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Teachers and Students: Building the Best Relationship

September, 2009
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  The new school year is here. New students, new teachers; new environment and new plans… How will this all come together?
  You start by building relationships on the first school day.stacie-sas
  Good teacher-student relationships are key to successful learning.
  Juliet, a Grade 7 at Shanghai Community International School (SCIS) Pudong Campus, answered a LittleStar survey on Teacher-Student Relationships: Yes. If you understand your teacher, you feel more comfortable with them and you can talk to them freely. You feel at ease and work harder.
  Simon from the same class also feels the relationship with teachers will affect a student’s school performance: “It would be really hard to study well if you don’t like the teacher.” It is lucky that he hasn’t had one he doesn’t like.
  The results from surveys in other schools including the International School of Beijing (ISB), Beijing World Youth Academy (BWYA), Dulwich College Shanghai (Dulwich) and Shanghai Rego International School (Rego) offer the same message: The better relationship a student has with the teachers, the more focused they are on the subjects and the better they will do at school.
  Emma Hunt, Year 10 at Dulwich answered in the survey: The more you know your teacher, the better you know how to achieve what they expect.
  Respect, Communication and Trust – these are the popular survey answers for how to develop a good relationship between teachers and students. Respect is a basic requirement of any relationship.
  “At international schools, the teachers and students all have different backgrounds and unique experiences. The international environment doesn’t make things complex on campus, but it does bring about lots of different perspectives. As long as the students and teachers understand everyone has to be respectful towards different cultures and perspectives, they are able to develop a good relationship,” said Ryan Blanton, Head of School at SCIS Pudong. 
Blanton believes every part of a good relationship is built on this mutual respect. One of the things most valuable to the success of teachers is that they are able to establish proper relationships with the students.
  “Teachers should have respect for students and students have respect for teachers. For older children like MS or HS students, respect becomes more crucial because they are becoming young adults,” said Karen Shrimpton, school counselor at Beijing BISS International School. 
She added that “respect is a virtue, the same as honesty or consideration, and virtues transcend all cultures, which is especially important in such a multi-cultural environment.”
  For most students, the survey results suggested that the international school environment makes it easier for them to get along with the teachers. 85 per cent of all the students taking the survey answered “YES” to the question “Do you think the international school/ multi-cultural environment makes it easier to get along with your teachers?”
  Emily Yu, a Grade 10 student from Beijing World Youth Academy, said it is easier because the teachers are more open to different people and ideas.
  Claire Kilmurray, a Year 12 student at Shanghai Rego International School (SRIS), thinks the international school environment makes it easier to get along with teachers because “both teachers and students have the similarity that we are in a multi-national environment.”
  Claire believes respect and communication are most important in developing a good relationship with teachers. “If one cannot respect the other, no relationship can be built; well, with no communication, respect cannot be formed in the first place.”
Younger vs. Older Children
  Small kids and big kids gave different answers on the Teacher-Student Relationship Survey, reflecting their differences in real life. Their relationships with teachers are different
  From the survey of a Grade 4 class at the International School of Beijing, the students want their teachers to be: Funny and nice, do not yell at people, have more fun and read stories to them, give less homework.
  “I like the teachers to be my friend because you feel more like you can talk to them if you have some problems, instead of being scared of them,” said Sofie Ford, a Year 13 student at Harrow International School Beijing (Harrow).
  Anthony Reich
English and Film Studies teacher at Dulwich College Shanghai (Dulwich) said his relationship with his students depends on the age a lot, as in senior school teachers are not stuck with just one particular age group. With younger students, Anthony thinks the teacher must be rigid in a certain way; while with the older kids the teacher can be a bit more informal.
  “You develop a much better relationship with senior students when you can be more informal because you are talking to each other almost at the same level. When you start treating these students as young adults, they respond much better.”
  To Aubrey Curran
MS principal at Beijing World Youth Academy, age does matter in children’s personalities and their attitudes towards teachers. When students turn 13 or 14 years old, their personalities develop. In elementary school or lower the students only have one or two teachers, while in Middle School or High School they have more than 10 teachers teaching them. If they don’t like one teacher, they might like the other teachers.
  “The teachers are professional while a child is just a child. When a problem happens between a teacher and a child, you cannot expect too much from a 10-year-old or a 12-year-old. A good teacher who has a good relationship with students knows that different boundaries should be set up for a 10-year-old and a 14-year-old.”
Expectations and Boundaries; Jokes and Criticism
  In the first week of school the No. 1 thing that Ryan Blanton, secondary school principal at Shanghai Community International School (SCIS) Pudong Campus, and his team did was to clearly tell the students what expectations are set for them in classroom, and what outcomes they expect to see by the end of the term.
  “I believe in high expectations,” said Blanton. “Teachers set high expectations for students in terms of behavior in class and progress they want to see. In most cases, when teachers set the expectations high the students will rise to it.”
  Donna Booth, Montessori teacher for Grades 4, 5, and 6 at the International Montessori School of Beijing (MSB) feels the same way.
  In her Montessori classroom, a child is in charge of most of his own learning. Teachers will set up lessons for the students, and make sure there are activities they are able to choose from. In order for the children to be more responsible for their own work, Donna believes it is important to set up the perimeters in advance so that the children know what the expectations are and what the consequences may be if they don’t meet them. “If we as teachers set up those expectations, then it is clear for the students to choose to meet them,” she said.
  Meanwhile, clear boundaries are definitely needed. There is an old saying for the teacher: “Don’t Smile until Christmas.” It won’t actually last that long. It actually means that the teacher should set up the boundaries and rules first.
  Katie Jervis
a Grade 1 teacher at Shanghai Rego International School (Rego) suggests having clear boundaries at the beginning of the school year. In her class many students are new to Grade 1 and have come from nursery or reception class, and so things are completely new to them. 
“For me I need to set clear boundaries and rules, and repeat the rules every day. Once they know what my rules are and what I expect from them, I can joke a lot more and have more fun with them,” said Katie. “However, if you start off joking around, often they will take it too far and you won’t get anything done in class.”
  Aubrey Curran, MS principal at BWYA also thinks it is a bad idea to joke around at the beginning of the school year, otherwise the students may feel it is fun to make jokes in class and start joking around too. “They just don’t realize you are making jokes at the right moment.”
  Along with rules, criticism and even “a hard time” for the students are necessary sometimes.
  Dulwich teacher Anthony Reich believes in giving some “constructive criticism” to students when necessary. Too often, students respond negatively towards criticism. They don’t want to be told they did it wrong. “Constructive criticism” is not just criticism, but a way for the students to better themselves.
  “It is our job as teachers to give some ‘constructive criticism’ in order for them to improve their language, subject skills and social skills,” said Reich. “As long as students can openly accept it from their teachers, they are taking a lot of strain off the teacher-student relationship.”
  Sometimes, giving the students a hard time is necessary. Sometimes students respond well to being told “No” or being treated strictly. It can be effective and helpful within the teacher-student relationship. Anthony said his relationship with some students is much better after he got angry with them and told them off.
  One important thing Anthony emphasizes about setting expectations and rules is to be consistent. “If you say ‘I am going to give you this punishment’ but you don’t; or you don’t tell them what punishment you will give them, but suddenly give out the punishment, the students will be stressed and disappointed.”
Language Is Powerful; Use it Wisely
  Teachers act as role models for the students in the way they speak or behave. The use of language is very powerful in this process.
  Not every student is going to enjoy all the subjects. If the student doesn’t like a subject, that becomes a challenge for them. For some subjects, the students have to do them even if they don’t like the subjects.
  Tim Callahan, PE teacher at the International School of Beijing (ISB) teaches PE to Grade 3 to Grade 5 and at the same time he coaches HS basketball. 
In PE, sometimes the student loses competitiveness or gets angry. What he usually does is to try to “find the interests of the kids and talk to them.” In PE class, it is easy to deal with a difficult student because kids always want to play.
  “You can take the kid out for a while and ask him ‘Would you like to continue in class’, and their answer is often ‘Yes.’ Then you talk with him about what actions they could change and do better. If you show you care about them, they will respond positively.”
  Tom Kline, secondary school principal at Western International School of Shanghai (WISS), emphasized that teachers should not yell at the students because the students are still growing. What he does as a teacher as well as a principal is to try to understand the students and find ways to support them.
  “If a student is naughty, I will sit with him and discuss how he could do better. If a student is doing brilliantly, I will sit and discuss how he could do better too,” he said. “A teacher should not only praise students for what they have done, but also praise them for something they could do better and give them strategies to improve.”
  He gave an example: A little girl in Grade 7 last year was a brilliant poet, but she wouldn’t do her homework. So every time Tom Kline was dealing with her homework issue, he stressed to her “You are a brilliant poet, if you can put that passion into doing the homework…” That way, he said the kid wouldn’t feel “Oh, I just got shouted at, and close down.” Instead, she might feel “Oh, this teacher cares about me.” “When the students know you care about them, they will try their best to meet your expectations,” said Kline.
  In terms of subject teaching, teachers also need to be skillful, as Anthony Reich of Dulwich said.
  If the students don’t like the novel you are reading, but they need to listen to it for 8 weeks you have to think of ways to inspire them and make your subject more attractive.
  “For example, when students listen to you talking about poetry, they just switch off. So you need to find new ways of engaging them like talking about lyrics and songs that are poetry. Then they will switch on as these things are more relevant to them.”
Students: Speak Out!
  In the survey, younger children will talk to their parents first if they have a problem with a subject or a teacher at school, while older children in middle school and high school tend to talk with friends first.
  The survey conducted in a Grade 4 class at the International School of Beijing finds that 15 out of 20 kids in the class answered “Parents” to the question “Who are you going to talk with FIRST when you have a problem with a teacher or subject at school?”
  Yoonho Cha, a 4th grader at ISB, answered in the survey: “Parents, because they are the ones who know me.” Anisa Khan, another 4th grader, also put “Parents” as the first people she would like to talk to because “they are the easiest people to talk to.”
  Katie Jervis, Grade 1 teacher at Rego completely understands this.
  “It is sometimes more comfortable for the kids talk to their parents because some of them are too shy or not comfortable  approaching the teacher,” said Katie. “It is helpful if the parents tell us later what the problem is.”
  From the survey carried out Dulwich College Shanghai (Dulwich) secondary school, the older children gave different answers. 12 of the total 17 students in Years 10 and 12 choose to speak to their friends if they have a problem with a teacher or subject at school.
  Migan, Year 10 student at Dulwich chose “Friends’’ because “they can sometimes empathize with me.” InWoo Baek of Year 12 selected “Friends” because parents don’t know as much about teachers as his friends do.
  Annette Harvey, also from Rego thinks whoever the student chooses to speak to is fine for the child. “As long as the child has somebody to turn to, it helps.” 
She also suggests the students talk to the student council on campus or a teaching assistant they trust. In an international school, misunderstandings may occur because of different cultures. Maybe a Chinese boy will go to a Chinese teacher if something happens because she probably understands how a problem can be solved.
  At the beginning of the new school year Stacie Nakai, Math and Science teacher at Shanghai American School Pudong Campus, tells the students she will always be fair and she is always there to listen to them.
  “You students have to come to me because I cannot read your mind,” said Nakai. “Sometimes, the quietest kids have to be willing to step forward. If they really can’t, it is OK that they talk to a friend and maybe the friend can step in for them.”
  Teachers are there for more than just homework, and they know about more than just their subject matter. Teachers are not solutions to all the issues, but teachers can help students find the right solution or go to the right place.
Learning from TutorsLearning from Books
  At a British international school, the form tutor is the most important person in a child’s life.
  When a student enters Harrow International School Beijing (Harrow) on the first school day, s/he will have a tutor on campus.
  Tutors are the teachers at Harrow who look after different form groups. A form group has a tutor and an assistant tutor. A form tutor is someone the students see every single day at school. When the students arrive in the morning, the form tutor will be there to say hello and make sure they have the right books for the day. At the end of the day, the tutor will check the student’s planner to see if they have the notes they need. The tutee and the tutor will be able to talk during the school day about anything.
  Every week there is one session for the students to join their personal tutor and talk about personal issues or social issues. For example, they may discuss smoking issues or drinking with the students depending on which year they are in. During the expedition week, the students go out on adventure with their form tutors.
   According to Joann Ranson, Deputy Head at Harrow International School Beijing, tutors are carefully assigned by seriously looking at the year groups as well as the tutor’s personal preferences. For example, the Six Form tutors are much more academically focused, and help the students with their personal statement or their university applications and career choices. The tutors will express their preferences on which year group they would like to go to. Some tutors really enjoy doing Six Form while some really enjoy helping the children with transition from primary school to secondary school. Tutors will normally stay with that particular form group by the time they’ve gone through the school, that is, the students have been with that tutor for 3 or 4 years or longer. This gives them the chance to get along with each other well and bond as a group.
  Other than a form tutor, the school librarian could be the most knowledgeable person to help you out.
  The position of Senior Librarian at Dulwich College Shanghai demands Marion Van Engelen to set up a good relationship with every single student because she needs to know what kind of students she is working with in order to choose the right books for them.
  “I need them to open up to me about what they like and what they don’t like,” said Marion. “I need their trust to tell me about themselves and let me help him or her. If they trust me, they can talk to me about anything if they want.” And on most occasions she would recommend some books to the student.
  In the school library, there are some books on the sensitive side, such as books with subjects that students may be faced with, including books about the loss of a friend or relative, the death of a pet, suffering from eating disorder or bullying, etc. When I see some students suffering from such things I say,
  “Read this book, you will find …”
Teamwork, the Club 6 Style
  Looking around, you will easily find some teachers are good at one part of teaching, while other teachers are good at the other parts. Some teachers are very good at dealing with individual students; some teachers are close with boys; some teachers getting along well with young children; and of course, there are some teachers who do great on the academic side but are poor with the students.
  Club 6 at the Beijing City International School is trying to put together these different strengths so as to make work easier for teachers and students.
  Club 6 is a club where students in Grade 6 have an identity in the school and have a sense of belonging to a team and working together. It celebrates the shared experience of moving forward to middle school.
  The idea for starting Club 6 was from a combination of conversations between Grade 6 teachers Kelly, Megan, Devin and Phil. It began last spring after the teachers were appointed a homeroom for the next school year and felt there was a need to create a slightly different program at this level. 
  “This is an important time for students in terms of growing up and we want the students to know that they are not alone but in fact part of a group going through similar problems and changes.”
  The homeroom teachers do meet to share ideas and plan activities together. The students meet for 10 minutes a day each morning and for three periods each fortnight. There are and will be opportunities for the Grade 6’s to meet as a whole group for team building and to look at other issues that may face a 6th grader.
  Relationship building occurs just as much outside of the classroom as it does inside of the classroom. Activities such as sports, the arts, and clubs have a less formal environment, and so there is more opportunity to discuss what is going on in each other’s life, share news, and discuss concerns. These conversations are essential to developing and establishing the student-teacher relationship. Club 6 encourages involvement and development of the whole student, not just the academic. 
  Experience China Week is the big event this semester. This means all Grade 6 members will participate in week-long activities looking at connections with China and their studies as well as having the opportunity to understand more about the host country and what it has to offer. Among other experiences, students will homestay in a village on the Great Wall.
  They also have a group email, which allows teacher and students to keep in contact during the day and be informed about what is going on. Parents were introduced to the idea of Club 6 and now they are involved as well. 
  There is no leader in Club 6. Items are discussed and plans are created as a team. It’s a collective approach, and an opportunity to build relationships between students, teachers and parents. The teachers take cues from the students as far as needs and issues, and then design activities that address those needs.
  As the school year has progressed, some adjustment and personality issues have been addressed using mechanisms in the club. For example, the student dress code. Club 6 has three "students", who are actually life sized dolls or avatars that actually live out issues that need to be addressed. The dolls can be used to address issues such as cooperation, interpersonal relationships and organization. The students work on developing the solutions for "the dolls’" problems, thereby answering their own questions by proxy. It’s a better method than just giving students a rule and then as a teacher enforcing that rule. 
  The student meeting is an essential tool for addressing this new challenge. Timetables are developed and notes and reminders can be entered that serve as a checklist to ensure tasks and appointments are met. Students also share ideas and experiences that other students can use. 
Should Parents Get Involved?
  As a matter of fact, parents are involved a lot in international schools; through the PTA, Parent Coffee Mornings, school fairs and sports events, or even through the student planner.
  “We have a lot of communications going on with the parents. Communication with the parents should be consistent and frequent, not just when problems happen,” said Tim from ISB.
  Principal Aubrey from BWYA thinks the teacher should sometimes inform the parents because there some behaviors the child would not do at home with their parents being there. “We work with these kids forty hours a week, so we also know things and we have a duty to inform the parents.”
  Be careful though not to call in the parents too early.
  A child needs to try to accept some responsibility or consequences for their behaviors as part of their process of growing up. It may be better for the kids to learn to resolve the issues themselves.
  Parents are often being protective. When parents get involved too early, they are taking way the chance for the child to grow independently. At the very least, the parent should not get involved at the beginning of a problem.
  The first objective for a student and teacher in the classroom is to learn - not to make friends, but also not to hate each other. People are the same. Given time, things will work out. Remember this advice from Aubrey Curran.
By Xing Yangjian


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