Every Student Has a Story


As a new teacher, it is so easy to get all-consumed with the teaching.

Yet, it is important to remember that we are teaching students … we are teaching children.


cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Pink Sherbet Photography


Some of my students, my “little characters”, are not easy to teach.

Some make me laugh, some make me cry. Yet, I enjoy working with, and teaching every one of them.

 

I believe in building bridges with my most alienated, challenging students. I invest significant time and effort in building trust and mutual respect. I try to find that connection, that one little thing we have in common … and I’ve learnt “that from little things, big things grow”.

Sometimes, I feel like I’m preoccupied with my own teaching and learning, but today I received a powerful reminder about the foundation of my teaching practice.

A student told me her story.

It wasn’t an easy story to tell, and not an easy story to listen to. Yet, it was a first step, a little breakthrough …  from which, I believe we can move forward.

Every student, every child has a story …

But as teachers, do we take the time to listen?

‘The Class That Never Was’

On the first day of my school year, I was appointed to my ‘first class’.

Yet, as I explored in A Teacher’s Story, this position was destined to last a mere six days.

In this post, I share my memories of Room 11, and the lessons I learnt in those six hectic, stressful, yet wonderful days.

It is a tribute to my students, and the class that never was.

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My apologies – this is a rather long post.


Getting Started

Being appointed on the first day of school is no way to start a class. This was an intensely stressful time, as I worked to translate my ideas about classroom organisation, curriculum planning, and behaviour management into reality. I sincerely hope and pray I’m never called upon a job on an hour’s notice ever again.

Nevertheless, I was able to learn a great deal about establishing a new class.

 



Determining my Classroom Organisation

My classroom was a small physical teaching space; and unfortunately, this limited the extent to which I could arrange it to my liking.

When arranging my space, I needed to consider the location of my desk, students’ desks, and storage tubs. When I arrived, the desks were positioned in rows facing the front; an arrangement which a) I dislike and b) I found extremely difficult to navigate (walking around the class). 

I wanted to establish a central floor teaching space where students could sit, and rearranged students’ desks accordingly. This arrangement was changed three times in response to classroom dynamics, as I had to separate several conflicting personalities. These photos show my final, workable arrangement.

 

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I was also able to create and laminate a class visual timetable (schedule), as well as my students’ personalised nametags for their desks and supply tubs. Sadly, I never got a chance to use these labels for real – they became my parting gift to my students as we went our different ways.


Lessons Learnt

  • Consider student dynamics when creating seating plans – and don’t be afraid to change plans if they aren’t working
  • If space permits, I’d use a horseshoe seating arrangement with my next class.
  • An empty classroom & bare walls can be quite confronting! It is important to establish student work-displays as soon as possible.
  • My laminated visual timetable & student desk labels were an excellent idea. The students loved the personalised nametags, and I think they helped give them some ownership of the classroom space.
  • In time, I’d like to bring in cushions or an old couch for silent reading. Realistically, there was no space for these here.
  • I also realised the need to develop a recording system to keep track of students’ contributions of classroom consumables – those tissues are worth their weight in gold!



Developing our Classroom Rules & Expectations

 

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Faced with a wide range of ability levels, personalities and challenging behaviours; classroom management in Room 11 was always going to be a challenge.

It took me some time to learn how to manage the ‘dominant personalities’; and to conform to school expectations regarding the use of extrinsic rewards (sticker charts and prizes) and classroom management forms.

I’m no fan of extrinsic rewards, as I prefer group reward systems. I had contemplated the idea of establishing a whole-class reward time on Friday afternoons (jokingly called the “Friday Free-for-All”), for students demonstrating good behaviour during the week. I would like to try this with my next class; for based on my relief observations, 30 mins reward time can make a huge difference to class morale and behaviour.

In these early days, I spent a great deal of my time learning about my students; building positive relationships and sharing a little bit of myself (including my horrendous sense of humour). I put a few photos and funny cartoons up alongside my desk (to cheer myself up), and made a point of learning students’ names (no easy feat!). This would later prove “time well spent”.

 

Lessons learnt

  • This experience was a valuable opportunity to implement my management approach, which I have blogged extensively about in the past (see The 3R’s of Effective Learning Environments and My Jigsaw Approach to Classroom Management)
  • I realised that I have sound classroom management skills (and an ironic sense of humour) which stood me in good stead as I worked to establish my classroom community.
  • This was the first time I’ve ever negotiated classroom rules, taught routines, and established my behavioural expectations – and the process worked well. I was surprised at how quickly students began to settle and bond as a group. 
  • I also realised the importance of adhering to whole-school classroom management plans – whether I particularly like them or not!

 

Looking Back

Teaching Room 11 for those 6 days was a transformative learning experience. It was one I had to undertake, and I know I am now much better equipped to establish a new class in the future.

Yet, so many good things came out of what was, at the time, a deeply traumatic event. So many opportunities to learn, grow, and connect. I have no regrets, no ill-feelings. But I will never forget my Room 11, the “class that never was”.

Today, I Lost A Bet

Today, I had a reason to smile.

I’ve spent the last four weeks teaching a Year 6 class at my old school. I’m a relief teacher, but I’m part of the furniture. In these few weeks, I’ve helped run a global project, and learnt a lot about myself and my students. I’ve loved the opportunity to treat a class as my own, even for such a short time.

Now, I have several students, mostly Indigenous, for whom school attendance is a significant issue. One charming young lady usually turns up about 1-2 hours late every day, … let’s call her Ann.


Yesterday, I made a bet.

Ann was literally jumping ‘up and down’ wanting to be the official ‘school bell ringer’ for the day, a responsibility recently delegated to our class. I had to point out that turning up each day between 9.30AM-10.30AM wasn’t a good start.

So I made a bet that if Ann “could actually, just possibly, turn up to school before 8.40AM” [i.e. on time], she would be our bell ringer. If she didn’t turn up, I’d give the job to someone else.


I lost.

I walked into school at 8.15AM, a little bit wet and keen to see the outcome of my little wager … and who was the first person I saw as I entered our undercover area?

A triumphant, wet and beaming student, beside herself with anticipation.

I fell over. Not literally, but close enough. This was quite an achievement.

While I made a big deal of “moaning” about losing my bet, I will never forget this moment. I’ll never forget that triumphant smile .. my little victory.

I’ve had some sad, stressful times as a teacher. But these are the little  moments which make my job special.

These “little victories” are what teaching is all about.

Guest Post: Classroom Management – Donald Trump Style

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In today’s guest post, Sam Rangel (@samrangelSITC) from SuccessintheClassroom.com explores some of the key elements of an effective classroom management approach, sharing the benefits of his 20+ years middle school (Yrs 6-8) teaching experience in California, USA. 

As a new teacher, I’ve found the SuccessintheClassroom blog to be an extremely relevant & practical professional learning resource. Sam’s grasp of the everyday realities and challenges faced by new teachers around the world is second to none, and I hope he continues to share his expertise for many years to come.

Now, on that note, we proudly bring you:

Classroom Management – Donald Trump Style.

When I tell people that I teach middle school, I always get thewow-you-deserve-a-medal look or the sorry-you’re-stuck-with-that-job look or the and-you-haven’t-gone-crazy-yet look.

When I tell them that I’ve been teaching 12 and 13-year-olds for over 20 years now, and I’m still loving it, they can’t believe it.

Why is that? Why did my college dean tell the other teacher prospects that I was going straight to heaven when I died, because I wanted to teach middle school?

It’s because we all know 12 and 13-year-olds. We know how they behave. We know how they think they know more than anyone. We know how they want to push the limits. We know how they don’t like rules.

Of course, not all 12 and 13-year-olds act like this, but we know enough who do, and having 35-40 of them in a room together for close to an hour at a time can be scary.

That’s why you will find very few teachers who actually want to be middle school teachers. Most of them want to be elementary or high school teachers, which I totally understand.

When I first started teaching, I looked too young to be a high school teacher, and I didn’t have the patience for elementary kids. They require you to smile too much, and you have to dance and sing and decorate your room in a bright pastel colors, and that’s just not me.

When I got a long term substitute position in middle school, however, I knew I had found my place.

To teach middle school, you have to be an expert in classroom management or else you’ll be eaten alive by these hormone-driven, drama-seeking, argumentative, push-your-buttons, trying-to-find-out-who-they-are students.

So in this post, I wanted to share some of what I’ve learned over the years about classroom management, and hopefully I’ll be able to help newer teachers find a little more success in the classroom.

I truly enjoy what I do, and middle school kids are amazing. I know, however, if I didn’t have my classroom management skills, I probably wouldn’t be teaching anymore, and I probably wouldn’t still have all my hair.

 


Here we go:

1. Make Great Lesson Plans

The best way to keep students from misbehaving is to keep them engaged. This will only happen when you have a great lesson. The times when I’ve had the most problems with my classroom management were those days when I just winged it. For some reason, I came to class with no plan. It’s a rarity, but it served to remind me of the dangers of not being prepared. With 8th graders, five minutes of nothing to do will turn into 10 minutes of redirection.

Lesson plan preparation is the most important element in great classroom management. I always plan for more than the time allows. If I have a 40 minute period, I plan for 50 minutes. I also always have a mini lesson, like a vocabulary activity, in my back pocket just in case I have too much period left after the lesson.


2. Remember That They’re Just Kids

I often hear teachers talk about how a certain student made them so mad that they wanted to kick that student out of the classroom, call their parents, place them on the terrorist watch list, etc. You have to remember that these are kids. They are going to do things that we adults know better not to do.

Once we remind ourselves that these are just kids, then we won’t get so upset. We won’t get into a shouting match with a 12-year-old. Do we excuse the behavior? No, of course not. We hand out a consequence and make that a teachable moment. Some kids just don’t know why what they did was wrong.

 

3. Show Them You Care About Them

For a lot of teachers, this is an easy one. You probably wouldn’t get into teaching if you didn’t have a heart for kids. There are times, however, when we lose focus on this, especially when the students are acting out or when we have other more personal issues occupying our thoughts or when  the administration is pressuring us to improve test scores, etc.

Many times the student who is acting out the most is doing so out of a need for attention that he/she is not receiving elsewhere. It would be a good idea to take a look at the student’s records to see if there are any home issues that would help explain his/her behavior.

This takes time. You’ll have to spend that valuable prep period or time before or after school to do the research, but if you can conceptualize a day when that one student is not causing problems in your class, it may be worth the investment of time.

I’ve had many students who are terrors in every other class except mine, not because I’m a better teacher, but  because I’ve made a connection with this students, and he/she doesn’t want to break that connection by making me mad.

Taking time to show some sincere concern to this student will make so much of a difference in how he/she behaves in your class. What I like to do is bombard that student with positive comments. “You’re so smart.” “That was amazing.” “Nice job.” A lot of times, these students have only heard negative words coming from the adults in their lives. They’ll behave better in your class, because they know they’ll get some verbal pats on the back for a change.


4. Act Like Donald Trump

One thing I’ve noticed about Mr. Trump is that he is in charge everywhere he goes. Even when he’s not the person in charge, he acts like he’s the person in charge. It’s all about his presence.

That is what I notice about teachers who have problems with classroom management. They don’t have the in-charge presence. It’s almost like they’re afraid of the kids. The kids will ask them a question like, “Why do we have to do this?”, and they’ll go into a long and confusing explanation describing the reasons why the lesson that they are about to begin is important or they’ll get offended and kick the student out of the class.

Would Donald do that?

When a student asks me that question, I stop and give him/her my I-can’t-believe-you’re-questioning-my-lesson look. Most of the time, the student will say, “never mind”, and I’ll continue as if the question was never raised. It’s all about presence. It’s your class. You are the expert. You know everything, and the students are so fortunate to be spending 40 minutes of their lives learning from you.

This is a change in mindset for many new teachers who are unsure about their abilities and are still learning how to teach. The sooner they get past this and move into the I’m-in-charge phase, the sooner they’ll see a decrease in their discipline problems.

It’s not being mean or tyrannical. It’s being in charge. It’s all about presence. Go ahead and fake it if you have to, but don’t let the students get any idea that you are not the one in charge. By the way, Mr. Trump, if you’re reading this, how about hooking up my students with some new laptops? It’s worth a try.

These are just a few ways to help you with classroom management, and although I’m definitely not the world’s expert in this area, I have been teaching 8th graders for the last 20+ years, so that gives me a little bit of an edge.

I love what I do. I have a great day almost every day, because my students don’t (or can’t) ruin my day. I can see how many teachers leave the profession just after three years. It is an often thankless job with very little pay and little support, and on top of all that, you have a bunch of kids who want to see how far to the edge they can push you.

There are many, many benefits that come with being a teacher, however. You don’t make a lot of money, but you do make a difference. Getting your classroom management skills perfected will help you not only make more of a difference, but you’ll have fun in the process.

I share some more specific tips on my other website: TipsForNewTeachers.com, so feel free to take a look.

I would welcome any comments, questions, criticisms, etc.

Thanks,

Sam

Reflections on Classroom Management (Index)

My Experiences, Philosophy, & Reflections

  1. My Jigsaw Approach to Classroom Management
  2. The Conscious Competence Ladder (Skill Development)
  3. The Four Stages in My Teaching Practice
  4. Classroom Management – Summing Up

The 3 R’s of Effective Learning Environments

  1. Setting the Scene
  2. Overview of the 3 R’s
  3. Transforming a Year 3 class into a learning community
  4. The Third ‘R’ – Shared Responsibility for the Learning Process
  5. My experiences with the Third ‘R’

‘The Theory of Bumps’ (Bennett & Smilanich, 1994)

  1. The Key Principles
  2. Explanation & Suggested Strategies

The 3 Keys to Working with Challenging Students

  1. Introduction
  2. What is a “problem” or challenging behaviour?
  3. Part 1: Building Positive Relationships
  4. Part 2: The Classroom Learning Environment
  5. Part 3: The Teacher’s Attitude, Actions, & Management Approach
  6. Responding to Anger

Building Positive Relationships

  1. Small Talk: “From little things, big things grow”
  2. Relief Teaching – Chalk & Small Talk!
  3. Get Involved with Breakfast / Lunchtime Clubs
  4. The Importance of Active Listening

Top Tips for Teachers – Behaviour Management (Video)

Cracking the Hard Class

The Importance of Active Listening

To build positive relationships with your challenging students, teachers need to demonstrate an active interest in their lives, really listening to their thoughts, opinions, interests and silences.

You may only spend a few minutes talking to a student, but actively listening to them for those few minutes helps to build trust and mutual respect. The cup of coffee can wait. This is important.

Rob Plevin, in Magic Classroom Management, describes active listening as

“an effective way of showing that you value a person’s opinion.

We demonstrate we are listening by making eye contact, stopping other activities so that we concentrate fully on what is being said and respond to what is being said with nods, gestures and verbal cues.” (p.48) 

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As teachers, we are important figures in our students’ lives, and the attitude we express towards them through our incidental conversations can have significant, often invisible impacts on their attitude, learning and personal development. By actively listening to our students, we treat and value them as people, not as insignificant “little brats”.

Never forget that challenging students are still children, and deserve to be respected and valued as such. It is easy to fall into the trap of reacting to the behaviours after they occur. Actually working to identify and counteract is difficult, but rewarding in the long run. Actively listening to your students is a simple first step.  

The Final Word on Relationships

For more information and advice on developing teacher-student relationships, I highly recommend the Stepping Stones to Positive Relationships series on the Behaviour Needs blog.

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I’ll also leave this topic on a note of caution, bearing in mind my initial naivety and inexperience as a beginning teacher. As teachers, it is important that we ensure our relationship-building efforts and teacher-student interactions are entirely proper and professional, and not liable to misconstrued or misinterpreted.

It is important to understand the relevant school policies and procedures, bearing in mind your legal responsibilities and duty of care. If you consider yourself uninformed, I’d suggest you talk to Admin, or contact your Union. I’ll certainly be doing so shortly.

Get involved with Breakfast / Lunchtime Clubs & Activities

Starting out as a relief teacher in early 2009, I was surprised to receive a student’s invitation to visit the morning Breakfast Club. What I found even more surprising was that this particular student was a member of the infamous “Room 15”, a troubled Year 6/7 class about which I had heard no end of horror stories. While initially hesitant, my acceptance of this invitation proved to be one of the most important decisions I made as a graduate relief teacher. 

the-breakfast-clubI found the Breakfast Club a friendly, informal setting for building respectful relationships with students, and it was the scene of many interesting conversations about football, skateboarding, gardening, and the latest mobile phones.

I found myself meeting the majority of my challenging students (Yrs 1- 7) over their morning toast and Milo™, and my regular attendance over time helped me earn their respect and trust.

While I no longer attend that particular school, I regularly volunteer in other schools’ Breakfast Clubs whenever I have the opportunity. I highly recommend this experience for relief staff & classroom teachers. You may only be able to spare 10 minutes once a week/fortnight, but it is worth it.

Lunchtime Clubs & Activities

Now, not every school has a Breakfast Club, but one school, where I have had extensive relief work, has developed an innovative whole-school activity timetable which runs during lunchtimes. Depending on the day, (rostered) staff members and students play rugby on the oval, play games on the library computers, or work in the Kitchen Garden. These activities are open to all students, and seem to be very popular.

These activities can provide valuable opportunities for teachers to get to know their students; catering to their diverse interests, and providing some with a safe environment during play breaks. This is particularly important for those challenging students who struggle to cope with the complex social demands of playground interaction.

Regular involvement in Clubs / Lunchtime Activity situations, even once a fortnight, can help teachers establish their reputation and make connections with challenging students. These activities don’t have to be a chore, and they can prove extremely rewarding. 

Relief Teaching: Chalk & Small Talk!

Becoming an Effective Relief Teacher

In my first year of teaching, I have learnt that effective relief teachers:

  1. Work to develop positive relationships with students and staff
  2. Demonstrate sound classroom management skills, and
  3. Have a repertoire of instructional strategies and relief fill-in activities

In my experience, the development of strong relationships has underpinned my survival and increasing effectiveness as a relief teacher. They have helped me establish a positive reputation in a variety of schools (where I have regularly worked), and contributed to a significant reduction in my classroom management challenges in relief situations. 

Chalk & Talk!

Whenever I work in a school, I make an effort to talk and interact with staff and students. Staying in the class all day does nothing to raise students’ (and staff) awareness of your existence. As you meet and interact with students in informal playground settings, you become less of a stranger, and, well, in my case, known as the “funny guy in the cowboy hat”. This helps to break the ice when you eventually meet these students in formal classroom situations.

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You generally need to teach a class 2-3 times before students start to accept you as the genuine article, and it can literally take several weeks to months working in a school to build respectful, trusting relationships with students.

These relationship-building efforts must be complemented by a firm and consistent classroom management approach, and careful observation & handling of your behaviourally challenging students. 

The development of positive, respectful relationships takes a considerable amount of time and effort, and is virtually impossible to do as an agency relief teacher. I have been on both sides of the fence, and have come to love the opportunities and variety afforded by my independent relief teaching practice.

A Relief Teacher’s Story: Working with “Troy”

When dealing with challenging students as a relief teacher, I make a point of identifying and remembering their hobbies, interests, and talents, and try to incorporate them into incidental conversations or classroom learning activities. Believe it or not, given time, this little strategy can work wonders.

I first met “Troy” in mid-2009, and one of my earliest memories of him is of his playing power-games with the Principal. He was very good at ignoring instructions, avoiding work, and arguing/fighting with a student with Asperger’s Syndrome. 

This student caused me (and the Principal) more than a few management headaches, but funnily enough, I liked him. I was always fair and consistent when managing his behaviour, and dealt with his attention/power-seeking behaviours in a calm, measured manner.

Through informal conversations, in and outside the classroom, I discovered Troy’s passion for building expensive model cars. While I’m not particularly fussed with cars, I made an effort to talk about & follow the progress of his latest creation whenever I taught him. 

Over time, Troy’s attitude towards me changed. He was increasingly happy to talk to me, and became more respectful in his speech and manner. He still demonstrated his attention-seeking behaviours, and I remained firm in my management approach. I’ll never forget the moment when he finally recognised my authority, but sadly, I was never to directly teach him again. Running into him several months later, I still remember his shocked and pleased expression when I asked about his model-making activities. Yes, I remembered! Sadly, like so many of my success-stories, he has since left the school.

Small Talk: “From little things, big things grow”

As a relief teacher, I am often seen wandering aimlessly around school playgrounds and ovals; playing games (football, hand-tennis, soccer), fostering good-natured AFL (Australian Rules Football) rivalries, and simply chatting with students.

Many teachers are surprised to find that I do this in my own time (i.e. not on duty), yet it has proved to be the single most positive strategy for reducing my classroom management challenges, and building respectful relationships with some extremely challenging students.

As Rod Plevin points out in Magic Classroom Management (2008, p. 43);

“We seldom just ‘chat’ to our worst students despite the fact that having a real, sometimes ‘pointless’ dialogue with another person is one of the very best ways of building relationship and trust.

Dialogue is a unique relationship-builder because it evolves over time into a “connection” – and when steps are made to form this connection, pupils relate to us much more positively.”

A few minutes is all it takes:

“Getting a pupil, particularly a difficult pupil, to spend a few minutes chatting when they’d rather be away with their mates is difficult, so you have to appeal to their interests. One way might be asking their advice on some new resources that you know they’d be interested in.

That might be all that’s needed to get a conversation going, and even if you only talk for a few minutes it’s something to build on. Each little interaction you have outside the classroom environment will do wonders for your relationship with that child.” (p. 44).

Working with “Roy” (Professional Internship, 2008)

As I discussed in my June 21 post, Transforming a Year 3 Class into a Learning Community, I sought to develop a strong rapport with all my students; taking an active interest in their lives and experiences, and really listening to their ideas, thoughts, and silences.

I made time to talk to my students at breaks (e.g. during the 10 minute eating time) and informally interacted with students, parents and carers before and after school. I paid special attention to my “challenging” students; observing their playground interactions with other students, and making an effort to discover (and exploit) their special interests and talents. These actions helped me understand and connect to “Roy”, my most challenging student, and supported the creation of a safe learning environment.

Through informal conversations, I discovered Roy’s (my most challenging student) passion for aeroplanes and the Fremantle Dockers (AFL team). I loaned him my military aircraft books and commiserated over our football defeat each Monday morning.

These actions helped to build our teacher-student relationship and had dramatic impacts on Roy’s classroom behaviour. He made an effort to moderate his behaviour, and he never “exploded” into his aggressive chair-throwing & escape act while I was teaching him. Working with him again last year, I believe I was one of very few, perhaps the only teacher “Roy” ever came to respect and trust.

My experiences bear out Rod Plevin’s comments on this topic:

”You see, when you really get to know a pupil you become aware of their triggers – the things that upset them and cause all sorts of problems in class. And when you’re dealing with damaged children who carry all kinds of emotional baggage and flare up for no apparent reason, this is valuable knowledge.

After all … stopping behaviour problems from occurring is much easier when you know in advance what causes them!”  (p. 44)

The 3 Keys (Part 1): Building Positive Relationships

When formulating my “Jigsaw Approach to Classroom Management” back in 2008, I made the following observations:

A safe learning environment relies on positive teacher-student relationships and positive peer relationships.

Teachers can develop such relationships by taking a meaningful interest in their students’ lives, and promoting an anti-bullying ethos through their words and actions.

Make an effort to forge positive, respectful relationships with your more challenging students.

Study the purpose and triggers of their behaviours, and learn about their backgrounds. Use behaviour management strategies which target the cause of their misbehaviour, and remember they too have the right to a safe learning environment.

In my teaching experience, I have found these two factors to be absolutely critical in successfully working with challenging students. I am not alone in thinking along these lines …

… one of the most common objections which comes up when we talk about this subject… “I’m a busy teacher, I don’t have time to build relationships with challenging students?”

The answer to that is “You don’t have time NOT to build relationships with challenging students.” 

Think about the amount of time spent mopping up incidents, and dealing with students who don’t follow instructions – THAT is a huge waste of time. 

Many teachers complain that they are unable to do their jobs purely because of the time spent dealing with behaviour problems. Students are more likely to behave for a teacher they respect, trust and get on with so spending time building relationships with them is going to SAVE you time in the long run.

Chris (June 15, 2010). Making Time to Build Relationships with Students. From the Behaviour Needs Blog

Coming Up: Relationship Building Strategies

1) Small Talk: BIG Rewards
2) Get Involved with Breakfast / Lunchtime Clubs / Activities
3) The Importance of Active Listening