Building relationships is a key component of effective teaching, coaching, and leading. While caring is important for a starting point, developing relationships requires challenging and supporting others as well. In this podcast, you’ll find resources for reflecting upon your relationship building practices and examining steps to take.
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Steve [Intro]: 00:16 Hello and welcome to the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast. For over three decades, I’ve had the opportunity to learn
with educators at all levels, both nationally and internationally. I invite you to listen as I explore my thoughts and learning on a variety of topics connected to teaching, learning, and leading with some of the best and brightest educators from around the globe. Thanks for listening in.
Steve: 00:43 Developing relationships with students and with staff. Prior to the pandemic and quarantines, Tom Vander Ark reminded us, we keep rediscovering that most learners are motivated by relationships and they grow in community. Those words are even more critical at this time as teachers, students and parents work in many different settings from being totally virtual online, to hybrid, in school or being back in school in an environment that’s just extremely different from their past experiences. I was recently preparing to facilitate a professional learning experience for teachers titled, “Relational Pedagogy.” As part of my preparation, I revisited the work of the Search Institute. You can find them at search-institute.org. I will place that link along with some other resources in the lead-in to this podcast. Search Institute defines developmental relationships as close connections through which young people discover who they are, cultivate abilities to shape their own lives and learn how to engage and contribute to the world around them.
Steve: 02:37 That definition is valuable to me because I think we often talk about building relationships with students, but I think it’s rare that we really break down what that means and reach some agreement among ourselves as a staff as to what building developmental relationships would look like and sound like. The research from Search Institute identifies five areas for us to consider. Expressing care, challenging growth, providing support, sharing power, and expanding possibilities. The first one is the rather obvious one, expressing care. How do students know that we care? How do they know that we believe in them? What are the verbal and nonverbal messages that students receive? How do they know they can count on us? I frequently identify that the message I want students to gain is that I work for them rather than a thought that their job is to do work for me. The second and third elements really go together. Challenging growth and providing support. Do our students know that we expect them to stretch?
Steve: 04:24 Are the goals that they’re working towards individualized for that particular student? Do our students know that we expect them to fail from time to time and that we will work with them to learn from mistakes or from unsuccessful attempts? I have shared the new message before that I’ve learned from my study of German on Duolingo, when I make several mistakes in a row, a little celebratory note comes up announcing, “making mistakes is a great way to learn.” And every time it flashes, I wish that I had shared a similar message with students when I was teaching. I was real clear with my students that making mistakes was okay, but I’d love that I would have shared with them that it’s great to make mistakes because it’s a great way to learn. That’s part of us providing students support. How do we guide students during difficult times as an advocate and how do we empower them to take charge of situations?
Steve: 05:44 The combination of supporting and challenging connects to the phrase that I have used ever since I discovered it and that was teachers being warm demanders. Warm demanders are those teachers who have both high, strong, positive relationships with kids and set high, demanding, supported goals for students. The best environment from bringing those two elements together of a caring relationship with high expectations and strong support. Corbett and Wilson in their writing, defined it this way, “warm demanders approach, their students, unconditional positive regard knowing students and their cultures well, and insisting that students perform to a high standard. Students have told researchers that they want teachers who communicate that they are important enough to be pushed, disciplined, taught, and respected.” Boy, catch those words from high demanders: pushed, disciplined, taught, and respected. The fourth element from Search Institute is sharing power. Students recognize that they are respected when they are given a say. Building in student voice and choice as often as possible assists us in building relationships.
Steve: 07:34 George Couros defines our goal as moving from seeking compliance from our students to engagement and empowerment. That empowerment means greater student voice and choice, which helps to build relationships. And the last element, expanding possibilities. We strengthen relationships when we increase the circle of supporters for students. How do we assist students in dreaming big and having confidence in themselves as well as in their ability to build a support network? I believe the same five elements are critical for instructional coaches and school leaders to look at the relationships that we build with staff. Expressing care, challenging growth, providing support, sharing power, and expanding possibilities. The quarantine and the push to virtual learning and to the recreation of our school and learning spaces, provided both opportunities and demands in these areas. Expressing care for staff and recognizing their stress from both the working and living conditions that everyone is dealing with became extremely important.
Steve: 09:16 And I had many educators share with me that they really valued the sense of empathy that they received from from school leaders and I’ve discussed the need that we make sure that that continues as we as we return to schools and some picture of what might be described as a form of normalcy. Certainly, the sudden virtual and different teaching learning conditions challenged us to grow and most educators really stepped up to the plate to do that. And as I work with instructional coaches today, they’re constantly exploring the best ways for them to provide support to teachers under these conditions. Interesting, I think the change and the virtual push in many ways caused schools to share powers with teachers where teachers, kind of like their students, became more in charge and ended up making more decisions.
Steve: 10:36 The students who succeeded, actually advanced during the virtual learning time often described the new sense of power even if it was making their own schedule. In many cases, teachers had to make decisions about the most important thing for the students to be learning and teachers were given experimental permission to try techniques and strategies. I believe that we’ve expanded the possibilities and I think that’s another focus area for us, as things returned to that quasi normal, that we keep seeing this as an opportunity to explore our roles as teachers learners and school leaders in different fashion. The Search Institute site provides a tool for looking at building relationships with an individual student, especially a student for whom what you are doing in your natural approach with all your students seems to be insufficient. They call it the four S’s interview.
Steve: 12:09 The four S’s are described as sparks strengths, struggles, and supports. It’s suggested that this is probably a 15 minute to maybe, maximum, 45 minute one-on-one conversation with the student where you inform the student upfront, that you’re going to ask them about their sparks strengths, struggles, and supports and then lead into that first question, which asks students to talk about their sparks. What are their deep interests? What are the things that that turned them on, the places where their talents are present? What are the things that they really enjoy doing? It’s kind of an easy place to get a conversation started and important information for the teacher to have in building relationships. Then move on to explore the student’s strengths. What are the skills and attitudes, behaviors, and values that they believe they possess that contribute to their being successful?
Steve: 13:38 That then leads into exploring struggles. What are problems that cause concern? What are the kinds of things that the student recognizes from time to time undermine their success? And lastly, what are the supports that the student has? Who are the people and what are the programs that nurture their sparks and build on their strengths and help to reduce their struggles? Building developmental relationships requires listening and with some students, that’s going to take a conscious, planned approach. And I think these four S’s interview is a great starter for a teacher. Again, I think as an instructional coach school leader, that we can look at that four S interview when we’re considering staff members for whom the development of a relationship appears to be lagging or taking too long. In other words, we need an entry point. And I think that that four S interview might work for us if you’re new to the staff or you’re finding a teacher who’s being reluctant to engage in that coaching activity, taking the time to ask the teacher the the same four S questions. What sparks the teacher?
Steve: 15:25 I’m always looking to build part of that into my conferences with the teacher constantly uncovering more of where the teacher is finding his or her excitement in teaching. What is the teacher sees their strengths? Getting the teacher to talk about the successes that they now have and what strengths that they possess that they believe cause those successes. That’s always an area that I want to be giving positive feedback on when I spot those strengths that the teacher says he or she has. What are the struggles? Where’s the teacher anxious to get a different learning outcome than he or she is currently receiving? And what are the possible supports? Certainly as the school leader and the instructional coach, you are a support. But how do we help teachers uncover the various support networks that are present within the school, within their colleagues, within PLCs, within the district curriculum and staff development program that can be supports to assist them in moving ahead towards their goals? Just like building relationships with students requires listening, building relationships with staff requires listening.
Steve: 16:58 Writing in “Coaching Redefined,” Sherry St.Claire said it well: “Without listening, there can be no trust. Without trust, there can be no relationships. Without relationships, there can be no openness to change and growth. Put another way, without listening, there can be no instructional coaching that gets anyone anywhere but frustrated.” Much of the relationship building that you do as an educator, as a school leader, as an instructional coach is done unconsciously. It’s part of your day to day practices that that just occur. They’re there. They’re things that I call unconsciously skilled or unconsciously talented. It’s good to stop from time to time and reflect. Where do you consciously want to put some of these behaviors into play? Reflect and grow. It’s how you impact and empower others. Thanks for listening.
Steve [Outro]: 18:15 Thanks again for listening. You can subscribe to Steve Barkley, ponders out loud on iTunes and Podbean and please remember to rate and review us on iTunes. I also want to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on twitter @stevebarkley or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com.