The Fourth R: Reading, Riting, Rithmetic and Relationships

Chris Pawluk - Lead Psychologist - Everyone who works in education nods their head in agreement when they hear that relationships are important for the millionth time. Most teachers work very hard to develop effective relationships with students and do a great job of it. However, there are a group of students who are harder to connect with, all relationships take work, and often the hard ones are the most worthwhile. As a school psychologist, I need to build relationships very quickly – here are some tips from psychology about building relationships.

Unconditional positive regard is a technique from psychotherapy where the therapist demonstrates warmth towards a person and a belief that the person has inherent value, regardless of their past or current behaviours. Part of this is often seen in the technique of separating the behaviour from the child. “Timmy, I like you, but I don’t like it when you <behaviour>”. If you can demonstrate unconditional positive regard, even when it’s difficult, your relationships will be strong.

Superintendent of Rocky View Schools Greg Luterbach recently said to new school administrators, “always put the relationship first.” He suggests using three principles to build relationships: learn, empower and reveal. Here’s how his advice is supported by psychology.

Learn: The best way to learn about a student is to listen. Psychologists use active listening, where you pay close attention to what people say and deliberately show them that you are paying attention. When a person has finished speaking, you try to mention a few of their key points of what they just said. This helps you understand what they said as well as show them that you were listening.

Empower: Tell students every day that they are capable of meeting your expectations and that they, and every other human being, are worthwhile and valuable. This also is another way of demonstrating unconditional positive regard.

Reveal: In psychology, this is called self-disclosure. If you can genuinely tell a student that you also like the thing they like, the relationship will be stronger. Disclosing positive feelings towards a student is the most common and effective way to build a relationship. Disclosing other appropriate information about yourself is also another great way to increase the strength of your relationship.

Without relationships it is very hard for students to learn, and when students are having difficulties, having a strong, positive relationship with a teacher can be a pivotal moment in their life.