The 4 Agreements for Building Classroom Relationships
Can we agree that it’s all about relationships in a classroom?
As much as the outside observer (i.e. most people who have never stepped foot in a classroom, but make a lot of decisions for the education system), wants to think it’s about standardized test scores, fancy technology, or behavior plans, the bottom line is that classroom relationships are THE building block for doing any impactful learning.
Did you ever have that experience where you were at a team meeting, faculty meeting or eating lunch and a fellow coworker makes a comment about having trouble with a certain student. Your ears perk up a bit because you have that student in class. You listen to the way the teacher describes the student and you’re puzzled. You literally have not had that experience before. You almost have to ask if you heard the name correctly. Sure, you think, this student is a bit of a challenge.
Or, you know their reputation may be a little colorful, but you certainly never had those kinds of problems. You want to say something, you start to say something but you don’t really have the words for what you’re trying to say or how your experience of this student is so much different.
How could it be that this same student is causing a holy terror down the hall and when they come to me, there’s none of that behavior?
What is that about?
Or perhaps you’ve been in that other place, where you’re the teacher asking the advice for how to navigate life with this student in the classroom…
If you’ve been teaching for even a minimal amount of time, you will probably have stories of both of encountering those students whose behavior is angelic in your room and hellacious in another. But you will find in time, the opposite in bound to be true as well.
So you don’t need to revisit a classroom management course again to figure out what’s going on. And you don’t have to beat yourself up in guilt and shame.
The bottom line is there is something going on with your relationship with this particular student. Duh.
I know. Of course you know that. But that’s it. If you know how to build the relationship. The behavior will change….or maybe the behavior won’t but your understanding of the behavior will change. And maybe that will cause you to shift how you react to the behavior.
By the way just to throw in some buzzwords, that’s practicing mindfulness and developing social emotional learning in action.
So how do you build these relationships or see them from a new perspective?
One way is through these four agreements (and a BONUS):
Now you could read the book The Four Agreements in an afternoon (and I highly recommend it) but we’re getting down to crunch time, so I’ll give you the Cliff Notes (am I showing my age?) or the Spark Notes (more current, I think) version of the book.
If you keep these four agreements in mind when you’re interacting with anyone, you will find that relationships will improve.
Because we’re talking about teaching well and building classroom relationships, I thought I would try to show these agreements through that lens.
The Four Agreements
#1 Always do your best
Some days will be better than others, but our best is always our best on that day. We do our best to meet our students where they are at, and when we have a bad day we try to look at our part with self-compassion.
This builds classroom relationships because if everyone (including our students) are trying to do their best, then we will know that if/when someone is acting differently or struggling with something.
#2 Be impeccable with your word
If we say we’re going to do something, we do it (again…always doing our best to keep our word). This is how trust is built. If we can’t be impeccable with our word, we discuss what happened and why.
Classroom relationships THRIVE on trust. Trust between teacher and students and students and students.
#3 Don’t make assumptions
This is where classroom relationships can really be built. When we don’t make assumptions, we actually get to know the person, their situations, their story. We don’t assume we know a student (i.e. that student you heard about via the team meeting) without actually getting to know the student.
This builds classroom relationships because we learn about each individual student. They get a chance in our classrooms to be seen as their own individual, unique self, not just a previous rap sheet.
#4 Don’t take things personally
This is a tough one for me. I have a script that I need to work on about lateness for class. I always think the student is late because of not respecting my class (or me!). I never consider that they are late because of dropping off a sibling or forgetting something.
I used to center myself instead of looking at each individual and their story. Of course, that doesn’t mean that lateness is excused, but it’s not berated. Instead of saying where you accusatorially, I started saying, “how can I help you this morning.”
BONUS….Listen with an open mind and heart
Students need a listening ear and we are blessed enough to be that for students of all ages. We don’t need to be anyone’s counselor and we certainly need to get kids where they need to go if they are in trouble.
But all of our classroom relationships will improve if we show students that we are really listening to them. The modeling of this real listening will help other students learn how to listen to one another.
So there you have it. Building Classroom Relationships 101, in a few simple agreements. If only it was that simple. I guess it’s simple but it’s not always easy!
If you want to learn an entire framework of how to move beyond the generalizations of the four agreements and into mindfulness and SEL practice in your classroom with tools that can help you build relationships, check out
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