The Key To Progress In Our Schools



This month our focus in on relationships and how, hidden amongst the issues of helping students achieve the required progress, relationships can be a forgotten factor – despite being something that has a massive impact on learning outcomes.

It’s clear from my work with students around the world that what has a big impact on their emotional state and performance in school is the types of relationships they have:

  • Out of school (family, friends and neighbours)
  • In school (peers and classmates)

… and of course their teachers.

Positive relationships are at the core of all success, and this includes positive working relationships between students and teachers, not just at subject level but also, and crucially,
at mentor and professional interest levels too.


We think we know lots about our pupils because we’re in their presence every day and we seem to be drowning in data about them. However, when you compare what an average school knows about its students with the information companies have about their customers, you soon realise education is lagging a long way behind.

Google, Amazon, and Apple et al seem to know more about me than I know about myself! Their depth of knowledge about each of their customers enables them to provide a personalised experience that’s optimised for each customer.


Of course, many companies have larger budgets than schools and those financial resources permit them to invest in various technologies that enable them to personalise the customer experience.

However, we have far more face-to-face contact time with our students, than most companies are ever likely to have with their customers. We clock

up hours every week in the presence of our students. This precious face time can, and needs to be, used to deepen our understanding of each individual student.


When we don’t know about our students’ personal history, current home life, hobbies, passions, and hopes for the future, we become limited in our ability to relate to them. This inevitably inhibits our ability to help them learn and succeed.

Two years ago I was asked to help a student who was falling behind in Maths. Many people think the best way to fix this problem would be to force the boy to do more Maths lessons. But, I took…


We sat and chatted about ‘stuff’ (that’s a technical term!) for a couple of minutes. In those two minutes I learned about this kids’ love of swimming. He told me about how he woke much earlier than his friends so he could go to swimming training before school. As he described the swimming galas he competed in most weekends, I knew this
boy didn’t have a lack of work ethic. Something else was missing.

A connection with his teacher is what was missing. They didn’t ‘get’ each other, and that had a negative effect on the learning process. When I chatted to this student’s Maths teacher, she wasn’t aware of the student’s passion for swimming. Had she known, she could have made it easier for him to learn about ‘area’,
‘volume’ and other things by relating those topics to the dimensions of a swimming pool, etc. Sadly, she couldn’t do that because she didn’t really know her student. The teacher had assessment and attendance data coming out of her ears, but she didn’t know the person beyond the data – that prevented her from personalising and optimising the learning experience for the student.

The way to learn more about our students and their own bigger picture is to ask them questions. Engage them in conversations whenever you get a chance – during tutor time, passing in the corridor, whilst you’re on break duty, waiting for an assembly to start, standing in the dinner line… anywhere you get chance!

Life is full of things that we want to know more about, but sometimes we’re afraid to ask or, in school particularly, we just don’t seem to have time to ask. However, if we made a list of the questions we should ask our students, we’d be equipping ourselves with a tool to learn more about them … which in turn will enable us to reduce
behaviour problems, be more efficient in our teaching and make our classrooms more enjoyable places to be.

When teachers start posing those should-ask questions, they are making great inroads into establishing positive and effective learning relationships with students. To be honest, it’s is a bit like asking questions of anyone else you’re trying to build a connection with – the answers you receive will form your basis of understanding about
the other person and how you can fit into their life in a positive way.

I’m keen to emphasise this process needs to flow both ways – that’s why I always prepare for the fact that my students are likely to ask me some interesting questions in return. Of course, there’s an important professional line to maintain here so I encourage you to consider what you are and aren’t prepared to reveal
about yourself before the questions start flowing.

Those seemingly insignificant dialogues with our students are the fuel that enables the learning to take place. I know what some people might be thinking… “I’d love to, but I’m too busy to have those conversations.” That’s like saying you’re so busy driving that you haven’t got time to stop for petrol! Some things we MUST make time for.
And investing in our relationships with our students is one of those ‘must do’ things.

So, what are some of the questions you could be asking your students in order to develop a deeper understanding of who they are, what they want, and what personalised help they need? Where would be the best places for you to engage in those dialogues? And when would be a good time for you to do it? You only need to do it for a few minutes here and there to make a big

There’s so much more to be said on this topic so will pick up the thread in future newsletters. In the meantime, perhaps it’s time to have a team talk with your form and pose some of those “should ask” questions in order to get to know who your students really are, after all …

“Our actions are guaranteed to affect others. Because we are not alone in

this world, much of our learning about ourselves comes from our

interaction with others. Our relationships are our teachers.

We learn from each other.”

– Tae Yun Kim, Seven Steps to Inner Power

So, until next time, I encourage you to invest in your relationships with your students and maximise the potential of your classroom relationships. I promise you, it’s worth it.

Be Unstoppable!

Kevin Mincher


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