Relationship is everything for all human beings and students are no different. Students need to feel connected to the adults in their school. They need to feel connected to you! Their relationship with you is the most important school relationship they can form.
It is your individual relationship with each student that will strengthen them to stand away from negative peer pressure. You are the highest consciousness in the room, the facilitator, leader, mentor and coach. It is you that they must relate to and connect with.
I experienced the full impact of this when teaching in the boys’ home, a lock up institution for felons between the ages of 13 and 17. These kids were street smart. Each had a high recidivism rate that started in their preteen years. They were all 17 now. And the reason I had been called in was to turn them around because at eighteen they would be sent to the adult prison.
The boys were connected to each other. I was the outsider. How was I going to do it? How was I going to reach each of them in an individual and powerful way?
I had to make a relationship with each one of them. It had to be immediate and intimate. It had to be stable and strong enough to draw upon when peers were pulling in other directions. Further, it had to offer the promise of a better life.
How could I break the peer pressure? How could I loosen the hold they had on each other?
I discovered the secret. It was stopping them at the door, before they entered the room. I had to connect with heart and communicate my respect. It was so successful in connecting the boys to me and to the teaching that I use it and teach it to this day. So here it is:
- Do not let the students enter your room in their own headspace.
- Meet them at the door.
- If they’re rowdy, be still and wait.
- Stand patiently at the door until you have their attention.
- Then explain, “We will be meeting this way as a preparation for the adult-world. When adults meet, they shake hands, say hello by name and connect with their eyes.”
- Demonstrate the expected greeting with the student closest to you. Shake their hand and look into their eyes and greet them by name.
- Do not rush the first few times. Take your time. Settle the students down at the door before they enter your room.
There is an unspoken message in all of this. You are letting your students know that you care about them as individuals. The other message that you are sending is that it’s your space, your room. You own it and you expect certain behaviors when they enter it.
Remember, the work you do is really important. You are the changer of lives and the hope of the next generation – one student at a time!