Seven Steps to Building Relationships with Teens
“Getting Along with Teenagers” by David Webb in Virginia Journal of Education, November 2014 (Vol. 108, p. 8-12), http://www.veanea.org/home/2461.htm, spotted in Education Digest, May 2015 (Vol. 80, #9)
In this Virginia Journal of Education article, award-winning high-school music teacher David Webb says he’s always believed that positive rapport with students is essential to classroom success. His suggestions:
• Meet them where they are. “Teenagers want desperately to be treated like adults,” says Webb. It may be true that their frontal lobes won’t fully mature for another decade and that they’re hard-wired to be impulsive and rebellious and need constant adult guidance. But an authoritarian approach doesn’t work. The best thing is to forgive teens their developmental circumstances and talk to them as equals.
• Get to know them. Teens crave approval or at the very least being noticed. “Engage your students in conversation,” says Webb. “Open your room/office to them during non-class time.” Chat. Eat together. Get to know more about them.
• Don’t demonize the things they think of as normal. “Our students do not know a world in which they find information in books, have to go to the library to do research, have to wait until later to answer a question from someone not in the room, or can’t simply touch a screen to get almost anything they want instantly,” says Webb. “Society will never go backward – it is our job to assimilate to their world, not vice versa.” Ditto for tattoos and piercings.
• Your reputation precedes you. “It is very difficult to shake a perception that people have of you based on what other people report,” he says – on the bus, in the cafeteria, online, from parents. She’s really cool. He’s mean and overreacts to everything. “What’s being said about you?”
• Know what you’re talking about. “Kids can spot a phony a mile away with blindfolds on,” says Webb. “They may not know the material you’re supposed to be teaching them just yet, but they can certainly tell when you don’t know it!” Admitting ignorance when you’re not sure of something is an excellent strategy.
• Teach with passion. “Show your kids why you love what you’re teaching,” he advises. “[T]hey won’t be engaged by people who aren’t engaged themselves.” Webb remembers the dramatic improvement in his own high-school math achievement when he moved from one math classroom to another.
• Like them. That doesn’t mean being lax on standards, but it does mean communicating genuine acceptance and affection, being positive about expectations (“Do this” versus “Thou shalt not”), and always explaining why.