Why you should never, ever be friends with students

| September 5, 2017 | 0 Comments

BY MICHAEL LINSIN

One of the keys to effective classroom management is to build relationships with students.

Making personal connections – through humour, kindness, likeability and more – is a powerful way to influence behaviour. It can also be astonishingly rewarding. The give-and-take with students, the trusting rapport, the shared affection – these are the things that make teaching more than just a job. But there is a danger in building relationships with students.

There is a line that can never be crossed. If you try to connect with students on their level – in a peer-to-peer-like friendship – then your efforts to influence their behaviour will backfire. And you’ll struggle with classroom management.

Here’s why:

• They won’t respect you Your students need someone to look up to, not a buddy to hang out with. You’re not a peer and therefore should never behave like one. When you use slang or try to be cool or become overly familiar, they’ll lose respect for you. Your influence comes from your position as their teacher, not their friend.
• They’ll stop listening to you Becoming too informal or casual in your interactions with students will weaken the power of your words. The urgency for your students to listen and learn will wane as the year rolls on and more of them begin wearing a toocool- for-school attitude.
• They’ll challenge you As soon as students get a whiff of your “cool teacher” vibe, they’ll start challenging and testing you. And you’ll likely find yourself in a showdown with a few or more students bent on wresting control of the classroom from you.
• Rules will no longer apply Your students will react to your buddy-buddy management style by routinely and nonchalantly breaking your rules. They’ll stand and approach you in the middle of a lesson. They’ll stop raising their hand. They’ll assume, since you are friends, that the rules don’t really apply to them.
• Consequences are taken personally Your students will start reacting to being placed in timeout by blaming you. They’ll become hurt and angry with you for merely doing what you said you would. Some may even pout, have a mini temper tantrum, or refuse to talk to you.
• Accountability no longer works Accountability only works when students acknowledge internally that they indeed made a mistake. But if, when sitting in time-out, they’re mad at you because they feel you betrayed them by putting them there, then there is no accountability and no motivation to improve their behaviour.
• You become lax in following your classroom management plan Because your students tend to act dramatically when given a consequence, you will naturally begin to shy away from following your classroom management plan. You’ll tiptoe around them. So instead of you having leverage to influence their behaviour, they now have leverage with you.

Tips for building influence

Building influential relationships with students without confusing them about who you are and what your role is, isn’t difficult. Follow the tips below, and you’ll be the teacher they need instead of the friend who disappoints them.

• Be a teacher, mentor and role model, but never a friend.
• Maintain a polite but warm level of professional distance.
• Engage in the same friendly banter with all students.
• Don’t use slang or terms popular with them.
• Model politeness and expect it in return.
• Follow your classroom management plan as it’s written.
• Focus less on individual relationships and more on creating a classroom your students love coming to every day.

Influence that is powerful enough to get your students to want to behave and want to learn is not born of peer-like friendship, casualness or laid-back coolness. It is born of likeability and respect. If your students like you because you’re friendly and goodhumoured, and they respect you because you always do what you say you’re going to do… Then influence grows naturally.

Michael Linsin is the founder of Smart Classroom Management (https://www.smartclassroommanagement. com), widely regarded as the top classroom management blog on the web with over 100 000 subscribers. He has taught every grade level from kindergarten through to high school for the past 26 years, and is the author of four bestselling books. He lives in San Diego, California, in the US. This piece appears here with his kind permission.

Category: Spring 2017

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