And this powerful effect can also work with others who work with young people (educators, church leaders, and law enforcement officers, to name a few). As an example, one time when I was in high school, I drove my ATV across town to some community event. Several minutes after I got there, one of the local police officers arrived and immediately started chewing me out for driving too fast on the city streets. He was yelling at me, saying that after he saw me he had gone to my house and was waiting for me and was going to give me a speeding ticket! (For the record, I really didn’t think I was going that fast.) But nonetheless, I was devastated. I was embarrassed and upset that I had disappointed him--not just because he was a police officer, or that he was threatening to give me a ticket, but because he had been my hockey coach the year prior and I had a great relationship with him. I felt terrible. In the end, he didn’t give me a ticket, but from then on I drove very slowly when navigating the city streets with my ATV.
In addition to preventing bullying from happening in the first place, a positive relationship with a student can make it easier to deal with bullying when it does come up. Students are much more likely to confide in adults who they know care about them and with whom they trust. We know that youth are reluctant to report bullying experiences to adults, so developing a caring connection may be the mechanism necessary to get early information on bullying or other problematic behaviors to they can be addressed before it gets even worse. Know your school’s procedures for responding to bullying and who within administration would be best to bring in. You might not have the perfect solution to the situation, but simply letting the student know you are on their side and willing to help could be all that is needed.
So take the time to develop a positive relationship with your students. For decades we have known the power of spending just a bit of regular time with students (e.g., two minutes a day for 10 days in a row). Learn their names. Give them high-fives as they come off the bus. Show them that you care—because we know you do. It can make all the difference.