By Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller
Bill Smith is a private person. He likes anonymity. That's why Bill Smith is not his real name. He prefers to stay anonymous. We will honor that preference.
Mr. Smith is like a lot of teachers who are Spirit Whisperers. He doesn't conduct press conferences, make loud or long statements at staff meetings, or publicly challenge the Board of Education about decisions they make that he does not feel are in the best interest of students. He works quietly in his high school making a difference in the lives of students one day, one child at a time.
Bill Smith is a twelve-year teaching veteran who teaches government to seniors in a large suburban high school in the northeastern United States. We were attracted to his story and his circumstances during a lunch conversation when he stated matter-of factly, "I don't have any trouble with troublemakers. They behave pretty well in my classroom."
It wasn't just our ears that perked up when Bill made that statement about troublemakers. The other teachers at the table reacted as well. Everyone leaned in a bit and encouraged him to go on. Over the next half hour the following story emerged as a result of our questions and his forthright answers.
"I get every student who comes through our high school," he began. "They all have to take government. It's a requirement for graduation. My plan is simple. I find out who the troublemakers are early in their high school careers and build relationship with them for three years before they even get me as a teacher. By the time they come into my class they already know I'm a good guy."
With some prodding Bill explained how he identified the troublemakers. His identification system is simple. "I listen in the staff room when other teachers begin complaining," he said. "They talk about these students all the time. It's not difficult to determine who the teachers are having trouble with. I make a list of ten to twelve students in each grade level that the teachers are complaining about. Then I build relationship with them for several years."
So how does he build relationship with students that are causing trouble in other teachers' classrooms? With the following activities, which he calls his Super Seven Relationship Builders.
1. Give them two "I noticed . . ." statements per week. "I noticed you like to wear red." "I noticed you were at the basketball game Friday night." The real message here is "I see you."
2. Give them one physical touch per week. Show concern and caring through physical touch. Give them a high five, pat on the back, light shoulder squeeze, or handshake.
3. Get in their vicinity once a week. Sit near them at an assembly, stand behind them in the lunch line, or walk near them as they pass in the hallway. It's not necessary to do anything, just be there in their proximity.
4. Smile at them twice a week.
5. Give them a thumbs-up, the OK sign, or a hand wave once a week.
6. Touch them with your eyes. Sustained eye contact builds relationship. Eyes are the windows of the soul. Look there.
7. Use their names. "Hello, Mary." "Juan, looks like you got a haircut." The sweetest sound in any language is the sound of your own name. Use names in positive situations.
"I keep a file card on each of the students that I've identified," Mr. Smith told the teachers at the lunch table. "I make sure I do three of the things on my Super Seven Relationship Builders list. If I don't have three check marks on a card by Friday, I go looking for that student."
By the time a student takes government, Mr. Smith has had three years worth of relationship-building contacts with that student. He or she is familiar with him and has developed a positive connection. So if Mr. Smith chooses to use a discipline technique, enforce the school rules, or hold students accountable for the choices they made, he does so in the context of a positive relationship that has already been established.
The other teachers in his building have trouble with many students that create no problems for Mr. Smith. That phenomenon is no accident. It happens because a Spirit Whisperer set out with intentionality to create it.
Thank you for letting us tell your story, Bill. Keep on Spirit Whispering.