Good relationships don’t happen overnight. They take commitment, compromise, forgiveness, and most of all – effort.
Tara Parker-Pope American author of general-audience books and Blogger
The quote above was taken from a newspaper article, and while it’s aimed at romantic partners, it could equally be applied to any form of relationship, especially those found in schools. This is particularly true when one considers how staff approach the crucial task of building and, more importantly, maintaining positive relationships in all aspects of school life.
In the sixties, a method of discipline and strict conformity was often used to maintain order in the classroom. It was a safe, effective way of getting through the day unscathed, and certainly untouched, by any real connection. Thankfully, times have changed, and building positive relationships plays an important role in any successful school.
We’ll go further and say that if learning is to be truly effective and engaging in the modern classroom, a lack of connectedness must not be allowed to hamper the process. Nowadays, teachers and support staff alike utilise the formation of quality relationships in the classroom as their main weapon of choice. These important connections create positive links with children, build up the trust account, allow difficult situations to be tackled more easily and enable every pupil to gain confidence in the learning process.
We do, however, acknowledge that more recently, a zero-tolerance approach to dealing with issues concerning poor behaviour, or non-adherence to company policy, has become the norm in some schools. Whilst this may provide a solution in the short-term, it avoids the time-consuming yet more rewarding approach of getting to know your audience. Putting in those seemingly thankless hard yards can be tough and time consuming, but we believe, in the long run, you and your pupils will reap the reward. Through building good-quality relationships, staff hold the key to successful learning and enjoyment of the learning process, for both them and their pupils. It’s worth every single moment you invest.
We are not advocating quality relationships simply as a means of maintaining the status quo. We believe that if used effectively, they are a much more powerful tool and move educators towards true contentment and joy. When present and effective in schools, quality relationships encourage opportunities for fulfilment, for both staff and pupils. Enter any classroom where they are at the forefront of the experience being offered and you will notice a buzz about the place. The heart of the school will be beating strongly, and warmth will be radiating throughout the classrooms and beyond.
In these schools, every pupil is visible to the teacher, and vice versa. Every pupil is valued and listened to, and dare I say, so are the staff. They will all be enjoying the collective, positive atmosphere they have had a hand in creating.
I'm just blown away by how kind the teachers are to students here . . . but I think that's just a follow-on of the whole culture. You sit in the dining room, and you never have to be mindful of what you're saying because everyone's on the same side . . . the staff are supportive of each other, and I think that carries across into the classroom
Suzanna Roffey - teacher, educational psychologist, academic and author.
Positive relationships between all stakeholders (by which we mean anyone who is invested in the welfare and success of a school and its students,) and the community are the keystone of any thriving, joyous school. They are pivotal in bringing the community closer together. We believe this encourages a school to grow and develop into a motivated, adventurous and happy place to be – a school with an inbuilt ability to stand solid and assured against any hard times, weathering most, if not all, the issues it might face.
The subtle difference between our metaphorical keystone and the one used in arch construction is simple. Both are crucial and central to the strength of what is being built. However, the keystone used in constructing arches is often the very last thing fitted, whereas the relationships keystone must be one of the first pieces of the puzzle. Once these quality relationships are in place, building a school community around them becomes so much easier. School development, effective learning and cultural strengthening flourish as a result of the engagement and goodwill of all the stakeholders.
Relationships that are locked and loaded and present throughout a school, from the front office to the corridors and cascading out of the staffroom, are crucial to its wellbeing. They break down barriers, encourage trust and confidence in each other and, more importantly, confidence in the systems and structures that the school is promoting and supporting.
Staff who understand the importance of strong relationships in the workplace make meaningful connections across the school and encourage their colleagues to do the same. They are pathologically optimistic and see the best in staff and children alike. This attitude helps them to create schools with a confident, caring and supportive atmosphere, allowing them to embrace the day-to-day business of running a school without being overwhelmed.
We have come across many such schools up and down the country that ooze this kind of positivity. “How do you identify them?” I hear you ask. “What’s your criteria?” The truth is, we don’t have a particular checklist because this quality is so easy to detect when you are looking for it. You can almost smell it as you drive into the car park.
If you don’t believe me, next time you visit a school, have a go at analysing the school atmosphere yourself. There’s no need for a pen and paper, just start your voyage at the front office and continue through to the classrooms and beyond. In the schools that have nurtured strong relationships, you will notice positivity permeating the building like a breath of fresh air.
The first thing you’ll notice in such welcoming schools is the buzz; it’s a kind of hum, an energy. These places have a warmth to them; an evangelical openness to share the good news about their school from the get-go.
We believe that if the school is positive and accessible to its community then you can guarantee the children will be on point and the staff motivated and confident. As you walk around, the narrative you’ll absorb in the corridors and staffrooms will be optimistic and energised. All the teachers, pupils and support staff will be enjoying the process of learning and the strong relationships they have created with each other.
In schools where good relationships are a little harder to detect, the atmosphere lingers like a bad odour - a kind of fog. In these establishments, you might well find that staff are defensive, cautious, wary and pessimistic. Not all at once, and not necessarily in that order, but I think you get the picture.
In some schools, policies, structure and detail (the business documents) have replaced the heart and soul of the building. The leadership has become distracted with onerous bureaucracy and is fully absorbed in tackling the demands this puts on them. Inevitably, this moves them subtly away from nurturing the soul of the school to running the business of the school. (We do, however, acknowledge that during the challenging period of the Covid-19 pandemic, tending to anything other than the day-to-day distractions would have been nigh on impossible.)
Dealing with the bureaucracy absorbs so much time, and the ensuing directives are delivered at a relentless pace, often leading to overload, strategy fatigue and even further isolation.
Obviously, we’re not advocating that staff should suddenly start hugging and fist bumping, but we strongly believe that if schools concentrate on making profound personal connections, they will be far better equipped to tackle change and improve the school. This will probably have a greater impact on improving the school than yet another delivered directive.
Well, the good news is that staff tend to get the school they have created or permitted – the school they deserve. Yes, leadership certainly plays an important role in setting and encouraging the daily tone and modelling the kind of school they have envisioned. However, anybody can contribute, and an all-hands-on-deck approach is most welcome. We encourage you to join in whenever you want; it will make such a difference.
What great news to finish on! Whoever you are and whatever your role, you have as much power as the next person to transform the culture of your school.
If you can't say something nice, don't say nothing at all.
Thumper- Bambi (1942)
If what you’ve read resonates, visit www.educaveman.co.uk.
EduCaveman is an empowering book for ALL educators which dares to dream of the schools we all want. It marries a nourishing blend of humour with school reality which invites teachers and school leaders to reflect on, and move beyond, some of the more grating and long accepted educational practices. Prioritising people over paper, EduCaveman is a refreshing elixir which oozes practical positivity and imbues professional confidence.
EduCaveman will be available to purchase in the Summer Term