This article is based on one chapter of a book entitled The Edutainer: Connecting the Art & Science of Teaching which aims to help new teachers survive and thrive while they help students succeed in the twenty-first century. The authors use their years of experience to offer strategies and ideas to build and nurture authentic relationships with students, parents and colleagues to build a dynamic educational community.
The Edutainer concept is derived from the principles that we believe make for an effective educator and entertainer. First edutainers are visionaries, who understand that a change in culture requires a change in methods and presentation. These edutainers make their material relevant to present culture. Preparation is also vital to these performers. They organize and plan their material long before they get on stage or their performance would fail. Finally, the effective educator and entertainer have to deliver a stellar performance that their audience can relate to.
Building Authentic Relationships with Students
The authentic relationship allows the student to become an active rather than a passive participant. Whether it is your rules, expectations, or how you deliver your material, keep these thoughts in mind: Am I presenting the material in a manner that is engaging for the students? Am I treating them they way I would want someone to treat my child? At the end of the day remember they are still children, facing real problems in a tough world, so they need all the support they can get. And you as an Edutainer can be an important part of the equation. Here are a few ideas to remember as you build authentic relationships with your students.
- Responsibility. Give students responsibilities, so they feel vested in the class and educational process. Students, especially younger ones, enjoy having specific tasks that they are assigned during the course of the day.
- Know their world. Become familiar with your students’ interests, leisure pursuits and activities, so that you better understand them. Remember, building relationships is the key when learning is personalized.
- Establish common ground. Discuss things of common interest (news, community happenings and sports). Look for special interests the students have, for example, the names of favourite TV shows, leisure activities, video games and music. Take their interests and incorporate them into the lessons for relevancy at least as an introduction or for examples or analogies that can be shared.
- Sense of community. Be approachable to the students. Make sure they are comfortable with coming to you with problems, issues and support. This means you are willing to exhibit a level of vulnerability, to “be real” with the students. Remember children can detect when adults are sincere and truthful. They can also detect disingenuous adults and will keep a wall between themselves and those adults. Help students think of the class as “we” rather in terms, of “I,” “you,” or “they.”
Building Authentic Relationships with Parents
Many adults today have one of the toughest and most demanding jobs—being a parent. The job of parenting is not made any easier by the generational gap that exists between parents and their technological savvy children. This generation gap exists because parents grew up with limited technology, while their children appear to be cyborgs (part human and part computer). While the Edutainer is technologically savvy, she is aware that parents may not be, so she communicates in methods other than the computer, such as students’ agendas and weekly folders.
The dynamics of home life have changed in recent years. Many students today live in single-parent homes or homes where both parents work. Parents may feel a sense of guilt for the long hours at work and time spent away from their children. Because of this guilt, they may try to buy their children’s affection or become their friend rather than be their parent.
These are also the parents who will act more like a lawyer than a parent when their child exhibits poor behaviour or weak study habits. They don’t want to discuss the issue; they only want the teacher to “fix” the problem. They are looking for a quick answer, rather than an opportunity for their child to learn from the experience. It is easier to be their child’s friend than it is to be an authority figure.
During our years of teaching, there was one instance in which a student was in trouble and the parents were called in for a meeting. They were very upset and felt the teachers were treating their child unfairly. Within a few minutes, the student was actually arguing and talking back to his parents. The parents became more frustrated, so we asked the student to leave the room. The parents immediately expressed their own irritation with their child. They went on to explain that their reaction to us was really in response to their frustration with the child, rather than the situation at school. The mom broke down in tears and began to explain that they didn’t know what to do with him. The parents had taken away the child’s phone, computer use, video games, and yet he continued to misbehave. We offered some suggestions to help us all work together in getting the student back on track. One thing we mentioned was that when a child has everything taken away, he may feel a sense of hopelessness. Therefore, he has no desire to change his behaviour. We brought the student back into the room and together as parents and teachers set up a contract between the child and his parents. For example, if he didn’t get in trouble for “x” number of days, then he would earn something back like his phone. If he continued to do well, he would gain back other privileges.
There are two lessons that are relevant in this example. First, if a parent lashes out at you, understand that the frustration may have nothing to do with you or the classroom situation. Secondly, when there is open and honest dialogue between parent and teacher, real solutions materialize to best support the student. Remember the parents have a story, and they have a vested interest in the education of their child. So, respect their role and work to build a relationship that allows ownership in the educational process.
The following ideas will help you build strong relationships with parents.
- Respect. The Edutainer understands that in order to receive respect, she must give it first. Therefore, all respect begins with her.
- Responsibility. Encourage the parents to assign responsibility to their child. This is actually more difficult than assuming the role themselves.
- Failure is not the end. Parents want the best for their child and some have a hard time allowing their child to be unsuccessful. Make the case for growing independence by explaining how important it is that their child learn to be responsible. This may mean having the room to fail. Students will make mistakes. Part of maturing is learning how to recover from these mistakes. A parent is doing a disservice to their child if they don’t allow them the opportunity for these experiences so encourage parents to let their child learn from his mistakes.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Brad Johson and Tammy Maxson McElroy
Dr Brad Johnson and Tammy Maxson McElroy have over 30 years combined experience in public and private education. www.EncoreEdutainment.com
This article is from Canadian Teacher Magazine’s Mar/Apr 2011 issue.