What do you know about your students? Do they have a boyfriend or a girlfriend? What type of music do they like? What do they study at university? Do they like football? Where do they... Do… they…? ...
I could barely answer those questions during a post-observation feedback session, which of course made me feel really bad and frustrated at not knowing much about that group of students. At that moment, I could really feel the weight of teaching on my shoulder: “Manoel, you need to work on your rapport.” Rapport? What the heck is that? Another skill I have to develop?
It has not been long since the time I was still struggling with basic classroom management techniques, such as timing, and now I was told to improve “the quality of the relationship in (my) classroom” (Scrivener, 2012, p.40). While studying about rapport, I came across its foundation block, formed by four core skills: authenticity, good listening, showing respect and support and a good sense of humour. At first, it seemed simple, but as I read through each skill, I knew I had to reflect on my role as a teacher and confront various myths I carried with me.
How many times have I felt embarrassed for not knowing how to say words that students ask in English? And why should I feel that way? Am I supposed to know everything? As an authentic human being and a person who does make mistakes, I am more likely to establish a better connection with my students. By behaving in a way that is appropriately real, I will be someone they can relate to, and not just the one who speaks from a hierarchical role. As Scrivener (2012, p. 37) points out, we should “sit with rather than in front of. Talk with rather than at”.
There has been several times when I asked students questions just for the sake of the lesson plan. As timing was always an issue for me, I would not really listen to what they said in response and not even give them the chance to expand their answers. If that is the case, why ask questions then? I have noticed students feel more valued and respected when I give them more time and space to express themselves. They feel even more pleased when I assume a more supportive way of listening. Good listening involves being able to listen with distinct purposes and adapt your way of listening according to the demands of the situation. Besides, it is through listening that we will get to know our students better and, thus, become capable of making them more suitable lessons.
All in all, developing good rapport is no simple task, given that there is no guarantee of fruitful results even if you manage all the required skills . However, I could say the atmosphere in my classrooms has really improved since I started reflecting on my behavior as a teacher based on the rapport’s foundation block. As Scrivener (2012, p. 120) states, “a positive classroom atmosphere will inevitably affect students’ attitude towards the work they do in class and their level of engagement with the language”.
Manoel is a teacher in our Goiânia Sul branch.