Build Relationships and Maintain Boundaries

Build Relationships and Maintain Boundaries

"Kids don't learn from people they don't like." Rita Pearson

If you haven't seen Rita Pierson's TED Talk, you should watch it. It's incredibly informative and very entertaining.

In her TED Talk, she emphasizes the significance of being a champion for every child and underscores the importance of fostering relationships with students to guide them in their learning journey. Notably, she refrains from portraying students as needing to be "saved." Instead, she emphasizes the mutual learning that occurs as teachers and students journey together. It's a relationship where both parties learn from each other in a reciprocal manner.

I have always been good at establishing relationships with most of my students. However, it wasn't until the past few years that I became good at building relationships with all of my students.

This has been absolutely necessary in my teaching, especially when teaching students who have oppositional defiant disorder, are neurodivergent, and/or come from a history of trauma.

The question that I get the most and the one thing I see teachers struggle with is how to hold boundaries and maintain good relationships.

I am going to address that here and reiterate that kids don't learn from people they don't like.

So what does that mean? It means that kids have to trust you. They have to trust that you care about them, that you have their best interests at heart, that you aren't afraid of them, that you are there to help, and that you see and celebrate them.

The 4 ways I develop relationships in the classroom are:

👉 I speak to them like they're intelligent. 

I have never used a patronizing tone, not when I worked in daycare, at the Boys and Girls Club, or when I started teaching. It just isn't who I am, probably because I absolutely HATED it when I was young. It made me feel so stupid, and as an O.D.D. kid, it made me want to punch whoever was talking to me.

I have had a student tell me directly that they don't mind me correcting them because I don't talk to them like they're a baby.

👉 I talk about my life. 

Every year, I start out with a PowerPoint all about me. I include lots of pictures, detailing my interests, strengths, struggles, and what I need from them to help me do a good job. Additionally, I talk about my weekend, family, history, and experiences as a neurodivergent student. Just this week, I shared how I used to eat random things because I was impulsive and curious about their texture. The kids love this, and they connect with me on a completely different level than they do with other adults in their lives.

👉 I make space for relationship building activities.

I begin the year with relationship-building activities. I engage students in theater games, "Would You Rather" scenarios, and student interview questions (I include a vast list of interview questions in the Neurodivergent Toolkit---> click HERE).

I have students create "All About Me" PowerPoint presentations and present them. I take photos of them and us and hang them on my door. I prioritize relationships over standards and content because I know that without relationships, teaching won't happen.

👉 I meet their needs or do everything in my power to try.

I assume all behavior is communication, and when a student tells me something, I listen and believe them. I hear what they are saying and use all the tools in my toolkit to strategically address the needs being communicated. If I can't meet a need, I reach out to my school team for help.

I utilize student interviews to identify strengths and struggles, sensory and learning needs, and I adapt my classroom and instruction to meet their needs. I involve them in the process by seeking their feedback and being transparent. Students appreciate this, and I receive much more buy-in than I ever did before implementing these strategies.

Get over 100 strategies to meet needs and prevent behavior with the Neurodivergent Toolkit---> HERE


Maintaining Boundaries

When I implement all four of these strategies and extend them to setting clear expectations and utilizing natural consequences, I can maintain boundaries without encountering too much pushback.

I'm also always available for discussions about consequences during my prep or lunch, which are conveniently scheduled during their lunch or recess. This helps differentiate between students with genuine issues and those who simply want to argue.

When it comes to boundary setting, I always communicate why I've established certain boundaries, and I'm willing to dedicate class time to discuss them and their rationale. Additionally, I am firm about consistently upholding these boundaries.


Want a great way to diffuse conflict and behavior in the classroom? Read this post about how to use humor---> HERE



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