Grow Teacher-Student Relationships with Accountability: But First, Awareness

August 20, 2020

 

As educators, we often overstep with children. We say things that we can’t take back and too often do not apologize for it. Let me give you an example. In my past work as a restorative practices coach, I remember a situation where a group of 7th-grade students stood in line waiting to enter their computer science classroom. The door closed, a few students gathered in the entryway. The teacher approached, keys jingling in hand, shooing students away, saying “Move. Move.” Her tone was one you might use with a dog or someone or something very irritating to you. Needless to say, one student responded in-kind with eye rolls and teeth-sucking. The teacher reprimanded her for disrespect and did not allow her to enter the classroom. Clearly a demonstration of power vs. accountability.

 

Schools must begin to move from discipline based on power dynamics to discipline based on teacher and student relationships. That is a move from ‘power over’ (i.e. adultism) to 'mutual respect' or humanization. In relationship-oriented schools, we ask whole questions that focus on improving relationships vs. improving behavior--which all too often centers on student behavior to the exclusion of adult accountability. 

 

Making a shift from power-driven dynamics to relationships requires a high degree of self-awareness which grows a deep capacity for accountability on the part of administrators and educators who set the tone. In the example above, I truly believe that this educator hadn’t given a second thought to what she was saying or how she was saying it. Some of this can be attributed to school climate & cultures driven by outdated beliefs about children and their place (i.e. adults know best; respect is a one way street from child to adult), but it also has to do with conscious awareness.

 

What I know is that this teacher was rushing. She was late to her class. And when we are ‘late’ and ‘rushing’ we are likely working from our subconscious vs. our conscious mind. And rarely do ‘late’ and ‘rushing’ bring out our best self. So not only do educators need to slow down to build stronger relationships, schools--under courageous leadership-- have to redesign themselves to support educator (and student) slow down.

 

Integrating mindfulness practices can support this slow down in profound and sustainable ways. But, also incorporating small things like dialogue circles, well-being check-ins, recess, or mini- virtual breaks or check-ins during the day can help if rooted in care.

 

One final thought, since we don’t actually break rules, we break trust. And, since, trust is authentic when it is coupled with accountability, mutual accountability and respect are barometers for relationship.  

 

This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes by Brene Brown. She says, “Shame, blame, disrespect, betrayal, and the withholding of affection damage the roots from which love grows. Love can only survive these injuries if they are acknowledged, healed, and rare.” Accountability starts with acknowledgment, demonstrates itself through healing actions, and alchemizes to trust if/when change or efforts toward change are demonstrated. 

 

 

 

 

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