As Michael Reichert, supervising psychologist at The Haverford School and executive director of the Center for the Study of Boys’ and Girls’ Lives, describes, “Most (boys) learn not because of some keen intellectual curiosity or a desire to do what’s expected of them, but because they are influenced by a teacher with whom they are connected—whose presence they have registered.”
At St. Christopher’s School, we recognize the far-reaching effects of the student-teacher relationship and have designed teaching models that not only challenge and engage, but also work to create authentic connections between each student and his teacher. Though there is no one-size-fits-all approach to teaching boys, there are several fundamental principles teachers can use to implement best teaching practices within their classrooms.
Create a safe environment for success and failure
First and foremost, boys need a structured and consistent environment where they feel safe to succeed and fail. If they fear making a mistake in front of their peers, they will not engage in classroom discussions. Therefore, it is critical that teachers work to foster a supportive environment from day one.
Effective lessons for boys must have a transitive factor—meaning they must arouse and hold students’ attention in a way that leads to learning. Boys react to teachers who are knowledgeable and passionate about their subject matter and who seek to make content relevant and engaging.
PROVIDE OPPORTUNITIES FOR STUDENTS TO SHOW THEIR GRASP
Boys want to show they understand, so it’s important that teachers design formative and summative assessments that allow students to demonstrate their learning in a variety of ways.
TEACH THE WHOLE PERSON, NOT JUST THE STUDENT
Learning happens when boys know that they are appreciated, understood, and cared for by their teachers. Therefore, best teaching practices for boys require getting to know each student on a personal level, beyond their classroom identity.
BE THE FOUR Fs
Fostering a strong student-teacher relationship means being the four Fs: friendly, focused, funny, and fair. Push your students, hold them accountable, embrace their (sometimes irreverent) humor, and always be firm and fair in your approach.
Recognizing the centrality of the student-teacher relationship in boys’ learning, teachers have used a variety of approaches, or “relational gestures,” to make positive connections with their students. While not every teacher is going to connect with every student, these principles and methods have proven effective with the majority of boys. The relationship between the teacher and the student should be a working alliance built on mutual respect. If a relational breakdown occurs, it is up to the teacher to try to transform the relationship to a positive one that allows the boy to focus on his education and receive the support he needs to be successful.