Teaching is undoubtedly one of the most essential tasks with which Christians were entrusted by God. It is upon this commission that our church founded the ministry of Christian education. Oftentimes, as Christian educators in Seventh-day Adventist schools, while we are diligent in teaching our students about God, our primary focus becomes academic performance and behavior regulation; the objective of spiritual growth fades into little more than the daily routine and schedule.
It is at this point that the words of Ellen G. White serve as a most vital and powerful reminder: “To restore in man the image of his Maker . . . to promote the development of body, mind, and soul, that the divine purpose of his creation might be realized—this was to be the work of redemption. This is the object of education.”1
Following Christ’s example, we notice that His mission was to build relationships with people by addressing their individual needs, genuinely caring for them, and gaining their trust. What are some methods that teachers can implement in order to maintain and strengthen relationships with their students and fulfill the purpose of Christian education? As an educator, I have adopted some effective approaches for relationship-building.
Smile often and greet students at the door as they enter the classroom every morning. Make education a joyful experience in which students want to partake every day. Giving a smile and personally greeting them by name as they enter the classroom shows students your happiness and enthusiasm, which almost inevitably spreads to every student. Maintaining a joyful and active environment will surely raise the students’ interest in what you say while simultaneously promoting enthusiasm and receptiveness for learning.
Use positive language in the classroom. Scientific studies have shown that when we make use of negative words like “no,” “illness,” or “death,” accompanied by negative gestures and facial expressions, the listener’s brain responds by releasing more stress chemicals. This reaction causes increased anxiety and irritability, discouraging the listener’s ability to be trusting and cooperative.2 To foster a positive attitude and encourage the trust of our students, our constant use of positive words is vital in and out of the classroom. “Positive words and thoughts propel the motivational centers of the brain into action.”3
Encourage and remind students of their higher purpose and potential. “Teachers’ actions must show their high expectations for their students and their confidence that their students will be successful.”4 Make sure that you give all students equal participation in class. Always give the student additional time to answer your question before moving on to another student, providing hints, if necessary, to help them answer successfully.5
Show students that you care and that their opinions and concerns matter. Ask students about their personal interests and future goals. Remember that every child is different, so it is good to stay alert and identify students who show strong emotion. Empathize and ask if they would like to share something that concerns or bothers them.6 Maintaining eye contact and nodding as they speak assures them that what they are saying is important and you respect their opinions. Communicate with students’ parents positively, letting them know when their child has made an achievement or improvement.7 When teachers communicate sincere care for students, they are more likely to want to perform well, enjoy coming to school, and are more likely to want to behave well by complying with classroom rules and policies.8
Building effective student-teacher relationships requires that teachers follow the Christ model and reach out to students as well as their families, instilling in every one of them the belief that they are genuinely cared for and appreciated in their individual capacities. None of the above would prove effective without faith in God’s transforming power.
Marlene Romeo is the Greater New York Conference superintendent of schools.
1 E.G. White, Education, pp. 15, 16
2 Hariri AR, Tessitore A, Mattay VS, Fera F, Weinberger DR. The amygdala response to emotional stimuli: a comparison of faces and scenes. Neuroimage. 2002 Sep; 17(1):317-23
3 Genomic counter-stress changes induced by the relaxation response, Dusek JA, Otu HH, Wohlhueter AL, Bhasin M, Zerbini LJ, Joseph MG, Benson H, Liberman TA. PloS One. 2008 Jul 2; 3(7):e2576
4 Boynton, Mark and Boynton, Christine, The Educator’s Guide to Preventing and Solving Discipline Problems. 2005
5 Doll, Beth. Positive School Climate (2010). Principal Leadership Journal. Retrieved from http://www.nassp.org/Content/158/pldec10_schoolpsych.pdf
6 Boynton (2005)
7 Lavoie, R. The Teacher’s Role in Home/School Communication: Every Body Wins. 2008
8 Boynton (2005)