"I will risk my relationship with you in order to keep you safe..." 

This was a statement I made as I led a classroom management workshop last week. I was surprised to hear myself say it! Many experts teach that the relationship we have with our students is number one and everything else comes later. Kids can't trust us until they know we care, right? 

So, where did this idea come from? 

1. My number one goal as an art teacher is to keep my students safe. That is a promise I make to them on the first day of school, and a promise I work to keep all year long. I've said this for years but never really thought about WHY safety might be more important than relationships. "I love you, but I WILL hold you accountable!" 

2. Under Maslow's hierarchy of needs, the need for safety is second only to physiological needs such as food, water, and air! Everything else, from love and belonging to self-actualization comes later! Safety is a basic need, one that must be met BEFORE a student can learn. 

3. Why do we have rules and set limits? To keep students safe, to protect them and their right to a positive, safe learning environment. There must be boundaries and limitations, otherwise chaos would take over and nobody would be able to learn. 

When a preschool child runs toward his mother's car during carpool, I am not concerned with my relationship with him at that point. My focus is on keeping him safe! I will grab that child quickly out of harm's way, regardless of how he is feeling at the time. He can scream and cry, but I will not allow him to run into the parking lot! 

When a high school student is using spray paint outdoors, if I see him not paying attention to the wind direction and he is breathing in the vapors, I will most definitely use my loudest voice to warn him to step aside! If he refuses to move, I am not worried about my relationship with him at that point. I will remove his spray paint privileges. It doesn't matter how he feels about me; my goal is to keep him and everyone else in the class safe. 

I believe that damage to the relationship occurs not because consequences were assigned for misbehavior, but because the teacher's response to the misbehavior was personal. A student cannot feel safe if they think we don't like them, and it is too easy for them to make this mistake if we take their behavior personally. 

If we can discipline ourselves to respond without being annoyed, to respond calmly and without emotion and in a way that reinforces the fact that we discipline because we care, it will make all the difference. "I love you too much to allow you to behave this way..."

Setting up procedures, having predictable structure, and consistently and calmly holding students accountable for unsafe, unkind behaviors are all ways we can show students that they are safe with us.

What better way to start building relationships than to set up a great classroom management plan from day one, especially if you do it in a fun and engaging way! 

To make learning the rules and routines more fun, I  sometimes have students role-play "right choices" and "wrong choices." Each student gets a note card with a statement such as, "Wrong Choice; roll your eyes, slam books or pencils, sigh, or talk back when the teacher tells you to do/not do something." Or, "Right Choice; when you need to sharpen your pencil, walk straight to the pencil sharpener and straight back to your seat. Move with purpose, without stopping to talk to all your friends." They love acting out the wrong choices, for sure! It is hilarious!

"Games like Simon Says lead to lots of sniggering and giggling - signs of safety and relaxation. 
...teachers and leaders learn that an activity as simple as trying to keep a beach ball in the air as long as possible helps groups become more focused, cohesive, and fun. These are inexpensive interventions." Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D., The Body Keeps the Score; Brain, Mind, and Body In the Healing of Trauma

"Once people’s physiological requirements are met, the next need that arises is a safe environment. Our safety needs are apparent even early in childhood, as children have a need for safe and predictable environments and typically react with fear or anxiety when these needs are not met." Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs Explained, by Elizabeth Hopper, thoughtco.com, 2019

Further Resources:

Classroom Management Plan; links to resources about writing a great classroom management plan

Rules and Procedures; an outline of my thought process before the first day of school along with links to handouts

Making the Invisible Visible, Consequences and Accountability; an in depth look at many ways to approach specific responses to misbehavior

article by Mrs. Anna Nichols

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