How To Win Over Any Class

This week has been an amazing week. Not only was I lucky enough to have a piece run by the ABC, that highlighted the intricate decision making, problem solving and thought that goes into every interaction while we are teaching, I also had the opportunity to share my perspectives on education on Weekend Sunrise.

(Though, truth be told, when I saw this video of my daughter yelling “Daddy!” at the TV it immediately beat those moments).

It really was a crazy week.

And then I received an email from a pre-service teacher. She wanted to know more about how we can support students’ behaviour and how relationship building fits into all of this. It’s this email that inspired this week’s post (many thanks Therese!).


Nice work, Therese!

It’s been interesting hearing some of the feedback from my ABC piece. One thing that surprised me were comments from some teachers explaining that my typical day involved few behavioural issues.

Which is absolutely true.

But, don’t get me wrong, there’s a reason for that. I spend all day, every day, shaping times and opportunities for my kids to be successful and positive.


We got this!

And that isn’t just in this school.

While teaching over in a remote community in Western Australia, for two years, I faced some of the toughest behaviours in my life.

Note, I didn’t say toughest kids. It was their behaviours that were tough.

I’ve had chairs thrown across rooms, kids bolt out, windows smashed in class, students call me a C-Bomb and had fights break out in class. I’ve watched a paintbrush be snapped and attempted to be used to hurt another student (and promptly redirected and resettled the upset student, while also having an aide calmly, but quickly, get help to remove the class so they were all safe) and a kindergarten student tell me to get…well, f****ed.


Seriously?! Yep.

I’ve seen and experienced some full on behaviours.

I’ve lost sleep trying to deal with all of those confronting behaviours and felt incredibly overwhelmed with the work ahead of me.

I’ll never forget walking into a resource room, sitting down on a table, with my head in my hands, feeling like the world was coming down on me. All of those behaviours that I was having to deal with every single lesson was too much to bear.

Man Thinking - Nik Shuliahin Photo

I also remember what I did next. I spent a bit of time settling myself down, breathing and realising the ridiculousness of suffering alone and not speaking up.

I had to ask for help from people I looked up to. Those people I saw as positive role models and who saw the good in kids., because no one can do this job on their own and no one knows everything (and if they tell you they do, my advice is to be very, very wary of these people).

Sceptical Face

Yeah, I’m not buying it.

Working with staff members I trusted to support and guide me, while also breaking down behaviours into tiny and specific skills, was instrumental in my success. It helped me to identify specific behaviours I wanted to shift and focus on some key individuals (who held the highest social status) in the class to help drive those changes.

I also spent most of my time with those same students trying to get to know them, find out what they liked doing and taking an interest in them. Every single time I saw them I made sure I used their name correctly, with a positive tone of voice, smiled at them and either offered a high five or thumbs up (with a few left hanging in the early days!). It doesn’t take much, just a little bit, often.

And I won over every single one of those students, bar one.

Rita Pierson, the legendary TED champion of every teacher and student, continually spoke about this. She was a guru, not in behaviour management, but in relationship development. She knew it was all about building positive relationships, seeing the kid in front of you and making sure they knew that you saw them.

I am in no way anywhere near Rita Pierson.

But, what I do know is about the difference it makes when we heavily invest in any kid. When we show them we see the person in front of them, make an effort to know them and make it clear we believe in them.


Whilst you might think a student should walk into your classroom knowing exactly how to behave, in exactly the same way you think they should behave, you’re always going to be disappointed.

Behaviours can be explicitly taught, modelled, guided and made visible like reading, writing or maths strategies. Any kid can learn them. ANY.

Yes, I know that sounds ridiculously obvious. However, it’s really important that we ask ourselves if we think this is true for every kid in our class.

Yep, even for that kid.

Kid eating glue

While we need to focus on the key behaviours and expectations we want to see in our rooms and schools, its crucial we make sure our students believe we believe in them. That we won’t ever give up on them – even when they may want us to.

As education’s current demi-god, John Hattie, has been reminding us, our collective teacher efficacy in students (read: our group belief as teachers that we can make a difference) has the biggest impact on students’ achievement.

(And for those who may shout out against Hattie, please assist us all and go analyse the 26 studies and undertake your own meta-analysis to present your own effect size – we’re all ears to keep helping us help kids!)

So, what can we do to build up our kids to believe we believe in them?

I just think about how I can STALL the start of the day:

Share a high five.

Tell them it is great to see them.

Ask about their weekend (and actually listen).

Let them know our class isn’t complete without them.

Let fly a thumbs up to them.

And in the wise words of Hamilton, talk less, smile more (and then do what we say…look and listen).

How do you build up the belief of your students in your class?

What are the small (or BIG) things you do that help shift that feeling and belief in your classroom?

Share those big or small things to help us all help our classrooms.



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Ready for some more? You might like these…

Things I Never Thought I’d Say As A Teacher

How to Start Teaching and Creating a Positive Class Culture

How to Win Kids Over: Names and a Similarity.

Naughty Kids Are The Greatest

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