Respectful Relationships

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Being respectful of all learners, the learning culture and the learning environment can be a challenge. At Albany Senior High School we have a number of guidelines and techniques which we aspire to embed in our practice. The following document outlines the different types of respect that are important in these relationships and how we endeavour to maintain respect for each other during interactions.

These techniques can be used during regular interactions with students, particularly during classes. If students are regularly interfering with other students' opportunities to learn (messing up the learning culture frequently or seriously) there are some possible processes outlined here to enable students to change.

Respect types

Respect for ourselves
There can be times when it's helpful to refer to this in our discussions with students. For instance, stating that we're respectful of all students and that the learning community requires the same in return.

Respect for students
This is easy when students are being respectful but not so easy when they're not.

Respect for the learning culture
This is about respecting the necessary conditions for a positive learning culture in a class. We make these conditions clear to students and the learning reasons for them being in place.

Respect for the learning community
Working in an open plan common means being respectful of other groups and individuals who are learning around us.

Respect for the physical environment
Being respectful of resources, computers, desks and other concrete things around us (although they aren't always literally made of concrete.)

It can be helpful to consider the different types of respect in a teaching and learning environment. The different respect types interact in complex ways and the flows of respect between individuals in the dynamic and sometimes unpredictable class environment can be broken or interrupted. Dealing with this is a challenging experience but the outcomes can be positive learning experiences both for teachers and students.

Some examples

Sometimes there can be tensions between the individual respect types. A student might be repetitively interrupting the respect flow for the learning culture of the class by interrupting others when they're trying to present, so a teacher might decide to temporarily remove them to maintain the learning culture of the community. The student may perceive this as being disrespectful towards them.

There could be tension between respect types, for example if a student was consoling another student over a relationship breakup with a friend but they were doing this during class discussion where another student is presenting. Quickly finding a respectful solution for these kinds of problems can be challenging as the student is being respectful of their friend in trying to console them but disrespectful of the learning culture in doing this while other individuals are presenting to the class.

An interruption in one respect flow can also lead to a breakdown in another. For example, a student might be being openly disrespectful of another student, the teacher may then explain that this is unacceptable and the student, may in turn, then direct their disrespect toward the teacher.

Developing Respectful Relationships

The rest of this document outlines some techniques that can be used to maintain all five types respect and also repair possible interruptions in the respect flow from teacher to student, student to student, student to learning culture and student to environment. Restecp to Bill Rogers, Kevin Knight and all the other awesome educators whose expertise and insight have been used for this document and the way we do things at ASHS.

Respectful techniques

Roving at the beginning of tasks

This is all about getting round all groups and/or individuals to check they’re OK with starting a task. We always attempt to conversationally and non-non-threateningly check that students have a) the resources and b) the understandings they need to get started. Sometimes, we "park" students who desperately want to talk to a teacher with something like, “Zachariah, I’ll get to you in a moment, I just need to finish getting round everyone first.”

Validating / acknowledging feelings and perspectives

At ASHS, we believe it's possible to acknowledge someone's feelings and/or perspective although we won't always agree with it. We do our best to actively acknowledge what some students may be saying about their emotions. “Ahhh, I can see how that might be frustrating. It’s difficult when someone tells you what to do and you don’t feel like doing it.” or “So it seems like you’re feeling angry, given that Edwardo threw a pen at you,” or we might even check that our interpretation is correct, “Hmmm, so are you feeling frustrated here because you’re not sure exactly how to complete this task?” Given the "bottom up," approach Nathan Mikaere-Wallis outlined during his visit at the end of 2011, it is necessary to help people (teenagers in particular) operate beyond the limbic system, if we want students to engage in cognitive reasoning.

State the desired behaviour

This is simply when we state what we wish students to do rather than stating what we don’t want them to do. We know that the brain will visualise whatever gets described, so if we ask a student, "don't punch that hardened concrete wall!" then that's exactly what they're brain is visualising.

Sweeps for fast transitions

A sweep is when we state verbally (loud enough so students can hear) what others in the class are doing. We also sometimes mix this with stating the desired behaviour as well so that students will hopefully visualise the utopia of positive learning we're describing and the whole class will eventually follow suit. We use this often to transition between instructional and working states. This really helps us keep the pace up in 100 minute periods.

A transition into a working state could be something like, “Ahhh. Horatio is getting out his pen, nice one. Liza is still sitting blankly but looks like she’s about to get her stuff out. Jimbo, make sure you’ve using your book to write in there fella.” etc.

A transition from a working state might often start with a request for students to listen, the go something like this, “Engelebert, looking up here please. Dora is just putting her pen down to listen up, excellent. Alberto’s listening and Odelia is too. Super.”

As in the above examples, positive praise and other techniques can be mixed in here. See stand and wait for another technique to use toward the end of a transition.

Avoiding confrontational contexts

Often, confronting students in front of other students has negative outcomes. Students (like adults) find it difficult to be put in situations where they might lose face with their peers and teenagers (who are beginning to discover the various kinds of social power and control they can use) will often react badly to confrontation. Where-ever possible, we try to deal with problematic behaviour [i]away[/i] from other students. We recognise that being roped into an argument with a student in front of other students, or worse still, versing a whole group of students is nearly always a lose, lose situation. We sometimes use our fishbowl areas to let students chillout if things do get confrontational.

Demonstrating expectations of compliance

One way we do this in practice is by giving students time to follow through with requests. When asking a student to do something, even if we're fairly sure they’re not going to do it, we will walk away and give them space. This has a dual awesomeness factor: 1) It shows we expect our (reasonable) instructions will be carried out and 2) combined with enough “wait and see time” it gives students a chance to save face if there’s been a bit of confrontation involved during the initial request. If we were to stand over a student and repetitively demanding they comply, we believe this erodes the likelihood they will carry out requests in the long term.

Ignoring secondaries

Students will sometimes respond to a request with an inappropriate secondary, EG: Gertrude is asked to put her pen down and she responds with “Freakin rar!” under her breath. It is usually be better to ignore these Students who do this are sometimes looking to provoke responses from a teacher and refusing to “take the bait” as it were, shows that we are not able to be manipulated into responding in a like manner. Not responding, on the other hand, can demonstrate that low-level, immature behaviour isn’t worth acknowledging.

Genuine and specific positive praise

We believe this is an important technique. It is particularly important for students who may be used to receiving the opposite. Without overdoing it, we will often use it after a student has complied with a request of some kind. Sometimes a we'll just go for a simple “thanks Ricardo”. Using it more specifically in a learning focused way might be something like, “That’s a pretty darned awesome metaphor right there Georgette, nice one.”

Tactical use of personal pronouns

This is a wide ranging technique. When laying out consequences, we always try to avoid ascribing them directly to yourself. “Billy, you can either complete this paragraph in the next ten minutes or you’ll need to stay in to talk to me at interval” is better than “Billy, you can either complete this paragraph or [i]I’ll[/i] keep you in at interval.” This is a really difficult one to maintain when under stress but we recognise that it can be really helpful for diverting student frustration. See below for a consequence - tactical use of pronouns combo. As with many of these techniques, it also encourages students to take responsibility for their own behaviour rather than ascribing it to a teacher, ie: believing something has been 'done' to them instead of recognising that a decision they've made has had a part in the situation.

Another way we might use this in reverse would be with a line like: "Righto chaps and ladies, is there anything at all I've haven't made clear with that last instruction?" This removes the blame from a student not understanding the instructions to the us taking responsibility for any mismatch. It's our job to make sure students have what they need to go ahead with a learning task. Again, it's the 'tactical' use of personal pronouns which is important here.

Follow-through on consequences

This is a tough one. Old-skool teaching techniques sometimes use threats as a way of making students comply. While this might work in the short-term, in the long-term we believe that students learn they can get away with exploiting the differences between stated and real consequences. Teaching is a manic job at times, a wise person once said the large number of high-stakes decision a teacher makes in a period are one of the reasons it's so difficult. We recognise that we might occasionally outline a consequence and then realise we've been a bit unreasonable. In this instance, we may discuss this with a student later. We often combine the explanation of potential consequences with tactical use of personal pronouns, ie: we try to keep “I” out of the sentence. This makes it more likely that students will recognise that their own decisions are a factor in the equation, rather that only ascribing agency (or blame) to the teacher who is outlining the consequences.

Avoid rhetorical questions

We recognise that while this is difficult during high-pressure discussions around respect, it is also during these times that it is the most important. We know that questions like: “Why are you so difficult?” and “why don’t you do anything I ask you to?” leads (at best) to students getting quietly grumpy and at worst to an angry response. Questioning is a really important way to elicit good learning and we don't want to mix this positive use of the technique with a negative use during high-pressure situations.

Giving Choices

When aiming to get a student to comply with a request that's important for their learning, particularly if they’ve already chosen not to comply earlier, giving choices can be effective. We use statements like, “Takamura, you can either switch your phone off OR give it to me.” We also aim to combine this with demonstrating an expectation of compliance (see above) by walking away and giving the student a chance to carry out the instruction.

Focusing on the learning

We always aim to make sure students understand the learning-based reason for things we do at ASHS. We will often combine requests around work can with a simple, clear explanation of how the request relates to the learning. Sometimes we will be connecting a present concept to one further down the track, “Charlotte, it’s really important that you understanding how the flux capactor oscillations effect the inverted resistance coil. This understanding is essential so you can fully understand the quantum field harmonics of the hyperdrive coolant unit,” or explain how a practical request relates to learning, "Eugene, can you please close your latop lid so you can get the amazingly interesting and important thing I'm about to explain." This can also be in a social context, “Ruth, if you’re going to get this finished, it’s much more likely you’ll manage it sitting away from Jezebel.”

Clearly identifying desired behaviour and consequences

When promoting pro-social behaviour that maximises learning opportunities we always aim to state the desired behaviour clearly and specifically. If the need for creating consequences arises we also state these clearly and specifically. We also often make the desired behaviour and consequences measurable and time-related. “Butch, you really need to finish this piece of writing if you’re going to master specific detail in scenes. You need to have this page complete in the next fifteen minutes or you’ll need to shift to a different desk on your own.” Note that in the above example, the teacher has also explained the learning-based reasoning behind the request and kept "I" out of the instruction.

Neutral Prompt

This is a quick way to refocus students who are off-task or not attending. We use some neutral prompts that are as short as the student's name and others that might be as long as a question: "Charlotte, what should you be doing?" The key feature of the neutral prompt is the neutral tone with which it is delivered - we are not 'telling off' the student, but regaining the student's attention in a neutral manner in order to refocus them.

Balancing the Ratio of Questioning vs Instructing

It is important as teachers that we have a clear understanding of exactly what part of a particular task or concept students are having difficulty with. If an instruction or explanation to the whole class or a group was ineffective for a single student, then we recognise that repeating this to them individually will most likely still be ineffective. Keeping track the ratio of questioning vs instructing, particularly when talking to individual students, and adjusting our practice accordingly can be effective in individual students developing their own understandings of what they are learning.

Stand and Wait

An integral part of sweeping, stand and wait is when we pause for a few seconds after stating a desired behaviour or behaviours. It is only generally effective if students have already started moving to a listening state. It is a way of ensuring the last few students are paying attention and the environment is as good as possible for listening. It can sometimes be followed up with one or two more stating the desired behaviours.