This is Part II of me doing my homework as I read Dave Burgess’ Teach Like a Pirate. It’s available here btw (this is not an affiliate/sponsored link, I get no money from this).

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Occasionally I think of my job as a teacher as akin to that of a stand-up comic with a reluctant audience. The job is to bring them along, build trust with your audience to the point where they’ll come along. That is, I think, similar to the way Dave Burgess views it. We’re here to take our students on a journey and we need that trust so that they choose to join us.

The meme of the classroom as a battleground is a common one and for good reason. As I’ve grown more experienced, I’ve found that my classroom management is less and less like the Battle of Kings Landing and more like an episode of My Little Pony. The true magic of my classroom really is friendship. Don’t get me wrong, I’m definitely not that teacher who treats his students like his friends, but there is genuine affection.

Much like Burgess suggests with his Sun Tzu quote, the battle prevented is the most successful victory. Often I’ve seen teachers going down the road of wanting students to like them or thinking that they’re the chill teachers. Particularly when times are hard. Now, I don’t believe there’s a hard and fast rule here but I’m not sure this approach is the right way to avoid the battle. Nor do I think the meme of a well prepared lesson is the best classroom management, in fact I think this one can have even more of a negative impact on teachers who are less experienced.

Personally, I much prefer the maxim: “They won’t care what you know, until they know that you care.” I want my students to know always that I care about and for them. I want them to know that they’re the reason I’m here. Mostly, I want them to know that I like being with them (mostly).

I’m not their friend, but there is love and care in my classroom. Currently I work in a Christian school. While I’m fairly atheistic in my worldview, I love the way our particular church body (and most of them I suppose) express love for their fellow human. That is a value that I try and live and always want visible in my classroom.

I don’t think it’s necessary for our children to like you to learn from you. However, it makes it so much easier and a more joyful environment to learn in. You’re not their friend but you must have a rapport with your kids.

Like Dave Burgess, I feel as though I’ve always had less battles to fight with the “trouble maker”kids. Initially in my career I think being quick witted and funny afforded me the opportunity to get away with more in the classroom than others I started out with. As I’ve gotten better as a teacher and leader in the classroom, that’s a crutch I had to rely on less and less. Instead, these are now the kids I seek out first to build relationships with. I love the outsiders, they have voices that should be lifted in our classrooms. Often they go unrecognized for the positive contributions they can make as opposed to the negative ones that some expect.

What does Burgess’ Rapport mean for me?

This chapter is all about the value of getting to know and interacting with those students in our care. I think this is so much easier when we think of it that way too, that these young people are in our care. This is also the first chapter where Burgess gets real practical. He starts by indicating ways you can get to know your students. He outlines the importance of occasionally taking time to step away from the learning intentions and I couldn’t agree more.

In my classroom I like to run on a “strict/warm” model. I build around a model very similar to Burgess’ “No Meanness” rule. Ours is about adding to the world, stewarding and leaving it better than you found it. Generally, just not being destructive. This gets referenced to objects obviously around the class but it mostly is referred to in how we effect our relationships. Be builders.

Another way I approach this is that I take all questions seriously. Regardless of how much of a smart-arse a kid is being. If it’s not going to embarass a student I’ll take everything they say seriously. In my junior classes we have a fortnightly Question Day where we dive deeply into something random that the students want to know.

These actions and activities build rapport. My students know that no matter what I’ll take them seriously. On top of that, I know what crazy and random ideas are kicking around inside their heads. I also know when some of them aren’t feeling themselves and I can’t leave my classroom at the end of the lesson with a little learner following me along telling me stories or asking questions because the 50 minutes wasn’t quite enough. I really appreciate this part of my day. It also helps the students believe that you care about them when you, as an adult in their life that they still talk to, takes the time to get to know them.

Genuine rapport only …

But you can’t fake it.

There is no faking how much you care about them. When a child comes up to you to ask a question or tell you about something cool they’ve learned or gotten into, they know if you’re not listening. They’ll ask if you watched that cool video on youtube that you said you would. If you didn’t they’ll know. By all means, tell kids when you’re able to and when you’re not. But remember they’ll only be rebuffed so many times before they stop asking. It’s up to us to make it a priority.

I think when a student chooses to share with you … that’s what I hold sacred in this teaching life.

Hmmm …

I haven’t really gone into Dave’s (I feel as though we’re on a first name basis at this point) first three days of class that he outlines in the end of the chapter. This is more practical work for the reader. To be honest, it’s not for me and I feel as though it’s misplaced here.

Even a chance to flip it

If we go back to “They won’t care what you know until they know you care” I couldn’t agree more with his jam about rapport. I think this is my favourite part of Flipped Learning. I have so much time to build rapport that wasn’t there before. Every time I present on Flipped Learning I get asked what the biggest change to my teaching is. The answer is simple. I know my students and generally we have much stronger relationships than we did before. Because of that my students will follow me wherever I take them.

Rapport can come about it many ways and it is vital in creating a welcoming classroom where students want to be. To have rapport with your students doesn’t mean you’re a pushover. Instead, it allows you to develop your learners, make them feel safe to take risks and push them so much further than they knew.