The power of strong relationships in schools
Strong relationships between teachers, parents/carers and children, are fundamental to each student being happy, healthy, safe and at their best every day, whilst at school.
There is plenty of research to back this up. This includes work from The Education Endowment Foundation Teaching and Learning Toolkit, that highlights the impact of collaborative student learning and parental engagement. The work of Desforges and Janet Goodall talk about the power of parental involvement. John Hattie talks about it in his Visible Learning for Teachers book and associated website.
Where there is less focused research is around something that is at the core of these relationships – communication. Considering that 85% of our success is down to factors associated with communication (Carnegie Institute of Technology), it’s simply too important to ignore.
School teams are often so busy dealing with the day to day activities in a school, it is difficult to find the time to prioritise communication and think about how best to build these powerful relationships.
So how can you make it work?
Step into their shoes
As human beings, we make assumptions about people based on our own experiences. We can assume they see the world in the same way as us. Learning about people with an open mind and empathy, enables us to step into their shoes, and can be enlightening.
By asking the right questions and truly listening, we can understand people’s motivations and concerns. When people feel listened to, they feel valued.
Through this understanding we can start to identify different groups of people with common communication preferences – or ‘personas’. Instead of taking a ’one size fits all’ approach to communication, we can take an approach that recognises their specific needs and overcomes their concerns, communicating in a way that is best for them.
Self-awareness is critical
The better we understand ourselves, the easier it is to understand our impact on others. A good way to understand how we like to communicate is by using a personality profiling tool. This can tell us our communication strengths and potential blind spots, and how we interact with other different types of people. And it’s worth noting that for some people this might be different at work to at home! We use a personality profiling tool called DISC to help teams to work better together. It’s fantastic to watch those penny drop moments that people often have.
We all have preconceptions that influence our relationships, some positively and some negatively. But there are actions we can take to break down potential barriers through building empathy with the people we interact with. For example, consider creating greater empathy between teachers and students, by carrying out a short survey, where the two groups learn more about one another, for example their interests. These simple acts can help to break down unconscious bias (or unknown prejudices, for example, when a teacher feels they have more in common with some children than others) and help to build stronger relationships and improve student behaviour. And when empathy is role modelled by teachers, it is learnt as a life skill by students making them happier and more successful in life.
Take a planned approach – for the long term
To keep good communication (and relationship building) at the top of the agenda, have a school communication strategy. Understand, through research, where you are now, in terms of relationships and engagement. Work out where you want to be through discussion with your school team, aligned to your vision, desired culture, values and school targets. Define actions, to get you from now to your desired future state, with owners and deadlines, as part of a visible and regularly reviewed three-year plan.
Be ready to change
We have to respond to change daily in schools. This also applies to relationships. For example, if you suddenly have a new headteacher, you’ll need to review your approach to communication and build new relationships within your school community. Measure how you are doing with frequent temperature checks and take action to review and update your plan regularly.
Be a masterful communicator
Even the best communicators can improve. Learn about your team members’ communication preferences and what makes them the same or different to you. With DISC, you can develop a simple and common language that helps to avoid conflicts and enables you to come together to be at your best as a team.
Become increasingly self-aware and build an open and empathetic mindset, spotting those communication preferences in yourself and others. Pause before reacting and instead respond with the other person in mind.
Once you know your areas for improvement, identify people who you see as a communication role model. Learn from them, supported by other relevant training or coaching.