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The Three Rs: How to establish respect, relationships and routine for your students and yourself

February 11, 2018


Lining up here. Standing there. Sitting down. No, not there. Here. Books here. Bag there. Hands to yourself. Yes, you, my friend. What’s your name again?


The first weeks back at school are nothing short of boot camp. We direct students here and there like lost kittens in uniform. Wringing out habits from last year’s teachers. Retraining and rewarding for following new routines. It can feel tedious, particularly if we’ve had the same students before. We go over and over things that often seem obvious to us.


On Friday morning, bring your homework in and put it in this tray. If it’s not there by lunch time I’ll have to assume you haven’t done it. If there’s a problem – your dog ate it, your sister ate it, you ate it, you couldn’t get it done – tell me before lunch time. If you need help – tell me before Friday.



Now, you’re one of the brighter bananas in the bunch, so you already know this. Intuitively if not from a degree completed some time ago. Of course if you’re establishing a new relationship of any kind, it takes time to build, right? And so why is it that some schools or leaders or colleagues seem to want to miss this important foundation stage?


The usual. Because there’s lots of pressure to get outcomes. Now.


We live in a world where we can get almost anything almost immediately. Information, products, services, even some level of connection with others. But the natural world continues on with the same age-old rhythms. It takes time for a tree to grow, a nest to be built, children to grow up. And so it is with well-run routines and authentic, respectful relationships. They take time and effort to develop naturally.


Step back! I’m going to drop the educational H-bomb!


Hattie reinforces how important it is to build these foundations in his research on ‘influences on student achievement’.

  • Teacher credibility is key, he says. We need to build trust and show competence. If you’ve ever had a bumbling boss or a sadistic supervisor, you know how easy it is to lose trust in them and what they can do. It’s the same for our students. First impressions last and so we must show our students that we are competent in our work and that they can trust us. Trust us to teach them, guide them and support them in work and life. We can build this trust by setting up classroom rules and ensuring they are followed, consistently demonstrating that we’re prepared for lessons, learn their preferred name and use it. We can show them that we’re human too, perhaps through conversation or games.

  • Classroom discussion is another vital feature of an effective classroom and student achievement, according to Hattie. But if students don’t feel comfortable in their classroom, they won’t feel comfortable and confident in speaking up. We need to build that environment. Yep, by building trust and showing that we are competent in managing respectful discussion and debate.

  • Clarity is important too. Have you ever had a job or task where you didn’t know quite what to do? I had to write a school information booklet once and was given limited instructions. I’d never made one before. The time I initially spent on it was frustrating and the supervisor wasn’t happy with what I produced at first. As soon as we had a conversation to seek clarity, the work came together and we both felt better about it. We can develop clarity in the classroom by setting clear expectations for work and behaviour, as well as clear consequences for following those expectations or not. And by consistently following through on those consequences.


We sometimes get frustrated and annoyed that our students haven’t done what we asked, the way we wanted. Sometimes we forget that our students are human beings too. If we spend the time and effort now to build positive, respectful relationships, establish trust and have clear expectations for behaviour and work, we can all relax into it and get on with the job.


Great. We’ve got the classroom covered. Now, what about ourselves?


Have you established a positive, respectful relationship with yourself? Have you built routines that will serve you for work, rest and play?

Why do we so often miss out on establishing these?


The usual. Because there’s lots of pressure to get outcomes. Now.


I reason that we can follow the same guidelines.

  • Build trust in yourself. Trust that you are competent in what you know and what you do. Trust that you will teach, guide and support yourself at work and in life. If you realise that you don’t trust yourself, know that it will take time, effort and patience to rebuild it, but that it can set you up for the rest of life.

  • Establish an ongoing conversation with yourself. No, no! Stick with me! That doesn’t mean you need to talk to yourself or hold debates with your opposing sides! It means taking time to check in with a deeper part of yourself, your inner world. It might mean taking a walk by yourself, turning the radio off as you drive home or practicing mindfulness meditation. Find a way to tune in and listen to what’s happening within.

  • Be clear on what you want, in the classroom, staffroom and life. If you feel like you’re hazy on where life is heading or what you want from life, take some time to write down some clear goals for the year ahead. If we have a clear destination of where we’d like to head, then it’s easier to forge a path.

  • Be patient, positive and persistent. Change doesn’t happen immediately. And you might’ve noticed that being patient and compassionate with your students works better than punishing them. It works the same for us. Research shows that when we’re self-compassionate we are more likely to master our goals. So, notice if you’re whipping and berating yourself to get things done or to be all of the things all of the time. Then work towards developing self-compassion and being patient, positive and persistent with yourself, as well as your students.


Establishing mutual respect, positive relationships and workable routines may feel like a training ground. With effort, patience and persistence we can create a better space for our students and ourselves.

How do you go about establishing routine in your classroom? How do you build positive, respectful relationships with yourself or your students? What’s a good way to bring clarity to your expectations for behaviour and work?

Share your ideas in the comments box below.


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