This ezine raises the issue of how to repair or rebuild damaged relationships between teacher and student, resulting from difficult or challenging behaviour in the classroom

Situation 1: There has been an incident in your classroom involving a pupil who has challenged you verbally and refused to comply with your instructions. This has led to the pupil walking out of your lesson, leaving you to cope with the rest of the class and feelings of anger and frustration – but also with the knowledge that the same pupil will be back with you next lesson, after lunch or next week.

Situation 2: You are faced with a pupil or group who is constantly pushing the boundaries in your lessons. There is no single, easily identified incident, but a collection of day-in, day-out, low-level, morale-sapping issues. You are becoming increasing intolerant of the pupil or group and you are aware that the situation is not only affecting your relationship with the pupil(s), but it is also beginning to affect the overall atmosphere of the classroom.

These are just two typical situations that occur on a daily basis in many schools. The problem (and hopefully the solution) is how to deal with the direct behaviour, and also how to repair the damage caused to your relations with the pupil.

In many classrooms where the process of challenge and failure to comply has begun, pupils become ‘tied in’ to a continuing cycle, one which is driven by peer pressure, emotion and familiarity. It is a situation pupils find difficult, if not impossible, to change. Relationships may be harmed and lessons will be difficult at times. If you are not able to turn things around, or at least give all parties the opportunity to make amends, then the situation and your relationships with individual pupils can be irreparably damaged or will break down altogether. The resulting behaviour can be pupils refusing to attend lessons or school; or on some occasions, teachers simply refusing to have certain pupils in their lessons.

Clearly either of the final two scenarios are unacceptable. As the teacher, adult and full-time role-model, we must begin the process of reparation. This will provide the opportunity to repair or make amends, and to move forward on a positive note, thereby benefiting all parties: you, the pupil and the whole teaching group.

Practical Tips
Tip number one must be to avoid the temptation to do nothing. If you work on the basis that it is the pupil who has the problem (not me) and therefore it is him or her who has to change, then the situation will certainly not improve and it is highly likely that the problem will only get worse. Once you have realised there is a problem that needs addressing, it is vital that you are proactive in your responses if you are to successfully manage your relationships with the pupil.

All pupils and situations are different; there is no way that one prescribed response to all problems will work. It is therefore essential that you have a range of proactive responses enabling you to assess, monitor, evaluate and, when necessary, change your methods.

Spend some time identifying the problem before embarking on an intervention. It may also be helpful to gain the observations of a colleague at this point, in order to build up a clearer and more objective picture of the difficulties.

Once you have a calm and objective description of the problem you should focus on providing opportunities for reparation to begin.

One-to-one meeting: The start of the process should begin with a one-to-one meeting with the pupil in question. This should be at a time when you are both calm and should not be aimed at apportioning blame. It should be a statement of the problem, backed up with observations and reference to school and classroom policies. The meeting should also take place away from opportunities for peer pressure. It is also helpful to write a record of the meeting, not to form a contract, but simply as a record of the process and comments made.

Informal meeting: Be prepared to speak to the pupil at a time other than the formal lesson situation or one-to-one meeting. Ideally this could be at lesson change (a brief but well-directed positive exchange can make great strides in relationship building).

Break and lunchtimes can also be excellent opportunities for similar conversations. The meeting should not be set up as ‘Come and see me at break!’ or ‘Report to me at the staff-room this lunchtime!’ Instead, try the less formal approach of chatting over lunch or being around a break time to again engage in a non-confrontational conversation.

It can be a difficult step to take when you feel annoyed and even bitter towards a pupil because of their behaviour, but a simple gesture, some shared time and proactive planning can prove invaluable in repairing what can easily develop into a difficult time for both you and the pupil.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in May 2009

About the author: Dave Stott has nearly 30 years’ teaching experience including seven years as a headteacher. He has worked in mainstream and special schools and Local Authority Behaviour Support Services, and is now a writer, consultant and trainer.