However, there are more and more students who, through no fault of their own, arrive at school either without the motivation or the skills (or neither one) to build and maintain relationships. These students with "holes" in their buckets or are without the means to fill their own buckets These students need our help! I just read a saying "The empty bucket makes the most noise!" How true this is.
For more on Bucketfilling in your classroom, start at http://www.bucketfillers101.com/.
If the student has autism or another developmental disability, we may need to build relationships with them through external reinforcement. This means identifying items and activities that they enjoy and then being the person to provide them with no strings attached at first (noncontingent positive reinforcement). Once the student identifies you as "the giver of all good things" you have taken the first steps towards establishing a relationship and building goodwill. Only then, can you start asking the student to complete tasks or activities that are easy for him and that he already knows how to do. Learning new skills and completing difficult tasks require a solid relationship where the student trusts that if they finish work, they will be rewarded with an activity that they enjoy, or in other words, is reinforcing. When we build this trusting relationship, interactions with us become reinforcing as well.
The best way to do this is by using preference assessments, providing reinforcement on a consistent basis and slowly increasing the difficulty of the activities.
However, it is not only students with autism who may need help building positive relationships with their teacher. Any student who finds learning or interacting with others challenging may need support. This could be a child with a learning disability, ADHD, ODD, trauma or frequent school moves. It could also be a child who finds life outside the classroom to be more rewarding, such as a talented athlete, video gamer or avid reader.
They also need noncontingent positive reinforcement.
Learn Alberta lists Positive Relationships as the number 1 way to support effective, positive classroom management. www.learnalberta.ca/content/inspb2/html/1_positiverelationships.html
An article published in February 2016 in ASCD Express, entitled "A Relational Bank Account That Pays Dividends" written by Christopher Pugliese and Eran Magen says that:
"Well, I said to her, 'You know, kids don't learn from people they don't like'"
–Rita Pierson, legendary educator
Every student has a "bank" of relationships, with an "account" for every teacher the student interacts with. The balance in your relational account with a student represents the amount of goodwill that the student has toward you—or, put differently, the extent to which the student will inconvenience him- or herself to cooperate with you.
When you ask a student to do something he or she would not naturally do (for example, asking a hesitant student to offer an answer, or asking a student who is inspired to sing in the middle of your lesson to work quietly), you are making a withdrawal from the relational account, because you are asking the student to do something that the student would prefer not to do. If your relational account balance is high, the student will cooperate willingly. If your relational account balance is low, the student may cooperate—reluctantly. If your relational account balance is insufficient, your request will be denied." (read more)
The article goes on to describe relational deposits and withdrawals and how to avoid overdraft. This is such a straightforward way to think about interacting positively with your students. Relationship deposits are made when you:
- are nice to a student,
- give praise for accomplishments and effort,
- say thank you,
- ask for and try out student suggestions and ideas
- and take an interest in their lives and interests outside of school.
Relationship withdrawals happen when you ask a student to behave in any way which is different than they already do, which is the definition of learning! Excessive withdrawals are made when you repeatedly ask a student to complete tasks or activities which they feel are too difficult or not meaningful or act in a way towards them which they see as being mean or disrespectful. Another way to look at this is bucket dipping.
Unlike the emotional bank account talked about by Stephen R. Covey in his book "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People", a relational bank account uses withdrawals to further strengthen trust between individuals.
However, relationship overdrafts will occur when you have made more withdrawals than deposits. When this happens a student may refuse to cooperate with a request even if it is reasonable and they are capable. If you try to force compliance by threatening, bullying or coercing, the results can be unpleasant. The student may learn to comply only when under pressure and require stronger and stronger consequences. They may develop negative associations with either the activity or yourself and power struggles are a definite possibility.
How to Strengthen Relationships in Your Classroom
1. DO NOT treat all students the same. Learn about individual strengths and challenges, interests and dislikes and use this knowledge.
2. Make relationship deposits whenever possible. A typical student requires at least a 4:1 ratio of deposits to withdrawals. A student with challenges consistently requires more. Think of a bucket with holes in it. The more holes the more deposits that are required while you work on plugging the holes.
3. Make your withdrawals purposeful and the smallest required to achieve your goal.
4. Find a way to replenish your deposit account as soon as possible after a withdrawal.
5. If you are dealing with an overdraft situation, consider asking for support from your School Based Team, especially if you have tried to fix the situation and it has not gotten better.
Consider applying this model to all your relationships - professional, volunteer and family. Making relationship deposits can become a positive habit. When withdrawals do occur, having a large balance results in more cooperative relationships, a willingness to support one another, less stress and greater respect and enjoyment. What a great way to keep everyone's bucket full!
What a great way to start the New Year!
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