November 23, 2011

Are you building bridges with your students?

A key ingredient to the success of the Results Only Learning Environment is the sidebar, a one-to-one conversation with a student.

Skillful communicators use the sidebar to build bridges that create a student-teacher bond, which also fans the intrinsic motivation that helps students develop a thirst for learning. Kids who like and respect their teacher are always more willing to take on the learning challenges that the ROLE presents.

As a results-only teacher, I like to consider myself highly-efficient when it comes to using the sidebar. A recent issue with a student made me realize that you are never an expert at this complex part of student-teacher relationships.

I had an argument with a student in the classroom that became a disruption. It hit me later that our verbal sparring didn't settle the problem. In fact, the student wound up accomplishing nothing that day, so important project work time was lost. Even worse, our relationship was damaged.

After much consideration of what sparked the issue, I spoke to the student a few days later in a crucial sidebar. While others worked out of earshot, I whispered to her that I undestood her problems -- some pretty big ones that extend outside of school. I admitted that personal issues often get in the way of school and can ignite anxiety and frustration that can easily lead to disagreements with teachers, who are focused on their lessons.

She was somber and understanding. I asked her to do me a favor and to stop and think about this conversation the next time I did or said something that might upset her. This way, we would avoid disagreements. She promised that she would and, I believe, we built a bridge that didn't exist previously.

I left that conversation wondering what other students I could talk to in a sidebar and potentially build bridges like this one. Sidebars are time-consuming and challenging but one of the most worthwhile parts of creating a learning community.

The next time a student is frustrating you or being disruptive, ask yourself if you can build a bridge instead of tearing one down.