Building an emotional bank account with students

Last month I spoke at the Quality Teaching Conference in Coff’s Harbour. There were 500 delegates there and I talked about the notion of emotional bank accounts. I challenged them to think of a student they struggled to connect with… and then reconnect with them by building an emotional bank account with that particular student. I also invited them to post their story here on April 28. Hopefully we will get to read some inspiring stories.

With an emotional bank account a teacher builds credit by making their interactions with students positive. This can mean some really simple things that cost hardly any money… things like ..

– saying “Good morning.. It’s really great to see you here!’;
– asking how many fish they caught at the weekend;
– asking how many tries they scored at footy or how many goals in netball;
– saying things like.. ‘I know this seems reallly hard but I reckon you can do this!’
– writing a special note on their book to highlight the things they did well;
– finding them at lunchtime and shouting them lunch because they worked hard all morning.

This list is endless.. Sometimes it also means we have to actively pretend that we don’t see some naughty behaviour, or that we didn’t hear that swear word in the playground. Sometimes.. Not always!

As we have a positive interaction such as those above.. we build emotional credit. We need this emotional credit because there are times when we must discipline children.. This often results in an emotional debit.

The trick is to stay in emotional credit as much as possible. Unfortunately some teachers only seem to have negative exchanges with students and then they wonder why they are not respected. The reason is they are so far in ‘debt’ that students do not see them positively.

Some teachers might say ‘Why should I go out of my way if the kids show no respect?’

I have two responses to this.

Firstly, we have to go out of our way because we are paid as teachers to be in this relationship with students, and the only way we can engage them effectively is if we have a positive relationship.

Secondly… We are the adults in the relationship.

Accordingly.. there is greater incumbence upon us as teachers, and as adults… to go out of our way to have effective, functional and positive relationship with our students.

Feel free to add your stories about how you have managed to reconnect with students who have become disengaged.


9 Responses

  1. From the beginning of term 1 I had a really difficult time connecting with a Year 7 boy..

    I decided to sit with him in class, focus on smiling and making him a team leader in class activities.. He was also on a school behaviour contract.

    Since hte conference he has been trying harder as have I and he is the first to show me his completed work- with pride..
    This is a new term…and so will start from where we left off…and ….there is this Yr9 girl…..

  2. Hey Kirsten.. thanks for sharing.. awesome story.. and good luck with that girl.. cs

  3. Another comment received from an educator in Western Australia….

    I just wanted to give you some feedback on an article I really enjoyed reading: Building an emotional bank account with students

    This confirms a lot of the work the Aboriginal education team do here in the region and other teams I have worked in, and especially when we talk about BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS with our students and our sustainable staff in our schools. Take the time to do all the things you have mentioned in the article – it costs you nothing and yes you are the adult in this situation so act like one.

    I mention to staff that we did not ask you to come into our communities, ‘you chose to teach and live here’ so lets work together as a team to get the best possible outcomes for all our kids.

    During our sessions or workshops we ask the staff to look at a concern or issue they are having and then turn it into a ‘goal’ and work thru it that way, this also enables them to look at what resources they are using and if they are using them effectively e.g. AIEO (AEW) in the classroom.

    My team are currently working with a number of schools and their staff who on occasions put up barriers, for example such as blaming the community for the students bad behaviours. Where these situations happen we give the staff member a number of strategies to BUILD A RELATIONSHIP with the student and community –

    – Develop a rapport with students
    oA trusting and comfortable situation needs to exist for behaviour to be effective. I guess the most successful type of teacher of Aboriginal students would be a ‘warm demander’. I see this person:
    Teach the student not the subject
    Network with other staff who have been successful
    Encouraging peer support
    Be organised but ready to change – be flexible
    Be non-confrontational – DON’T PATRONISE
    Give positive feedback to the student – individually or whole class

    -Involve the AIEO (AEW)
    oHave a clear understanding of the role of the AIEO. Involve the AIEO in the planning, you have skills to share and vice versa, if you don’t actively involve them in the classroom they may lose interest.
    oUse of the AIEO, this person can do the bus run as well to help build their relationship with the community, even organise a community meeting for staff who teach the kids from the community, rotate the meetings – one in the community and one back in the school. This enables the community to share what is happening in their community and also allows the classroom teacher to show what she/he does in the classroom.
    -One that sticks out like a sore thumb is just getting on the bus Monday AM and go out to the community, get off and say ‘good morning’ to everyone who gets on and any parents who happen to be there as well. And ask ‘how was your weekend’ etc. This can be done for the Friday afternoon trip, drop the kids off and say ‘have a great weekend, see you all on Monday’.

    At the end of the day it is not hard stuff to do if you want to have a relationship with a person or whole of community, but I guess if the person does not have any Emotional Intelligence or Multiple Intelligence awareness or even just some plain common sense it’s a bit hard going.

    We have a bit of a struggle on our hands, but I don’t let that discourage me I encourage my team to never give because if you (we) do, you are giving up on our kids

    Anyway that’s me for now.
    Thanks for the articles

  4. I too was having trouble connecting with a student. One of my year 2 kids was really high maintenance (ODD) and after the conference I realised that I was working like I had one student only and a large bunch of spectators. I was making slow progress with this one student and none with the rest of the class. I chose one student from the rest of the class that I had prejudged and just expected to be trouble and decided to make a connection with her (as well as committing myself to the whole class overall instead of my one really demanding child). I began to ‘catch this girl doing the right thing’ and commenting positively on her actions. This has paid off: today we were going to the hall for a dance lesson and I felt two little hands on my hips. I turned to find this pre-judged student following me and getting the rest of the class to make a ‘crocodile’. This is not how we are supposed to make transitions from space to space but I felt it showed she had developed trust in me and to show I trusted her as well, I went along with her idea. I have learned she is not the naughty child I expected but a helpful and sincere girl who really tries with her work and who has a warm community spirit. I was so caught up with my really demanding child that I didn’t put in the time with the rest of my class and now I have done that I am finding a group of really lovely children who are more open minded about finding the good in each other than I was. I guess children can teach us the greatest lessons.

  5. T is a student in my year 8 class. Most lessons became a battle where I would attempt to stop her from engaging in slanging matches with others. Moving her to the front seat, directly in front of my desk, reduced the opportunities for these negative interactions but then gave her more chance to criticise the way I dealt with other students. T quite often accused me of being inconsistent and unfair.
    And then came your keynote address at the QT conference which got me thinking. One of T’s complaints had been about the way I dealt with students who were late to class. She loudly challenged me when I recorded their time of arrival from when the bell went – with the idea of getting the late students to make this time up at recess or lunch – because we didn’t physically enter the class right on the bell. (This is class where some students were up to 15 minutes late.)
    The day after the conference was a Saturday, so I went to Big W and bought a talking clock. With the press of a button, a digital voice announced the time. When I took this into class the next week, I didn’t use the clock until I had marked the roll, which was my way of showing T that I was trying to be fair. Latecomers then had the time recorded against their name in the roll. T loved the idea and, given her proximity to the clock on my desk, soon became the presser of the button which enabled me to write the arrival times quickly and get on with the lesson.
    Two wonderful things resulted: the late arrivals soon mended their ways and T started responding to the lesson rather than to other people. I offered her the opportunity to move to a seat of her choice but she said that she wanted to keep sitting at the front. I think we now have a connection that I wouldn’t have thought was possible before hearing your address – so, thank you.

  6. In my position of Principal of a small primary school I had one child I had not got to know. He is very shy and rarely spoke to anyone. Each day I have taken the time to talk to him, most of it my talking, but he has started to tell me about himself. At the start of this term I was really happy that he came straight up to me and started telling me about his holiday. I didn’t have to drive the conversation and he was happy to share. I hope that over the next couple of months the relationship continues to develop.
    Thanks for setting us the challenge!

  7. I really appreciate all of the responses and can’t say how great it is to see people take up the challenge.

    Here is another response…cs

    Hi Chris

    Thanks for your inspirational address at the conference. I am in only my third year of teaching (mature age convert) and still find every day a unique challenge…with many times the ‘reward’ of feeling like I am making a difference coming along in only fleeting moments.

    Your speech really nailed something important for me. I work hard to establish a genuine rapport with my students. I feel I can relate fairly easily to kids, and I have a natural empathy for them, especially the disadvantaged/disengaged/challenging kids (having experienced some of this in my own childhood). However, as you made clear, the rapport itself is not enough…I still have to challenge myself to really teach something to these kids. To empower them with knowledge and the confidence to achieve requires more than being understanding to the point of accepting less than their best, or tolerating (and therefore legitimising), unnacceptable behaviour. Like you said, this is not easy.

    This is the challenge I continue to work on everyday. Thanks for your example

  8. Connecting with students in a meaningful way is positive for both students and teachers. Relationship building is one if not the most important factor that contributes towards enabling success of students/teachers. Respect in any relationship is not something we demand in an instant. Though our processes may differ, we acknowledge and discover our own strengths and weaknesses through meaningful steps of self awareness. Our students reflect much that lay deep within ourselves, our fears, reservations, dreams, and hopes for a better future.
    When I experience difficulty with a student I search for the solution within. What am I doing to prevent growth, what can I do to change this? Developing a dialogue with self will ask many questions and spawn many solutions. Though this is by know means an easy process it is an enlightening one.

  9. Nice contribution Michael.. I like what you have to say about searching within.. On every occasion this takes courage and honesty… especially in complex circumstances where it is often so much easier to blame the student, or the complexities they emerge from.

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