Relationships before referrals: Establishing rapport with hard-to-reach students

All teachers have had these students: rude, bullying, belligerent…or maybe the opposite: withdrawn, shy, chronically absent.  We usually try much harder with the quiet ones.

What do we tend to do with the aggressive ones?  Yeah, it’s easy to throw them out and get on with the business of teaching and learning, isn’t it?  Besides, we try to call their parents and often realize part of the issue is that parents are unresponsive as well (the topic of an upcoming blog entry).  So, we kick the kid out of class and he or she becomes the temporary responsibility of the principal.  But that kid will be back…and so will the problem.

Here are some ways to reach kids who don’t seem to care.

James Comer posits that there can be no significant learning without a significant relationship.  Lee Canter offers a rule of thumb to foster this essential rapport and respect: recognize each student in a positive way each day.  But what about those kids hard-to-reach kids?

Try Allen Mendler’s “2 X 10 Technique”.  For 2 minutes during 10 consecutive days, try and build a relationship with the student, but do not mention classroom behavior or what s/he needs to do to be a successful student.  Stick to neutral topics centered on what you observe the student likes.  This might be drawing, rapping, playing a sport.  Be sincere: these kids sense a poser easily, and then they surely won’t trust you, and trust is a critical component of positive relationships.

If you’re really pressed for time (and who isn’t during the school day!?), Jim Fay and David Funk have a variation in their “Love and Logic” method called the “One-Minute Intervention”.  Approach the student 6 times in a 3-week period with a statement that begins something like: I noticed…,” completing the statement with something honest and true.  As with the 2 X 10 Technique, don’t talk about classroom behavior.

Teachers consistently report that these two techniques help establish rapport with challenging students.  But before any teaching strategy is effective, there has to be resolve on the part of the teacher.  Are we really committed to reach and teach all students?

We won’t always be successful, but we always need to try.  Fight on!  Your students need you.

–Kevin Mixon, a National Board Certified Teacher from Syracuse, N.Y., is the Fine Arts Coordinator for Syracuse City Schools, author of Reaching and Teaching All Instrumental Music Students, and co-author of Teaching Music in the Urban Classroom

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