The Importance of Student Teacher Rapport

When I began Instructional Coaching, a very wise Learning Coordinator said to our new coaching cohort that we may know that we are good teachers, but once we start coaching, we will realize that we are actually amazing teachers.

In mid-February, my maternity leave will be over and I’ll be returning to coaching until the end of June.  Next September, a new teaching position, somewhere, yet to be determined, awaits me.  What do I want to pass on to new coaches or people thinking of becoming a coach?

I think the biggest surprise to me was being asked to help in classrooms where it becomes quickly obvious that the teacher has not really forged a connection or rapport with their students.  And if I’m requested to come in to work on Language or Math specifically, how do I navigate this?

Another wise Learning Coordinator gave me a hint.  Through modelling what the teacher has asked you to work on, you can also model relationship building and classroom management.  Because the key to classroom management is developing these rapports.  Especially with students that might be exhibiting behaviours that take away from the learning.  Over time, I’ve learned how to have more courageous conversations with teachers where I can address this type of observation more directly.

I’ve had teachers tell me that when I teach in their class “it’s like magic”.  But it’s not.  First, I’m new, so there is a bit of a honeymoon period.  And second, when I’m dropped in front of a group of student strangers, I quickly have to make a rapport.  A joke, something that will grab their attention, a “hook” if you will.  But tapping into that emotion or student identity is key.  Sometimes I’ll bring in an interesting object or a prop.  You need to do this all the time as a teacher.  It needs to vary so that you can grab the attention of all those little individuals.

It does not matter how much math or language training a teacher gets.  If they do not make a connection with their students, the learning is not happening.  Compliance perhaps.  But not much engagement.  When I’m asked to support a teacher with classroom management, this student teacher rapport is often what is missing.

And you can’t fake it.  It has to be genuine.

And going back to the beginning, I’ve learned that one of my strengths as a teacher is developing a professional, warm and caring rapport with my students.

The students need to feel like even on their bad or worst days, that they leave knowing that you still like them, that you want them to succeed and that you are in their corner to help support them in doing so.  They have to feel like they matter.  Angela Maiers has spoken about this.  You can find her Ted Talk related to the image below here.

And well, here’s another thing I’ve gleamed from the classroom.  There will be times where you try and aren’t able to connect with different students.  And that’s okay, because we can’t be that person for everyone.  That’s why we all have different teaching styles.  There will be a teacher out there who will be able to do it.  But don’t stop trying.

I know that as a coach, there have been individuals and groups that I have not been able to reach that another coach has had success developing a coaching relationship with.

I guess I’ve learned that one of my teaching (and perhaps even coaching) super powers is developing relationships.  I’ve grown to care about the students, teachers, coaches and administrators that I have worked with over the last 4 years.  I’m not going to lie, it’s going to be hard to leave.  But I also know that it’s time to build capacity in some other lucky teacher out there…

I hope new coaches will learn that every teacher matters like I did.  Those that share your beliefs in teaching and those that don’t.  Really, both the teaching and coaching relationship come down to trust.  If you think that a student or a teacher is unreachable then you probably won’t be very effective in reaching them.

I hope the people I have had the honour to work with over the last 4 years know how much knowing them and working with them has influenced me.  I can’t wait to see how differently I will do things in the classroom this September based on our work together and all that I have learned from them too.

Through being a coach, I have learned about what I do as a teacher that might be “above and beyond”.  But I have also had to confront some things missing from my teaching repertoire too.  But that’s a blog for another day…

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