At the time of writing this Newsletter, we are at the end of the Winter Olympics one of our biggest sports carnivals. It is here the champions; the winners are acknowledged. These are the athletes that outshone all others on that day. But we know the performance given at that moment is the culmination of years and years of practice and rehearsal. So too is a child's response to any stressful situation. How they act is not based on the presenting conditions but on a belief system that has been built-up during their ‘training.'
Success at the Olympics has rightly or wrongly become very important to nations, and we have seen the great lengths they will go to support those competitors who are a chance to win gold. All across the world, Nations have programs such as our Institute of Sport who search for every advantage. New research has identified a significant finding that supports what good teachers have always known and that the relationship between the coach and the athlete is one of the critical factors that will allow one winner to emerge given the competitors are in all other ways equally gifted. The pursuit of excellence of behaviour does not have the same appeal. However, for teachers who deal with the most troubled students, the drive for success is just as powerful and for the student how effective that teacher is, will have a life-long benefit that goes well beyond the gold medal race!
According to findings presented in November 2015 at the World Class Performance Conference in London, super-elites, the winners felt that their coaches fully satisfied their emotional needs by acting as friends, mentors and unwavering supporters—in addition to providing superb technical support. High-performing athletes who did not ‘medal’ did not feel that way. "This turns on its head a long-held view that we must simply pair the best technical and tactical coaches to our best athletes to achieve ultimate performance," says Matthew Barlow, a postdoctoral researcher in sports psychology at Bangor University in Wales, who led the study.
Effective teachers know that relationships are the key factor in providing the best opportunity for children to develop into the mature, self-reliant and responsible young men and women. To achieve this, I believe that teachers and parents need to build what is referred to as ‘relationship intelligence.' Before I discuss relationship intelligence, it may be prudent to describe what relationship intelligent isn't.
One thing children need to develop for them to face life's inevitable trials and tribulations are resilience; that is the ability to continue after the set-backs and failures we all face. Resilience is best nurtured when we allow our students to face-up to rejection and failure while we support them as being worthy individuals. It is hard for us all not to ‘make things right’ when we see our children distressed or when they have got themselves into trouble. But if we solve their problems for them, we deny them the very conditions to develop resilience. By just ‘being there’ for them when they are facing relatively small setbacks and not ‘fixing’ things allows them to build their capacity to live through the inevitable setbacks they will face as an adult when they are on their own. This exposure to life’s challenges is of course on a graduating scale; it is ‘age-appropriate’. At school we expect our senior students to be much more independent than our juniors.
So what is relationship intelligence? The following is a list of what I think helps make a good relationships work:
- Consistency, students get a sense of security and control if they can trust that they will know what happens when they make a mistake
- Mutual trust and respect – this is paramount in building positive relationships
- Understanding and meeting students’ needs
- Taking the time to communicate and this does not only mean talking to them but actively listen to what they have to say
- Maintaining consistently high standards in your behaviour
- Responding to and nurturing a child’s passions or talents
- Not taking setbacks personally
- Showing vulnerability – show that you are not perfect and accept the consequences of your mistakes
In my past life, I have had the privilege of coaching elite athletes who have represented Australia in football, and I have also had the honour to teach our most damaged of students. In both instances the goal was the same, to be the best they could be. Being the best we can be as teachers is in making an intelligent contribution to the personal development of all the children in our care. Support children of all ages, while they are growing to be the best they can be is our task. Our kids will make mistakes, but they will never be mistakes.