Jennifer De Lapp
Trusting Relationships are the Keys that Open the Doors to Learning for All Students
Altering teachers’ understanding about the origins of behavior can help educators amend their beliefs and eliminate their assumptions about their students and prevent teachers from placing limits on them. Behaviors observed in the classroom were adopted by students for a self-protective purpose. In a specific context, at some point in time, these behaviors served to protect the students and facilitate their survival, and moreover, may still be adaptive in a specific context.
More challenging and aggressive behaviors are associated with extreme relational trauma or abuse. These behaviors indicate a greater need for connection and relationships, despite the appearance of hostility. However, educators must avoid the tendency to state outright or imply that students’ self-protective behaviors are maladaptive in all settings because that often engenders incredulity and distrust.
Many educators presume to know but most likely will never fully understand where their students have come from and what they must go home to every day. Validating students’ experiences means acknowledging their reality, and at times, the very real need for their survival behaviors. Validating students’ emotions and the reality of their lives communicates respect and the desire to understand students’ experiences.
Validation and respect, along with a sincere desire to learn about students, builds connection and trust. The trusting relationship between teacher and student is what creates space for educators to suggest alternate behavioral responses for the classroom. Acknowledging that learning does not occur in a vacuum frees educators to direct energy towards relationship-building.