Tuesday, August 28, 2012

5 Things Parents of Students with Special Needs Want Teachers to Know

Education Articles

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Rapport: The Key to Shift an Interaction with a Difficult Student from Antagonistic to Collaborative

Sometimes a teacher-student relationship goes sour, with too many antagonistic interactions where “he,” the student, is placed in one corner while “I,” the teacher, firmly position myself in the opposite corner. I guard my corner fiercely while the child is guarding his corner fiercely. We even seem to be talking two opposite languages; my “yes” is the child’s “no;” my “do” is the child’s “don’t.” Giving commands and criticizing noncompliance is my way to unsuccessfully persuade the child to do something, and the more the child does not do what I want, the more rigid and antagonistic our relationship becomes. In other words, although student and teacher are sharing one and the same physical space, mentally and emotionally “we” (as in student and teacher) are in two very different places. Under those circumstances, I believe, no communication between the two of us is possible. If only I could find how to shorten the distance that is keeping us apart...
Rapport: The Bridge that Connects Two Opposing Worlds
Little I know that, although in different corners, we are both sharing one and the same objective: protecting the integrity of our personal (internal) place. In interpersonal communication theory, this is known as “saving face.” Once I realize that we both share the same goal, what originally seemed as two clashing points of view now feel a lot closer than they were initially perceived. What I want and need is exactly what the child is wanting and needing; we both want and need to save face. With this shared objective giving new meaning and shaping the interaction, “he against me” turns into “we,” and talking with the child suddenly becomes a lot easier. Now the experience of communicating with the child begins with this new perceived reality, that is, effective communication begins with “we.”
 But how can I shift “he against me” into “us” or “we”? The key to positioning ourselves in the same “we corner” relies on a small word with a big impact: rapport. What exactly is rapport? The dictionary definition of rapport is a relationship that is based on truth and emotional affinity (The American Heritage College Dictionary). In the interpersonal communication realm, the metaphor of a dance is frequently used; like dancing with a partner, rapport is “being in step with someone, separate but together, sharing a common experience” (Karns, 1994, p. 5). As Knapp (2007) states, rapport is not something that we build once and then we just move away from it; rapport is an ongoing issue. Trust, the cornerstone of rapport, is something that I create through simple acts that I carry out on a daily basis; that is, I earn and maintain rapport with very simple but consistent actions such as acknowledging the child by his name, making eye contact with the child, and smiling to the child among others. I show a genuine interest in this child specifically, making an effort to understand him better: what he likes and dislikes, what he fears the most, and learning of his dream of becoming an astronaut. By finding things that interest the child and then letting him know that I know of those things, I am sending the message that I am aware of his presence in my classroom, cherishing him as the unique and important individual that he is in my classroom.
In learning more about the specifics of this child, I also find out that he loves salsa dance and that he finished third on a salsa dance competition just a few months earlier. Because he feels a little embarrassed by the whole salsa dance ordeal, I promise not to tell anyone, and now this self-disclosure has become our very special secret. To reciprocate for the child’s self-disclosure, I share my own secret: how disappointed I was when I finished fourth on a spelling contest back in the fifth grade. And now, we are communicating at a much deeper level than salsa dance or spelling contests; now we are communicating at the level where we both realize we are more alike than different. By spotting our resemblances, or those things that we have in common, I start perceiving the “we” that is hidden in “you and me;” “we” was always there, is just that I never noticed it before.
Karns, M. (1994). How to create positive relationships with students: A handbook of group activities and teaching strategies. Champaign, IL: Research Press.
Knapp, H. (2007). Therapeutic communication: Developing professional skills. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Related Article…
Creating Rapport with a Disruptive and Acting-Out Student: Psycho-Educational Interventions for Students with Special Needs. To read this article, click here.

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Essentials of Emotional Communication for Reaching the Unreachable Student: Where Do I Start? What Do I Say? How Do I Do It? To preview this book on Amazon, click here.

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