Is your school experiencing challenging student classroom behavior? Do you need behavior strategies to improve student culture? Before planning student behaviors that need to change, it’s always a good idea to step back and ask, “Do all kids have someone they feel they can trust?”
School-aged children are still learning how to regulate their emotions, make healthy decisions, respond appropriately when reprimanded, and advocate for themselves. To develop, students need patience, compassion, and sometimes space. When students have adults they can trust at school, it can dramatically change their classroom behavior because they will have personal support to navigate daily hurdles.
Actively listening to students is a way to learn about their motivations, desires, and pains. Without knowing it, students will reveal to you keys to their hearts and minds. You will start to understand why they respond in a specific way, what they need in times of distress, and what makes them happy. This is vital information that can be translated into action and communicated across staff if appropriate. Practice taking mental and physical notes when students are talking to you. You could use what you have learned about students when they are having a tough day or are in need of a behavior reset.
After you have actively listened, deepen your understanding by asking students questions about themselves. Two things will happen: you will find clarity about students’ thoughts and motivations, and students will feel that you are interested in what they have to say. Kids need to know their voices matter, so asking them how they feel about something or someone and having them elaborate on why is a great way to build trust. What you learn during these times can be extremely beneficial and used in an uplifting way in future interactions.
During moments of joy or distress, you can use what you know about a student to assist them. When introducing a new unit of study in the classroom, you can relate it directly to a student’s interest. When mediating a behavioral conflict between peers, you can explain how getting along can help them reach goals that they both told you they have. Critically thinking about who students are, what they believe, how they like to get feedback, and what they need can be the difference between a quick fix and a long blow up.
Use empathy to help students know that they are not alone. Sometimes, people need to know that someone understands them. A simple “I get it” can get the job done. Be vulnerable, and let a student know that a situation may also have hurt your feelings or caused you to make an impulsive mistake. This is very important to do before you tell the student how they could have done something differently. Knowing that their emotions are valid gives students the release they need before planning how they can do better or behave differently the next time.
Show students that you value them by being a voice for them when they need it.
Being an advocate doesn’t mean that you get a student out of a consequence. It means that you help guide the situation toward best outcome for the student. You could talk to the student about how they are feeling and communicate information to appropriate staff. This could also take the form of checking in with a peer or teacher that the student had a challenge with and asking them if they’ve considered the specific needs of the student. Or, you could sit in on a student behavior meeting to show support. What’s key here is helping others to see the full student as you do.
Allow students to get to know you. Seeing you as a real person helps them to trust you. Share good news with them. Tell them about your new pet. Show them pictures of your remodeled house. Share that you’re getting married. Kids love engagements! Also, tell students when you are sad. They’ve experienced hurt and loss too, and they may find strength in knowing that can connect with you.
Let students see you doing things that further show that you’re human just like them. Join them at cultural events to show support. Go to community sporting events, parades, festivals, etc. Students will feel closer to you in these small moments.
Students like to be recognized and remembered. Writing a card for their birthday, giving them a shout out for winning the debate championship, or asking a student how they feel on the anniversary of a death will go a long way to improve their behavior. This shows that not only did you listen to them, but you care enough to remember.
Building trust isn’t easy. It takes time and effort. But the benefits of trusting relationships can last a lifetime beyond the classroom. Before assuming that culture shifts need to be rooted in what students need to do better, look to the adults and think through how they can work on building trusting relationships with students.