Relationship Based Class Management Program

Charles Emmrys PhD


Thinking Behind This Approach

This program is intended to address the needs of those youth whose misbehavior is so severe that they are regularly asked to leave the classroom. Though expelling a student addresses the problem for the short term, it often does not lead to real long term change. The relationship based class management program is an attempt to make the class expulsion process more effective by making the process of returning to class a learning experience about relationships. With the help of a third person interventionist that is often the school guidance person, both teacher and child are guided through a series of questions that focus on the impact that the expulsion has on the child, the teacher and the class. Returning to the class is then contingent on contracting for change. Both the student and the teacher look for small or large changes that might prevent further expulsions.


For Whom Is This Approach Appropriate

This approach is designed for students over the age of thirteen who have shown persistent problems with being disruptive in class. Students under the age of thirteen would likely not have the capacity for self-observation that is required for this approach. Teachers, guidance staff and clinicians should discuss the student’s ability to self-evaluate prior to using this program. It may be found that younger students may benefit from the intervention or it may be found that older students are not yet ready. It also assumes that there is a clinician involved with the child, that a diagnostic process has been carried out and that any existing conditions such as ADHD or Tourette’s syndrome are being actively treated. It also assumes that any home intervention process is ongoing.


How Is It Done


Step #1

The guidance counselor should first meet with the student and plan for the teacher student interview by looking at the questions that will be addressed and looking for the most honest answer to the questions that the student can come up with. The questions are the following:

  1. Why did the teacher think that the only option he/she had was to remove the student from the class?
  2. What feelings did being removed from class cause the student to have? How often did the student have to deal with these feelings in their life at school?
  3. What feelings does the student imagine that the teacher had when having to ask the student to leave?
  4. What did his friends think of his behavior in class?
  5. What did his friends feel when he was asked to leave?
  6. What did the students that were not his friends think of his behavior in class?
  7. What did the students that were not his friends think when he was asked to leave?

In many ways, this step is the most important part of the process because it is here that the student has the greatest chance to explore issues that he/she may have avoided looking at for a long time. The guidance person should give this phase much attention and he/she should not be afraid to push for more authentic responses. Pat answers and saying “what the teacher wants to hear” should be challenged by the guidance person.


After going through the seven prep questions, the guidance person informs the student that he will be asked for what changes he is willing to commit to but that he also has the right to ask for changes from the teacher or the class that would help make the class a better experience for him.


Finally, the student will be shown the interview questions for Step Three and told that all three persons (teacher, student and the guidance person) will be present for the interview for the entire time.


Step #2

The guidance person should then meet with the teacher to prepare the teacher student interview by looking at the key questions that the teacher will have to address. The questions are the following:

  1. Why did the teacher think that the only option he/she had was to remove the student from the class?
  2. What were the feelings that the teacher felt as they were pushed to the point of having to ask the student to leave? How often does the teacher have to deal with these feelings?
  3. What feelings did being removed from class cause the student to have? How often did the student have to deal with these feelings in their life at school?
  4. What are some of the changes that the teacher is going to ask the student to commit to making as a condition for his return to class?
  5. What are some changes that the teacher is willing to make to help the student return to the classroom?

As the guidance person and the teacher move through the questions about feeling, both should discuss what level of feeling is comfortable and appropriate to share with a student. The goal is to share enough of the teacher’s feelings to communicate to the student that his actions have an effect on everyone, including the teacher, but the feelings should not be so strongly expressed that it would affect the teacher’s authority or standing in the classroom. It should also be assumed that anything said in this session will become public. The teacher should only share what he/she would not mind others knowing about.


In reviewing what the student and the teacher will commit to in terms of change, the guidance person and the teacher should be guided by the understanding that both parties in a conflict need to have the right to ask for changes. The changes that have the greatest impact tend to be changes in attitude during one on one contact. The teacher and guidance person should avoid commitments that will have a big impact on the teacher’s teaching style or take up too much of the teacher’s time.


Finally, the teacher will be shown the interview questions for Step Three and told that all three persons (teacher, student and the guidance person) will be present for the interview for the entire time.


Step #3

Step three is the student teacher interview facilitated by the guidance person. This interview should happen after school hours in as comfortable a setting as possible. Guidance rooms are usually ideal. In the interview, teacher and student will each be asked the same questions. Teacher and student will take turns starting first with the teacher being first for the first question. The questions are asked by the guidance counselor and are the following:

  1. (Asked of Teacher) Why did you think that the only option you had was to remove the student from the class?
  2. (Asked of Student) What feelings did being removed from class cause you to have? How often are you made to feel that way and when?
  3. (Asked of Teacher) What feelings did you have when you had to ask the student to leave?
  4. (Asked of Student) What did your friends think and feel about your behavior in class?
  5. (Asked of Teacher & Student) What are the good things that you (student) bring to the classroom?
  6. (Asked of Teacher & Student) What are the good things that you (teacher) bring to the classroom?
  7. (Asked of Student) What are some changes that you would ask of your teacher to make this relationship better and help you cope in class?
  8. (Asked of Teacher) What are some of the changes that you would ask the student to make for this relationship to be better and to make the return to class more successful?

During the interview, the guidance person will attempt to help each person remain authentic and focussed on the real feelings and thoughts related to the expulsion and the reasons for it. The guidance person should feel free to ask either participant to say more about a given question if they feel that it is appropriate. It is even permitted for the guidance person to speak for the student if the student asks for this. The guidance person would use this approach in cases where the student has traditionally had considerable difficulty expressing ideas about feelings. To do this, the guidance person would follow three simple steps. These are:

  • Guidance person asks if the student needs them to speak for them.
  • If they say yes, ask them to listen carefully to make sure that what is said is what they want to say.
  • Speak for the student by looking directly at the teacher and speaking with the emotion that you think is attached to the words.
  • Check with the student to make sure that what was said was how they felt.

At the end of the interview, the guidance person reviews the commitments made by both parties and asks them to do their best to live up to them. A comment should also be made regarding the need for patience and the fact that it’s hard to change all at once. The guidance person should then ask for patience on the part of both as both parties work towards their respective changes.


Actions in the Eventuality of a Stalemate

A commonly expressed fear is that the student will use the experience to voice his resistance or refusal to comply. This is always a possibility, but the interventions by the guidance person prior to the student teacher interview are intended to prevent a conflict. The questions are also designed to minimize the chances of the interview becoming another unresolved argument.


There is always the chance that the interview will fail and that a commitment to change will not be achieved. Our recommendation is usually to suggest that a return to that class is not possible until a successful interview has taken place. A successful interview is one where both parties have committed to making changes that will help prevent future suspensions. The school team would have to decide on other variants to this idea they feel most comfortable with if they follow this program.


Repeating the Intervention

As in any relationship, some promises are difficult to keep and some old behaviors return even if the promise to change was done with the most sincere intentions. Should old behaviors return so as to oblige another suspension, we would encourage that the process be done again. Repeating the meeting schedule tends to increase its effectiveness because the guidance person can focus in more precisely on the problem areas. In fact, there is a strong argument for having as many of these experiences as possible in the life of the student since it gives him/her a greater sensitivity to the impact that their behaviors are having on others.


The guidance person and the teachers should also guard against having too high expectations of the student after such encounters. Behavior change is difficult and students should be given some time to operate such changes in their lives. The student should also show the same patience vis-a-vis the teacher. Should the exercise be repeated with the same teacher, the guidance person should remind both students and teacher of these facts?


Other Issues

There are a number of other issues that are important to consider when deciding to adopt this type of intervention. They would include the following:


How long should expulsions be when using this program?

We strongly encourage suspensions to be rather short, i.e., 1 to 4 days. Repeated short term suspensions would be more advantageous than longer ones simply because short suspensions allows for more frequent teacher student encounters.


Does this program replace any behavioral plan?

This program addresses reintegration after suspensions only. It should not affect any ongoing behavioral program and should be kept separate from any formal counseling or therapy exercise.


What about parent cooperation and support?

Prior to undertaking this approach, parents need to be fully informed of the procedure. Should parents not make it clear to their child that they support and encourage this approach, the team should not seek to implement it.


What about peers and confidentiality?

This intervention should be considered confidential and therefore not discussed or alluded to when in the presence of other peers or friends. The student might make a public comment about it but they should be encouraged to not share this with others.

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