Five Ways To Get Students To Like You Without Lowering Standards

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Recently our school handed out surveys to various stakeholders in the school. One group that received it was students. Many of us questioned the usefulness of asking students their views of the school. Obviously, a student will have a different perspective of what constitutes a good school. I remember when I was in high school, I had different goals and needs from my school experience than the teachers did. While I did care about learning, they never asked me “is this school a great environment to get a date?” Now that was feedback I cared about.

Nonetheless, I think it is important to care about student satisfaction. Education is supposed to be about the students. While we are certainly guiding them, which means there will be moments when we have to do things in their best interest that they may not appreciate until later, we nonetheless have to consider student satisfaction. I find that it is pretty easy to keep students satisfied, even when you challenge them, if you keep a few key points in mind. Sure there will be students that will never want to learn and will resist any goodwill efforts on your part, but for the most part, you can win over students by using the following tips:

Establish a Relationship (Appropriate) With Students.

Students are humans. They want to have meaningful interactions with people around them. Some teachers purposefully set themselves up as distant authority figures. I believe you will find the most success if you are an authority figure, but one that they like. Students are more likely to accept your criticism and discipline if they like you. Don’t be inappropriate (you aren’t their buddy), but nonetheless you have to be likable.

When I first started teaching, I believed I had to be a hard-ass, which is to say “no smiling to Christmas.” It backfired horribly. I lost pretty much an entire grade of students because I acted hard first, and and then tried (and failed) to build rapport later.

Show Them You Want Them to Succeed

In college, I had a professor that tore my papers to shreds (not literally; figuratively. See, he taught me that!). It made me the writer I am today. I appreciated every single blot of red ink he put on my papers. Why? I knew he wanted me to succeed. His style, words, and actions told me he was caring, friendly, and knew what he was talking about. Even though he was difficult, he worked with students in class and outside of it to help students understand more clearly. I managed an “A” for that quarter, and I am still thankful for his constructive criticism. Had he been an uncaring, distant jerk, I likely would have resented any positive criticism, and I would still be talking about how that red ink scarred me for life.

Be Fair and Don’t “Trick Them”

One of my high school teachers (we’ll call her Mrs. Q.) was a great instructor in terms of content knowledge, but her personal style caused many students to resent her. I tried to like Mrs. Q., but it would be a stretch to say I did. Even now, I respect certain aspects of her teaching, but haven’t “come to appreciate” other ones. One time we got out of an assembly with literally one minute to go in 6th period. A few of my friends went ahead to 7th period class. The 7th period teachers in question had no problem with it, but Mrs. Q. did, and gave the students that went to 7th period, “skipping” her class for less than 60 seconds, a detention. In another instance, Mrs. Q. was subbing for a study hall, and a lot of us were talking, and apparently we weren’t supposed to. Instead of saying “hey guys, please be quiet,” we saw Mrs. Q. sneakily taking down names, as if to say “gotcha!” Maybe she relaxed with age, since she was a young teacher. I sure hope she did!

Also, I highly suggest you avoid tricking your students on assignments. Avoid “gotcha” moments that penalize students. If you want them to discover something above and beyond what is expected, make sure they aren’t being penalized for such enquiry. Instead of a moment of discovery it becomes a moment of resentment.

Move On Quickly From Discipline and Incidents

I have a friend who dated a girl that he later regretted dating. During the peak of the relationship, he and this girlfriend posed for a photo together, wearing matching flannel shirts. It was definitely worthy of Epic Fail. One time when I ran into him, I said “hey man, do you remember when you and Jennifer took that photo together?” He replied “how can I forget when you keep reminding me every time we meet??” He was joking, as was I, but it brings up a real point, which is that after you get punished, you don’t want to wallow in it.

Most students are embarrassed from punishment and negative incidents, and just want to move on. They want to see that you have moved on as well. Unfortunately, many teachers view punishment as punitive as opposed to rehabilitative, so emotionally “freezing out” a student for a week could be part of the “punishment” for a student talking out of turn. In other words, many teachers hold grudges and never move on. Instead of this, I prefer to assertively communicate my displeasure with student actions, and if that doesn’t work, I provide discipline, and then I move on. Embarrassment, guilt, and emotional games don’t help students learn and they certainly aren’t going to make students want to learn from you.

Give Students Choice (or at Least Perceived Choice)

One of the best ways to increase satisfaction with anything is to increase decision latitude. Decision latitude is your ability to be in control of choices that affect your life (or, a lack of ability). Teachers have a lot of latitude. We get paid to come to school. We can drink coffee at our desks, leave the room to use the restroom if we have to go, glance at an incoming text message from our buddies, and even arrive to class late occasionally, without penalty. If we are feeling tired or loaded with work, we pass out worksheets and catch up on work. This means we have a lot of decision latitude.

Now, let’s switch it. Students can’t drink coffee or pop if they are dragging that morning. They may, with embarrassment, have to explain in front of the class why their request to go to the bathroom really is “an emergency.” If they arrive late to class, they get punished. If they are loaded with work and have a huge test coming up, they still may have to work from bell-to-bell in the class before their big test. They can’t check their phone to get that emotional boost from their friends. In a word, they lack decision latitude.

I am not saying kids should have as much control as teachers. What I am saying is that they deserve some control. An easy way to give them some decision latitude even as you are struggling to cover every single new standard the state is throwing at you is to give them perceived choice. For example, you could say “do you want to read this passage together aloud, or quietly at your desks?” Notice they have no choice as to the day’s task (reading) or the content, but you are offering them some choice in the matter. Believe me, even little choices matter.

Sure, not every student will be satisfied no matter what you do, but there are ways to improve student satisfaction and keep high standards.

Two Easy Ways To Deal With Difficult Parents

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When my friend was first selling on Ebay, he got a complaint email. He typed back a letter that he assumed was pure sarcasm, something like “of course I will make everything right because I know you are frustrated, because something like this is such a big deal.” He meant it sarcastically, and had he said it, it would have come across in an almost mocking tone. The customer took it at face value and was very thankful and happy that my friend was willing to work with him to reach a solution. We both learned something about customer service, and people, that day.

When most people complain about something, they want two things: to have their feeling and needs acknowledged, and for you to attempt to meet that need. Generally, their frustration is coming from some type of unmet need on their part.
So here is the two-step, simple, solution to disarming a frustrated parent. These concepts come, in part, from Marshall Rosenberg’s Non-Violent Communication.

One: Acknowledge Their Feelings And The Needs Connected To It

If a parent is upset that their daughter got a lower grade than expected, and you get a somewhat hostile email, here is how to acknowledge the parent’s need:

– I hear that you are frustrated (acknowledging feelings) because you want your daughter to be as successful as possible (need).
– I understand you are upset (acknowledging feelings) because your daughter didn’t get her usual high grade (need)

Here you have shown that you have heard the parent’s feelings and needs. Sometimes you may have to ask their feelings and needs may be. It is easier to fish out in face-to-face conversations, but can be done in email too. From the same example:

– Are you frustrated because you want your daughter to do as well as possible?
– Are you upset because you want what is best for your daughter?

Two: Suggest a solution that is workable for both of you

People like to know that they are a part of a solution. In some areas, you may not be able to bend much, but you can always include the parent in the conversation, and offer some solutions that are within policy, even if, objectively speaking, they may not mean much. To follow up on the example above, you could respond:

– I offer extra credit that many students take advantage of. Would you be interested in hearing about that?
– Even though it is against school policy to provide extra credit, I would be glad to work with her before the next test.
– She has a chance to get three easy note grades in the next two weeks. I averaged her grade, and with those, she will have a 92% for the quarter if she completes that work. We will also have additional assignments

Below I provide an example of a longer conversation. This is a conversation with a parent who is ticked because her daughter got a second detention from you in the same month.

Parent: Ugh, You are singling out my daughter! (notice she doesn’t tell you her needs clearly)
You: Are you frustrated (emotion) because you want your daughter to be treated as fairly as possible (need)?
Parent: Yes!
You: I can see why you want her to stay out of trouble, you want to the best for her (need). I do too, which is why we enforce the rule of no cell-phones in class.
Parent: Well, yes, I understand that. It’s just that she has been getting in trouble a lot lately, and it’s well…umm…
You: Frustrating (more acknowledging emotions).
Parent: Yes!
You: Have you tried anything at home that seems to work to get her to take a break from texting? (coming up with a workable solution together)
Parent: Well, I find that if I remind her at the beginning of dinner, she won’t pull it out
Teacher: How about I try to remind the class at the beginning that they need to take a cell phone break? (solution that is workable for both)
Parent: yeah, that’s a good idea. Let me know how it works!


Five Ways To Get Your Students and Fellow Teachers To Like and Respect You

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Over the last ten years, I have taught full-time at two schools, and part-time at two as a sub. At every school, some teacher almost always remarked “you are the only person here that gets along with everybody.” And it was true. I have always transcended cliques. Even in high school I did it. And, I have done it without being passive and getting walked on.

Over the years I have wondered why this is the case. I have come up with five reasons why this is the case, so you can use these same tools.

1: Don’t Pre-Judge Others

I am a naturally non-judgmental person. I have pretty strong opinions about certain things. However, I recognize that people are at different places in their lives. My natural “default setting” is to recognize that most people are just trying to get by. I don’t dismiss people unless they give me reason to, and even then, people are always redeemable. In other words, I highly respect people’s autonomy and rights whether I like them or not.

You won’t earn the respect of a peer if you have already judged her to be lazy. That student with a nose ring won’t learn in your class if you have already pegged her as a reject. Personally I don’t care for lots of piercings or tattoos, but I am not going to judge someone because of them. The same holds true for people that dress and act more uptight than I expect.

As a teacher, you have the responsibility to teach every student, period. If you can’t stand half of your students (or all of them!), then that is like a salesman hating every customer. I have two questions for that salesman, “why are you still in that business” and “will you ever make any sales that way?” If you find yourself judging most of your students, or giving up on them, you may need to “re-boot” your way of approaching them.

At my former school I was best friends with the athletic director. I am into running, and played football and baseball in high school. However, since graduating, I haven’t coached or been involved in formal athletics, and that hasn’t been my “crowd” at school. Nonetheless, because of being open to friendship with this fellow teacher, I ended up announcing some football games, and even was the assistant athletic director for two years! Had I pre-judged my potential to be friends with this guy, I would have missed out big time.

I also find that “problem students” often do fine for me. They aren’t perfect, but they try hard and will seek me out when they have issues. Other teachers are mystified as to why these “problems” aren’t problems with me. It is no secret why: I naturally use these tips.

2. Take An Interest In Everybody

The quickest way to earn the love and respect of students and peers (and anybody really) is very simple, and it is to take an interest in them. It can be as simple as asking how someone is doing, and genuinely meaning it. I try to always talk to each student at least once a month on this level. Just stop them during some down time, etc, and check up on them. Most people don’t get much attention. They go through life craving attention. Many kids today have a horrible home life and don’t get much attention from their mom or (if there is one) dad. By giving everyone a little attention, even if you think they may not want it or deserve it, you will get the respect and admiration of everybody.

This is a very, very, important step. If you want to earn everyone’s respect, this is how you do it. You can’t leave out certain people. You have got to make every student and fellow teacher (and administrator) believe they are very important to you. If they feel like they are important to you, then *you* will become important to *them*.

I should note that this has to be genuine. You have to really take an interest and want to do it. If you don’t, then why bother at all? A short, slightly angry, “how are ya?” isn’t going to cut it. If you feel the need to exclude certain people, including many of your students, then go back to “number one.”

3. Pay Attention

Taking an interest is how it starts, but to do so properly, you have to listen and pay attention. If you pay attention to what your peers and students are “into” you can always build rapport with them. This will turn a simple “how are you” from a pleasant exchange to something more meaningful. People volunteer information all the time. They will tell you about themselves and what they value. To connect with them, you need to pay attention to, and recall, this information.

On Fridays some teachers hang out at a local restaurant. I was invited and went. I had fun and got to know some of the teachers better. It was easy because I paid attention to the previous information they volunteered at meetings, and in previous conversations. I knew their interests, etc, which provided me some good conversation starters. Another example is an interaction I had with a student. At the beginning of the year I ask students to tell me some of their interests. One girl mentioned she loves the band Walk The Moon.

Their song “Anna Sun” is one of my favorites. A month later I mentioned I heard the song on the radio going to work. She instantly lit up. Nobody in the school even knows who “Walk the Moon” is, yet I remembered she liked them. Ever since then, the girl has been more eager to contribute in class.

4. Become Familiar With Different Interests

So, you don’t judge, take an interest, and pay attention. But, you can’t bond with somebody if you have no way to carry on a conversation about somebody’s interest.

I find that staying informed is the best way to have a repository of material to discuss. Read the news, watch some TV (not too much), listen to the radio, read blogs, get on Twitter, read Facebook, etc. Stay informed and updated. I go to Yahoo News and read about science, sports, business, etc. I do this because I am genuinely interested in a lot of things. If you aren’t, try to branch out and expand your horizons. I have had great conversations with students and teachers about string theory (physics), The Imagine Dragons (an alternative band), vitamins, music theory, the Cleveland Browns, HTML, and many other topics. I know enough about each topic to carry on an intelligent conversation. Remember, don’t fake knowledge. If you don’t know much about a topic, or reach a point in the discussion where you are over your head, just admit it. It is better to do this than to pretend, and look like an idiot.

5. Just Say It

As a teacher, you are expected to initiate conversations with students. The most outgoing ones will talk to you on their own accord, but most view you are too much of an authority figure to have a conversation with. This means *you* have to initiate conversations.
With fellow teachers, you will often have to take the lead. Many people are naturally shy or reserved. If you want to build rapport, you may have to take the lead.

You just have to “say it.” Granted, you don’t want to talk too much, but most people enjoy short conversations that interest them and provide them with attention

Why Teachers Need to Learn and Model Popularity

A scientific study suggests that popularity in high school is a good indicator of later success, as has been mentioned on our sister site The Popular Teen. Before I begin this post, I should note that even though I used an image of money for this post, this website’s philosophy is that success is much more than just money, and includes friends, family, health, faith, and so forth.

I suspect the reason for this correlation is simple, which is that if you are genuinely popular (and not “popular” because others fear you), you naturally have the thought patterns and skills that lead to success. Of course somebody that attracts people in high school is going to have the same effect later in life.

If you are popular, whether in high school or beyond, you probably:

– Are relaxed and don’t get worked up easily, versus being full of stress and drama.

– Have a sense of humor instead of getting offended by everything.

– Are a great communicator, privately and in front of a group, rather than shy and awkward.

– Are excellent at a few things, as opposed to not having any hobbies or interests.

– Empathetic instead of judgmental.

– Confident and Assertive as opposed to aggressive, passive, or passive-aggressive.

– Entertaining and charming instead of boring.

So where do you as a teacher fit in? If these traits lead to success, then it is important for you as a teacher to model them for your students. 

We learn a lot in our educational classes, but nobody has ever taught us how to be these things right? We assume that these traits are inborn and maybe even genetic. Wrong! The Popular Teacher will teach you how to think like a popular person and act like one too. At first it may be difficult, but eventually your brain will rewire and the new, popular, you will come as naturally as shyness came to the “old” you. Keep coming back to this site, and be sure to join our communities of Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, and even Pinterest.


Is Being a Popular Teacher Bad?

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Sometimes I only sheepishly admit I am a popular teacher to other teachers or administrators. I don’t use the term often because it does have a lot of negative connotations. I have mentioned this in previous posts. However, popularity, properly understood is a great thing, and something, I believe, most teachers absolutely want.

My brother’s students always had a little birthday party for him, complete with some snacks, hats, etc. It was a small gesture that took a few minutes of class time. Nonetheless, it made a big impact on him. It showed that he made an impact on his students. One time, another teacher asked the students why they didn’t throw her a birthday party. The students, being nice, gave a nice response, but the truth was that while this teacher was a decent person and teacher, she just didn’t have the characteristics that made her popular and well-liked by the students.

Popularity is not bad. In fact, being popular is good. We tend to do things for people we like. This is called the “Liking principle” and is one of psychologist and researcher Robert Cialdini’s techniques in his important book Influence. If your students like you, they will learn from you. Even if the topic of your class bores them to tears, they will nonetheless learn it as a favor to you. Have you ever sat through a lecture or talk by some cocky or idiotic presenter? Unless the information was extremely useful or compelling, my guess is that you likely didn’t want to learn from him or her. In fact, you may have tuned the presenter out immediately. What if you come across to your students like this? You would be amazed what your students might do for you if they just liked you.

Some teachers gasp at this. A student like you?? That is crazy! But the truth is that it works, and it makes everybody involved feel good. I don’t know about you, but I prefer to work with a clientele (which includes parents) that actually likes me and what I am doing for them. It sure beats working with a hostile clientele.

Now, remember, that we are not suggesting the students like you as they like someone their own age. You are not embracing popularity in this way. You are a popular teacher.