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Relationship Building

Beyond Behavior Management

When describing management programs, commentators tend to contrast “behavioral” approaches with programs that focus on “relationship building.” Behavioral programs deal with consequences and management skills, whereas programs that focus on relationship building emphasize bonding and communication skills and problem solving skills.

Most text books on discipline management contain a synopsis of my work, usually labeled “The Jones Model” or “Positive Classroom Discipline” – the title of my first book. I am placed firmly in the behavioral camp which leaves me less than satisfied. Programs that contain a lot of “how to” are always described as behavioral.

Certainly Tools for Teaching is loaded with “how to.” But, my desire to be specific may well have masked the relationship building dimension of the program. Good behavior management always has relationship building as its primary objective. You want teachers to relate to children positively, and you want children to succeed in school so they will be self-confident. Behavior management is simply a means to that end.

A Clinical Perspective

Dealing with the whole child is basic to my training as a clinical psychologist. At the beginning of my career, I worked in the clinic with families having a schizophrenic parent. This is the big leagues of family therapy since, at this level of psychopathology, game playing is done for high stakes and on many levels. Analyzing the give and take of a classroom social system is simple by comparison.

Later I was trained in behavior therapy. I learned a whole new language – the language of consequences and stimulus control. Family therapy began as contingency management, but it soon evolved into parent training. In addition to managing unruly behavior, the parents desperately needed communication skills. They didn’t know how to talk to their kids without criticizing and nagging.

First we had to turn the child’s obnoxious behavior around, and then we had to train the parents to relate constructively to the child in order to support that new behavior. Thus, the two areas of my training, behavior management and relationship building, quickly merged.

Behavior management and relationship building remain intertwined throughout Tools for Teaching. There is no separate chapter for relationship building. Rather, building relationships with your students and protecting those relationships are combined in each procedure.

Junior high school gives us a particularly good venue for seeing behavior management and relationship building as they work side by side. In these classrooms, the positive and negative aspects of any teacher-student relationship are amplified.

The Trials of Junior High

Most teachers say that they would not teach junior high on a bet. The kids are just too squirrelly – raging hormones and all of that. But other teachers choose junior high and would teach nothing else. How do some teachers get along famously with an age group that is notorious for torturing teachers?

The answer lies in the extreme vulnerability of young people at that age. They are changing and growing, of course, and their relationship with the opposite sex has gone from “yuck” to “wow.” But that alone is not what makes kids so vulnerable in early adolescence.

What makes them so vulnerable is their discomfort with who they are in conjunction with their desperate desire to be popular. They are afraid – afraid of having the most zits, afraid of having the biggest nose, afraid of being too big or too small, afraid of being ugly, afraid of being rejected.

Am I Smart or Stupid?

There is one aspect of the child’s self concept, however, that is learned primarily from you. They will learn whether they are smart or stupid. If you make them feel stupid, they will get even. But, if you make them feel smart and comfortable in class, they will be so appreciative.

Making kids feel smart must happen with every lesson, and it must happen for all of the students, not just the “smarties.” What kinds of things can we do as we teach each lesson to make students feel self-confident and smart?

Succeeding with Instruction

Many of your one-on-one instructional interactions with students will be helping interactions. What form will these helping interactions take?

Without training, your eye will instinctively find the error, and you will end up talking about it. While talking about the error, you will give a failure message even though you try to be positive and up-beat. You will give it unwittingly and with the best of intentions – perhaps a candy coated “Yes… but” compliment wrapped with encouragement. But the net emotional experience for the student will be negative.

With each helping interaction you either heighten or reduce the student’s sense of vulnerability. Praise, Prompt, and Leave protects students. It changes the flavor of helping interactions from negative to positive. It does so not by candy coating feedback, but rather, by giving a simple prompt correctly.

Visual Instructional Plans also reduce the students’ sense of vulnerability. They provide a road map to success that any student can refer to at will. Visual Instructional Plans, therefore, provide an insurance policy against forgetting, becoming confused, and feeling overwhelmed.

However, the biggest protector of children in the area of instruction is Say, See, Do Teaching. There is no greater sense of vulnerability than walking into a class wondering whether or not you will survive the coming lesson. Say, See, Do Teaching packages learning in a way that allows students to chew and swallow each bite. It replaces cognitive overload with self-assurance.


Much has been written about “self-concept” in recent decades, and we have given awards for everything imaginable in an attempt to manufacture it. But students are realists, and they are hard to fool. You cannot flim-flam them with pseudo-accomplishment.

Feeling smart – having a “positive self-concept as a learner” – can only be achieved in one way. It is based on real success resulting from real mastery. Students will experience success primarily as a result of your technical proficiency in teaching a lesson.

Motivation Sets the Tone

If you are skillful at building motivation, you live by the adage, “No joy, no work.” Whether it is in building motivation to work hard or in building motivation to follow classroom rules, your focus is on preferred activities. To build motivation you must have a sense of fun, and fun builds relationships.

Are You With Me or Against Me?

Within the area of discipline, nothing increases students’ sense of vulnerability more than being in trouble. In discipline management, Meaning Business allows the teacher to set limits in a non-adversarial fashion without creating embarrassment. In conjunction with working the crowd, it is all but invisible.

Why Are Some Teachers Cool?

Why do kids like some teachers so much more than others? They cannot tell you. They use vapid phrases like, “She’s really nice.” or “He’s cool."

But the kids know where they feel safe. They feel safe where they can relax with their peer group and feel smart without any concern about being embarrassed or looking bad.

For teachers who know how to make teenagers feel comfortable and safe, junior high students can become like puppy dogs. That teacher’s jokes will be funny. That teacher’s lessons will be interesting. Even their clothes will be cool.

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