Building Relationships with Students: The 2×10 Theory

PE Teacher Explaining to his students - Connecting with studentsUgh, the knot in my stomach begins and its not the lunch I just quickly consumed in less than 10 minutes so I could get back to the gym to set up for the afternoon. No, it’s time for 5th period. You know, that ONE class where the troublemakers, unmotivated movers, and drama queens are all mixed in? This concoction of teenage turbulence can turn any teacher’s stomach. I think you can probably picture this class for yourself. Yet, so what?

The age-old saying, “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” could not be more true for teachers. In today’s world of education where a “test” reigns supreme in deciding a child’s future (ugh…disgust) and countless other factors have all contributed to this generation’s inability to find a healthy balance in life; physically, academically, and emotionally speaking. Thus the importance of positive student-teacher relationships could not be more important. Physical education teachers have the privilege (and sometimes pain) of being able to reach more challenging students because of our unique teaching atmosphere. Even the most challenging students deserve a fair shot and I want to share one practical theory that has proven effective and helped me in connecting with students.

The 2 x 10 Theory

Myron Dueck, a Canadian Principal, was the keynote at a conference and put into words what I had been doing all along: The “2×10” theory. Picture a piece of 2×10 lumber. No, you don’t use the 2×10 to make the student walk the plank out of your classroom… You use that picture for this: BUILD a relationship. Based upon a strategy from the book Connecting with Students by Allen Mendler, the “2 x 10” theory is where the teacher commits to spending two minutes each day for 10 days (2×10) trying to connect with a challenging student (obvious disclaimer: connecting with students appropriately and within the context of the school day). Simply put, purposely plan to give a bit of quality time in class each day for ten days and see what happens.  You will be amazed at the results. You may protest you do not have the time to do this. But isn’t a mere two-minutes worth it if a student is costing you and the class several each day? Sometimes the extra investment in that “one” now will help the rest of your class down the road and allow you to spend more time with others that have not received your focus. Don’t knock it until you try it!  And sometimes it doesn’t require the full two minutes, nor the ten days…once a student knows you care and you are consistent in your caring, you become a positive connection for them and they will be more likely to respond appropriately in class and reduce negative behaviors.

Here’s a few ideas to get you started and develop a plan for your 2×10 Theory:

  • WHO? Though you cannot reach all students right away, you have to start somewhere. Pick one or two students per class to focus on. This doesn’t mean you neglect the others, it just means you will be intentional with these because the relationship needs building, they need extra support because of something going on at home or they have been a discipline issue and you do not want them get out of control.
  • WHEN will you speak with them? Before class? At the end of class? During warm-ups (all the more reason for self-directed instant warm-ups)? During circuit training stations or transitions? Can they help with equipment? Create opportunities for connection. You may even just have to be their partner for an activity. Anthony’s tennis partner was gone a few days. I learned so much about this kid just by asking questions as we worked through tennis drills. I don’t have any problems with him anymore and I now know how rough home is for him. He’s doing really well all considered.
  • WHAT will you talk about? Ask open-ended questions. What are your interests outside of school? What did you think about today’s lesson? How did you like the activity?
  • WHAT if they don’t seem like they want to talk to you? Then you do the talking! You are the adult. Don’t have hurt feelings. Be persistent and don’t give up. By the 10th day they will be the one doing all the talking. Believe me, Josh has a hard time being quiet while he helps me take down and pack up the pedometer station each day. I’ve learned more about teenage boy fashion preferences than I thought I ever could.
  • Smile and be a persistent, positive role model Inevitably, this strategy will work with any student though I chose to highlight the 2×10 theory in the context of challenging students because I think it is a helpful analogy to remember: Use that “2×10” piece of lumber to help build a bridge and connect with the student rather than make them walk the plank!

Continuing the Conversation: What other strategies have worked for you when dealing with difficult students? How have you been effectively connecting with students in your classes?

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