Building Relationships and Cooperation in the Classroom

One of the biggest concerns I hear from parents and teachers alike is non-compliance in the classroom. Children can get angry and frustrated, avoiding specific tasks or all tasks as a result. Teachers are understandably confused and overwhelmed, unsure of how to motivate a child to learn or gain their participation in the classroom.

Over the years, I’ve helped problem-solve more of these types of situations than I can count, and I’ve found that much can be improved with some approachable and thoughtful changes.  When teacher make an effort to modify their interactions to be more empathic while adopting the perspective of “children do well if they can” (Ross Greene, PhD), the situation typically begins to resolve itself.

To focus on teaching skills while making children feel accepted, try some of these easy-to-implement strategies in your classroom:

  1. Establish your classroom as a safe and welcoming space. Greet students when they enter, thank them for coming to school and for learning with you, wish them well when they leave for the day. Make every student feel like they are wanted and belong in your classroom.
  2. Create a community in your classroom. Have the students be part of identifying the rules and expectations for behaviors. Post “class values” where all can see and remind students regularly of those values. Point out when students behave in ways that demonstrate those positive values. Encourage students to support fellow students, support the classroom as a whole, and support you as a teacher.
  3. Remember that children do well if they can, not if they want to. Dr. Ross Greene, author of The Explosive Child, emphasizes that children who are not successful fail because of a “lagging skill,” and it is up to us to determine what skill needs to be taught in order to right the ship. Simply changing your mindset to start asking “what skill does this child need to succeed?” will help you interact in a more empathic way.
  4. Focus on teaching a skill when you respond to a child. The child in your classroom who is always interrupting needs to learn the skill of waiting. Responding to an interruption with a punishment or “you need to wait your turn” in a frustrated tone does nothing to teach the skill. Responding with “I see you have something important to say but it is Sarah’s turn right now. When Sarah is done, you can raise your hand for your turn” is more likely to help the child understand waiting and turn taking.
  5. Seek to soothe a child and help with self-regulation BEFORE you address the non-compliance with a task. Failure to shift direction and address an emotional outburst will only lead to a power struggle and increased emotional reactivity. For more emotionally intense children, have a plan in place to respond to outbursts. Better still, learn how to read the child’s signals that an escalation is likely and respond proactively by adjusting the task or offering calming activities.

As an OT, my role is to support students and teachers so that they can fulfill their occupational roles, having success in their activities in the school environment. Helping teachers to understand the individual needs of each student is a vital part of that role.

It’s always a challenge to find ways to implement changes that support every student while not overwhelming the teacher with demands. I hope that these tips inspire you to think about your daily interactions with all your students. If you are interested in learning more, I suggest these resources:

  • Lives in The Balance  – Ross Greene, PhD’s website full of resources and readings.
  • Bloom Your Room – a site from Lynne Kenney, PsyD specifically focused on classroom success.
  • How To Talk So Kids Can Learn at Home and in School by Faber and Mazlish – a must-read for every teacher and parent struggling with children who want to succeed if they can.
  • And of course, STEPS for Kids offers workshops and consultation services to support students. Contact us today for more information.
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