just now starting to feel more comfortable and natural with, ¾ of the way into the school year. As an example, I have a child who spent the better half of the year tantrumming and dealing with multiple factors that was impeding his learning, as well as the learning of others in the class. I struggled at the beginning of the year to build those relationships with him because he was frequently in an amygdala hijack and would become violent as I approached, even in a calm and responsive manner. It took patience, time, understanding, and openness on both of our ends to preserve are continue to work at our relationships. Here we are, almost 130 days into the school year and I think we have come to a comfortable place to figure out how our relationship works. I understand when he needs space to deescalate and the best times to “check in” with him to debrief on how his day is going. We have also found a love of shared art and drawing and I have used this to connect with him, especially in the mornings before our academic day begins to start the day on a positive note.
    At the beginning of this year, I think I struggled greatly with this particular relationship being “caught”, however, using the strategies that were learned in our Educational Psychology class as well as this class, I am a firm believer that with patience, intentionality and dedication, relationships can be taught and fostered. I believe that I fell victim to assuming it would be easy to connect with all of my students, as it generally has been fairly easy to do so in my first 3 years of teaching. Looking towards the last quarter of the school year, I am eager to focus on the balance between empathy and high expectations, especially with my student that I shared above. Now that we have worked out many of the learning-impeding behaviors that were present at the beginning half of the school year, we are ready to move to the next step of appropriately challenging him. One quote from the videos for this week that stuck out to me was by Jane Hultgren (teacher) that said, “You can’t educate unless you have those positive relationships with students.” I absolutely agree with this statement, and I think the balancing act of forming relationships and challenging students is something that can happen at the same time. I try to embed relationship building activities into our everyday classroom routines and lessons to continuously work on building relationships while also challenging them academically. The article provided great insight to the power of perceptions as well by sharing that the simple awareness of a perceptions (about a student) is enough to down expectations and choose lesser pedagogical and teaching strategies. Being mindful of this will allow other teachers and myself to reflect on what preconceived notions may be present about certain students and work to reverse these negative stereotypes to give our students the greatest possibility to succeed.

    1. Kirsten,
      I am so glad you brought up the fact that, before this class, there was not much taught to us about relationship building, it was just assumed: you are a teacher, of course you are going to love all of your children. Most of the time, yes! we do love our students, but some are harder than others to build that relationship with.

      In my school we do not do circle time, or morning meetings (I plan on implementing that net year!), and I feel like there is not an emphasis of student-teacher relationship building. I think the assumption is that we are doing it anyway and we know our students. Most of us are, but what about the brand new teacher who comes in and has had no instruction or education about the importance of relationships, it needs to be discussed.

    2. Kirsten,
      Thank you for sharing about your relationship with your student. I totally understand how much patience and time it takes to build a relationship with those students who are hard to reach. I also know that for me, the ones I have to work the hardest to bond with are the ones who stick with me the longest! I am willing to bet that 20 years from now, you will still remember this little friend!
      I really identified with your thoughts about how it took this long into the school year to develop this relationship. (It is very similar to the focus of my project!) The time you invested in this student was probably longer than the time you have left with him as your student. So maybe you can think of yourself of that particular student’s “Cookie Person”; the person in the school who knows him best. You can be his advocate as he moves through next year, and help his new teacher develop a relationship with him. It sounds as though relationship building will continue to be a challenge for that student, so you may have the opportunity to apply theory to practice!

    3. I really appreciate your awareness of the steps it takes to build relationships. Your example is great and it looks like a good challenge to strive to balance relationships and high expectations.

    4. After I read your blog post, I got to thinking about how the educational mindset of schools today doesn’t really allow for teachers to make meaningful relationships with students. The list of responsibilities for teachers continues to grow longer and longer and it makes it increasingly more difficult to connect with students on an individual basis. Furthermore, they are expected to dive into content to meet the demands of their curriculum. Relationships do matter and I’ve heard the same sentiments as you since entering this profession. This year, the class I am struggling with the most behaviorally and academically is my largest. When there are 32 students in the classroom and only one adult, it is sometimes feels impossible to make intentional, strong relationships with each and every student. I have to remind myself daily that I am doing my best and that there are a lot of students in that class that I have really been able to connect with although it may not be as many as I’d like. I appreciate what you wrote about having to balance empathy with expectations. I, too, wrote about my first few years of experience in my blog post. It has taken up until recently to realize how important it is to show empathy for my students when necessary but also create the understanding in my classroom that there are high expectations and you will meet them in some way shape or form with my help.

    5. Kristen,
      I love your insight on relationship building (I am a firm believer that with patience, intentionality and dedication, relationships can be taught and fostered). I think that genuine relationships effect the way students interact with you. I find that all of my “trouble” students only have issues in certain classrooms…can you guess which one they don’t? Right, the ones that build relationships with them and the ones that challenge, but support them. I always go in thinking that it will take a lot of time to build a relationship with the students that I work with, yet they rarely do. The same students that show blatant disrespect and defiance to teachers and staff show me respect. I actually expect to get cursed out at some point but I set expectations for them and ask them what expectations they have for me. From the first day I let them know that they may not always like what I have to say but that I will never disrespect them and ask that they do the same. I let them know that they can have a conversation with me if they don’t like the way I have said something or done something. I try my best to model the behaviors and responses that I expect from them. Relationships are key to success in the classroom. I believe that children can’t learn from someone they think doesn’t like them. There is no engagement, no true connection, and the absence of compasstion.

  3. This week as I reflected on the reading and videos, one of my big take aways was fair but firm, and I feel like that is a good way to balance empathy and high expectations. We all know, and hope to exhibit in our own day-to-day practice, relationships matter. I loved how a common theme was that no learning could take place when there is not a foundational relationship. I think that in my elementary classroom, it isn’t terribly difficult to form a relationship with my students, but there is always one or two students who are just a little harder to break through to. This year, I have a student who has had frequent behavior issues in class, but when we are one on one, he is a joy to be around. The counselor and I have worked really hard to build positive relationships, so that there is a firm foundation of trust and safety. I feel that as we have worked on that relationship, it has become easier to de-escalate any behavior issues that arise. On the other hand, it is sometimes very difficult to build a relationship with a student who really knows how to get to you, but I feel like it is worth the effort on our part, because it really does make all the difference.
    When thinking about whether relationship skills are “caught” or can they be taught, I think both. I feel that some students are fortunate to come to school knowing how to make friends and follow “social norms.” Unfortunately many students don’t have that opportunity at home to practice their relationship skills in a safe environment, so they come to school and don’t know what to do. I feel like in that situation, it is our job to model and teach those relationship skills, so that the student can then transfer that knowledge and start to use his/her own skills. This goes right back to building relationships, when we know the background of a student and how the home situation impacts them, we will know what skills they are coming to school with and without.
    One thing that I think could help adults to develop intentional supportive relationships is to first reflect on their upbringing, see what kinds of relationships impacted them, and if it was in a positive way, try to pinpoint what made that relationship have that positive impact. It was so refreshing to hear from the students in the videos how their teachers had positively impacted their students, and how the teachers truly cared about their students, not just academically, but as a person. Patience plays a huge role in this process, because it takes a great deal of patience for most adults to look past a rude remark, or missing assignment, and look for what the real reason or situation is, and to then make it a point to try to help, rather than just discipline.

    1. Carmen,
      I totally agree with you about relationships being both “caught” and “taught”. I see so many teachers in my building that assume children come to school with all the social skills they need to be successful. If those social skills are not taught at home, we have to teach them at school. (Which is one of the purposes of Morning Meeting! I am excited that you are planning to use it next year!) I think this is easier with the younger students, but much harder with the older ones. It does take a great deal of patience to look past the negative and focus on the positive, especially when that particular student constantly pushes every button you have! That kind of patience is not built into the school day schedule. Those are the students that I think need to “catch” the social skills; by being treated with respect for maybe the first time. When they catch on that someone really does respect them, it may change their lives.
      I liked your thoughts about helping adults develop supportive relationships by reflecting on their own. I would add that for those of us who have children of our own, it helps to reflect on your relationship with your own children. I would never want to hear someone talking to my son or daughter they way I hear some adults talking to students. While we can’t develop close relationships with all our students, we can develop respectful ones.

    2. Carmen, Thanks so much for sharing your reflections on your relationship building with your students. I found myself nodding my head in agreeance while reading your first paragraph on building relationships with those hard-to-reach students. I also enjoyed that common theme that no learning can occur without those relationships present and as difficult as some relationships may be, we have to keep our focus and growth mindset focused on continuously working on improving those relationships. As I mentioned in my post for this week, this is something that I have also grappled with this school year! You are absolutely right when you mention patience being a crucial component in this process. This class specifically has encouraged me to continue that patience and intentionality!

    3. I also think that relationships can be both caught and taught. Some people have a nag for connecting and developing a relationship though I have often seen that these relationships often lag high expectations. I think it is more challenging to develop high expectations because these sometimes may look like we “stretching kids,” or putting the outside their comfort zone. In the midst of such situations, kids may think we do not care.

    4. I really appreciate what you wrote about at the end of your blog post with regard to our personal upbringings and how adults can reflect on the supportive relationships within their own lives. I was blessed to have been raised in a household who definitely implemented the “fair but firm” philosophy. I think it taught me to be a more accountable person and that is a lesson I definitely try to impart on my own students now when I am trying to develop relationships with them. I, too, have some students who are more difficult to work with in group settings but are completely different in one-on-one situations. I try to reference things we may have discussed during that individual time when we are with the larger group to help make things run more smoothly in the classroom. It’s also great that you have been able to involve a counselor because that may be another adult that student feels particularly comfortable around. In trying to look through the student’s eyes, it would also seem like you’re creating that “fan club” we talked about at the beginning of the semester.

  4. I was particularly moved by our assigned readings and videos this week especially because of how it connected with my other coursework this semester in the Curriculum Development class at UR. I am currently working on an assignment about curriculum theorists and am studying the work of Dr. John Hattie, an Australian educational researcher. Hattie’s research has shown that there are nearly 200 performance indicators that can influence student achievement. Most people would think that items such as curriculum, home life, schools themselves, homework, assessments, etc. are determinant of student success, but that is not the case. Most of the things we debate with regard to education reform have less effect than we’d imagine on student achievement. Hattie argues that one of the top three biggest influences on student achievement is teacher-student relationships, followed by effective feedback and understanding students’ prior achievements. As I watched the videos and completed the reading this week, I could understand why he ranked relationships so high on his list.

    I was particularly struck by two items from the Stronger Smarter video and they really made me reflect on my practice. Two teachers discussed the significance of patience and emotional bank accounts. I really connected to these concepts because like many of the teachers in the video, I teach several of my students for more than just one year – sometimes I will have the same student for all three years of middle school. Working with adolescents poses its challenges and I’ve definitely learned to be patient but I’ve never really stepped back to think about the types of deposits I make into students’ emotional bank accounts. This is my fifth year in the profession and it has taken me up until recently to realize that I will never accomplish what I’d like to if I don’t make strong, trusting relationships with my students. There are times where I may fall behind in a unit because I had to take time to work on relationships or spend a little extra time working on making students feel safe. Just as the first video about democratic classrooms stated, it takes time to build relationships. To me, it is worth the lost instructional time because I know that I am investing in the climate of my classroom and that will reap more rewards in the long run.

    I am constantly moving in my classroom and I am sure most of you do the same. I will rarely be sitting at my desk once class has started because I want to make sure I am able to sit with my students and catch up with them and learn more about their personal lives. Conversely, I am very open about my personal life and interests and I think that makes my students feel more comfortable sharing their own.In this capacity, I think relationship skills can be taught. However, I also try to use my character strength of humor to make my more adult-wary students feel more comfortable around me or other adults in the classroom and in that sense, those skills are caught.

    I always tell my students that while it’s important to become good artists from taking my class, what is far more important to me is that they learn to be good people. I put a lot of emphasis on making and fostering positive relationships, especially because all of my classes are year-long courses. There are times that I have to be firm with students but I also pride myself on being fair. A lot of that has to do with how my father raised my sisters and I. By creating those trusting relationships in my classroom, I’ve found that students are more willing to accept fault if they mess up academically or behaviorally in my room. I try to model that same accountability with students and stay honest with them about how I’m feeling. Just last week, I snapped at my class because they had fallen behind on a unit but the next day, I made sure to own my actions and apologize. I’d like to think those kinds of experiences make a positive and healthy impact on my students.

    1. Emma,

      I totally agree with you about opening up about your interests and personal life. A lot of times it allows for them to connect with you in a different way. Not as a teacher but as a normal person that has experienced some of the same things when you were their age and have an understanding of how they feel. Or sometimes just to say, “hey, Ms. George has faults too that she’s working on.” I talk about how I’m in school too and how I often fall behind in my work or how my oldest daughter (that went to their school) was bullied, etc. It’s all about finding those connections. It doesn’t have to be huge, just enough to build upon.

  5. When reading and watching this week’s videos on high-expectations relationships, I notice some themes that we have been challenged with in our educational system here in Henrico County. The first was cultural competency and engaging in culturally responsive teaching practices. Assessing the impact of bias in the school environment, whether it be implicit or explicit; and how perceptions drive behaviors. Defeating the deficit mind-set and focus on student strengths. Strengthening student and family engagement, as well as staff, and having courageous conversations in order to build positive, genuine relationships. The implementation of a combination of these factors leads to a positive school culture and climate where children are able to learn, not only from their teachers but also from one another. By embracing the differences of the students in the school population and gathering a better understanding of cultural (or even household norms) leads to stronger relationships where students are able to feel safe and trust their teachers. It was stated in the article that “out of awareness, negative stereotyping and low expectations from teachers can affect student engagement in class,” and I find this statement to be true in many cases. I’m finding in our schools that students that do not turn in their work are automatically given a 50% on the assignment and must give students the opportunity to turn in any late or missing work no matter how late (within the marking period). I feel that this gives some students the notion that they are exempt from following directions and deadlines. I’m not sure if it is truly because of low expectations of the students or if it is due to school accreditation status. Either way I believe it is lowering the standards for our children. We must challenge our students in order for them to learn and grow and engage in educational achievement. The concept of high-expectations relationships addresses the ways in which these things can be done properly. They discuss being firm but fair and how positive, supportive relationships allow for students to understand that even when they are being redirected or reprimanded it is coming from a good place. Just as we are with our own children…well me; I am a very stern mother but my children know that I still love them and only want what is best for them. I may yell but that doesn’t change the relationship that we have with each other; it’s just about the expectations that have been set.

    I really identified this paper with the movie Freedom Writers. The teacher Erin Gruwell embraced the idea of building genuine relationships. She tried to deepen her understanding of each individual student through journal writing and acknowledging their strengths. She was definitely firm but fair with each of her students and questioned the school when they did not have better reading materials. There was little to no expectations for this class of students. They would destroy new books, etc. Although she may not have gone in culturally aware of the backgrounds of the students, she did everything she could to engage with them and build trust within those walls. She not only built a relationship with the students but also built relationships between the students (i.e. ethnicity, race, gang affiliation, etc.). She found a way to connect the students with the exercise where the students came up to the tape if they had something in common. They all found a common ground in that classroom. She was empathetic to their circumstances and showed them that she truly cared about them. She was a great example of engaging a classroom and bringing forth change.

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