Building respectful relationships by knowing your students better

Andrew Philp, Teacher

I am proud of maintaining my enthusiasm to teach and inspire students even after 25 years of teaching. In fact, I am comfortable writing that I am enthusiastic to promote a love for learning more than ever.

The majority of my teaching career has centered around teaching Mathematics, Science, Health and Physical Education. I am currently a Year 7 homeroom teacher at Saint Ignatius College Geelong, a co-educational Catholic School in the Ignatian tradition, with over 1300 wonderful students. I am also the College’s Director of Sport. A position I have held at Saint Ignatius for the past ten years.

I have witnessed and worked alongside many successful teachers in my 25 years. All of them have one thing in common. They have the ability to maximise the learning potential of their students in their class by developing positive relationships.

Developing positive relationships between a teacher and student is a fundamental aspect of quality teaching and student learning. Positive teacher-student relationships promote a sense of school belonging and encourage students to participate cooperatively. Students develop confidence to experiment and succeed in an environment where they are not restricted by fear of failure. Teachers are able to assist students with motivation and goal setting, and students can turn to them for advice and guidance.

In 2015, probably the most well-known educational researcher in Australia, John Hattie, identified a number of influences relating to effective learning and achievement. Some of these influences included teaching strategies, classroom discussion, classroom cohesion, teacher expectation, teacher credibility and effective classroom behaviour. Establishing a positive and supportive classroom environment, combined with productive relationships between teachers and their students, will provide a platform in which students are encouraged and motivated to grow both academically and personally.

Hattie noted in his study that a harmonious classroom can assist with the development of creativity as well as reduce anxiety levels amongst students.


Ziplet has helped create a more harmonious classroom

It was a random app search on the internet that had me land on the Ziplet website. It was two weeks out from the start of a new year as a Year Seven homeroom teacher. Experience had taught me that establishing positive relationships with students very early in the year is the key to a harmonious beginning, especially when these students are beginning their first year of secondary schooling.

I needed an all-in-one place to collect information about what these students need easily, via a range of flexible response types. Using Ziplet in those first few weeks of the school year enabled me to:

  1. Provide a safe place for students to tell me very early in the year how best they learn.
  2. Provide a safe place for students to tell me what classroom environment suits them to learn to their best potential.
  3. Provide a safe place for students to share with me the challenges they have faced in the past so I can quickly adapt my teaching approach so that their learning experiences from day one are valued and appreciated.

As those vital connections are made with students and they begin to think  "Hey this teacher really values me as a student because the changes he is making are from what we have shared with him."

The problem solving ability of Ziplet means that teachers have direction from students with regard to decisions that are made about the day-to-day running of a classroom. This important process helps to develop cohesion, and a sense of harmony. For example, see below a result from students where the following question was asked, "How would you like Mr Philip to organize who sits where?":

Note: a Random Wheel requires the teacher to spin the wheel with everyone's name on it. Whose ever name comes up sits in the allocated seat.

This quick and easy survey certainly altered my thinking when organizing my seating chart. Without Ziplet I would have normally just thought to myself ‘this is what I think is best and this will be my decision.’ This gave the students a safe opportunity to voice their preference without drawing attention to themselves. This is vital. I know only too well that many students’ choices are made because they feel uneasy making a choice that may not be what other students have chosen.

Probably one of the most powerful pieces of feedback I received from a Ziplet question was regarding student wellbeing. For the past two years, on a daily basis, I ask students to write down in a journal four things:

  1. What went well for you today? (To practice Gratitude)
  2. What kind act will you do for somebody today? (To practice Empathy)
  3. What are you most looking forward to about tomorrow? (To give hope and practice gratitude)
  4. How are you feeling ‘right’ now and why? (To practice Mindfulness – living in the now)

Ziplet gave me incredible insight to whether this GEM Project (practicing Gratitude, Empathy and Mindfulness) was improving the wellbeing of my students. I knew in my heart that my students are genuinely happy, always smiling and calm, but I wanted evidence. The results were:

Chart question, "How has practising the GEM (Gratitude-Empathy-Mindfulness) journal changed you as a person? You can choose more than one"

In my 25 years of teaching there have been a great many changes. Whilst my belief in the importance of understanding student wellbeing hasn’t changed, using Ziplet has certainly made it easier. I have issued hundreds of Ziplet questions to students to gauge what they learned at the end of every lesson. These ‘exit tickets' take less than a minute to set up and organize and the student’s individual answer is recorded immediately. My high response rate shows me that my students feel safe using Ziplet, and gives me incredible insight to build teacher and student relationships and then improve the learning outcomes of my students.

Asking daily wellbeing questions on Ziplet has helped me create positive relationships with students early in the year and to empower students to have a voice in their education. Support tools such as Ziplet help make it quicker and easier than ever to connect with and engage students to strengthen those relationships.

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