Five Tips For Building Rapport With Your Students

“I F*%$king HATE YOU!” screamed a hurt and angry eleven year old boy, spit nearly hitting my face. This was my ‘welcome to teaching’; I received in the first week of the first year of my teaching career. I was gob smacked. Never did I expect to hear those words. Later it was followed by pencils being snapped, white board markers being thrown at me, and of course, the occasional run away routine. This child (let’s call him Bill) grated on me. Nothing in my four-year teaching degree could prepare me for this. I was hurt at first, took it personally and went home in tears more times than I care to remember.

Nearly twelve months later, when it was time to say goodbye to this young boy, he did not want to leave my side. Tears streamed down his face as he hugged me saying “I love you, don’t leave.” Wow, what a transformation! What led to that transformation?

Eight years later as I look back on my teaching career I wonder…what was it that made the difference? What turned this child around, and others? Through my study of Meta Dynamics, NLP and teaching students around the world, I have developed some simple beliefs that help me build rapport with my students, and adults too. These are:

1. We cannot change anyone else’s behaviour, the only behaviour we have any control over is our own.
I could not force Bill to behave in any certain way, all I could do was change the way I related to him. I had to have the behavioural flexibility to discover what worked and what did not, and to change my approach constantly. Not one way will work for all children. Therefore as educators, parents or anyone that works with people, we cannot treat everyone the same. Yep, I am proud to say I treated my students differently; I treated them the way that worked best for them. No two people are the same and what works for one, will not necessarily work for another. Behavioural flexibility is the key.
2. Our physiology, focus and language need to be consistent to conspire for success.
Our Physiology – our body language plays an imperative role in the messages we send to students. Many studies have shown that our physiology makes up to 50% of our communication. If we are standing over a child, with our arms crossed in front of us, then it will be difficult to build rapport. Make sure your body language matches your tonality and your verbal language; otherwise all you are doing is sending mixed signals.

Focus – what you focus is what you get. Many teachers (myself included) tend to focus on the disruptive or negative behaviour of a student. If that is where you are focusing your time and energy, then you will filter in evidence of that type of behaviour, and potentially miss all the wonderful things happening in your classroom. Focus on the results you want to get, not on what you don’t want to get.

Language – speak in the positive. Our unconscious mind cannot process a negative. So when you say “stop talking”, unconsciously the class hears “talking”, whereas if you say “speak quietly”, then “quietly” is the word their unconscious mind processes. Our language plays an imperative part in student engagement and in building rapport (more on that later).

3. We all delete, distort and generalise information
Every second of the day our bodies are exposed to two million bits of information, which we could not possibly process at one time, therefore, we delete, distort and generalise any information that comes our way to seven plus or minus two chunks of information. That’s a lot of information we are leaving out. We delete any evidence of things we are not looking for or focusing on. We then distort the information we process to make it mean whatever meaning we choose to give it, based on our beliefs, values, background, experiences and so on. Then we generalise the information to suit our idea about the world around us. If this is what we do, then imagine what your students are doing in the classroom. That’s why it is important to get to know the student’s beliefs, background, values and their ‘map of the world’. As you can see, no two ‘maps’ are the same. Therefore we as educators, cannot assume that the way we teach and the information we present will be processed by twenty five students the same way. Get to know your students, try new things and have the behavioural flexibility to modify something if it is not working.

4. We all speak different languages
I am not referring to languages such as English, or Spanish or Chinese. What I mean is, we all speak in our chosen modalities. That is: visual, kinaesthetic, auditory digital or auditory. If a student is a visual learner then they will tend to use words such ‘now I see what you mean’. If the student is kinaesthetic they might say ‘It feels right to me’, and if they are auditory they might say ‘I hear what you’re saying’. We tend to speak in our primary modality. As a teacher this means that you might not be speaking the same language as two thirds or more of the class. It’s imperative to mix up what you say to suit the various styles of learning. For example, “what do you think about this?” “What are you feeling?” “Do you see what I mean?” “Do you hear what I’m saying?”

5. It’s all about the quality of questions you ask
Often the quality of an answer you receive is a reflection of the quality of the question you asked. It’s important to ask quality questions that get the students thinking on a deeper level. Question you ask may be: “what specifically do you want?” “What will learning this do for you?” “How will you know that you have learnt it?” “What will you see/hear/feel when you have achieved your outcome?” What will happen if you achieve…?” “What will happen if you don’t achieve…?” “What won’t happen if you achieve…?” “What won’t happen if you don’t achieve…?” These are just a few empowering questions to get your students to think about their own learning and to push them into a state where they take control over their learning, instead of purely relying on the teacher.

Always remember, like anything, teaching is a journey, and we are constantly learning new things. As the saying goes “we are either green and growing, or ripe and rotting.”

Megan is founder of be the change and is a leadership coach and education consultant. To find out more information please contact be the change.

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