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  • Writer's pictureJenny Ferris

BSEM: Relationship Domain

In this post I talked about the wonderful Berry Street Education Model and today I'd like to outline the Relationship Domain in a little more detail.

Berry Street Logo

There are eight key strategies that help to build positive relationships with students which are covered in this domain:


Many of our trauma-affected students can have issues with attachment - either by being what we perceive as distant or, conversely, overly clingy. With the need to maintain professional boundaries in today's educational climate, it can be difficult to keep one's personal space from an overly clingy child without damaging the relationship.

Child clinging to leg

This strategy teaches us to recognise the need for attachment in the student and to fulfill that need in other ways, perhaps by giving the student a special job or allowing them to sit next to the teacher. Having this attached relationship to a calm and stable role model can help with many other areas of self-regulation for that student.

Unconditional Positive Regard

Unconditional Positive Regard is the notion that we must always see our students in a positive light. There is no such thing as a "naughty student". There are naughty behaviours, but we must always learn to separate the student from their behaviours and never let one incident tarnish our view of that student in the future.

This can be a tough one to handle, but really does help to form those positive relationships with students in the long run. When upset with something a student has done, take a moment to remember a positive experience with that student, before calling them out on this behaviour with love in your voice. Students are more likely to respond positively and change their behaviour for the better when they perceive that you are on their side and don't have a vendetta against them.

Redefining Power

This comes back to some of the learning from the Body domain, particularly acknowledging the effects of stress on ourselves as teachers. When dealing with a conflict, it can be easy to "give away one's power" by losing our cool or yelling.

Cool as a Cucumber cartoon

By remaining present, centred and grounded, we allow ourselves to remain in a calm and rational state and are better able to keep control in the classroom.

Empathy & Zen

When a student begins resisting or refusing to complete a task, the way we handle the following interaction is very important. By reacting with empathy, we show the student that we are in this together. Developing a one-liner such as "I hear you" or "that sounds tough" or even simply "ok" gives you a moment to calm your own stress responses.

It also shows the student there is not going to be a conflict. We simply offer a number of choices we are happy with. For example if a student has scrunched up a worksheet, we could say

" You can start this sheet over or I can get you a new one if you'd like?"

"Why don't you skip this question for now and move on to question two?"

"Is there another way you'd like to express yourself for this assignment?"

Golden Statements

Golden Statements are my absolute favourite! They really are!

Golden light

They are statements that put the power back in our hands by letting students know that the lesson cannot progress until they are showing certain behaviours. It's all in how we phrase the statement.

For example, the number of times I've had to repeat myself saying "please sit down" and then proceded to watch my students mill about the classroom for the next few minutes is insane. However, rephrase that to

"I will begin when you are sitting down"

and I see immediate effects. Same thing with "I will continue when you are quiet" or "I will take you to lunch when we are standing in a straight line".


Process vs. Person Praise

When we praise the student themselves for good work, it perpetuates the idea that skill is something you either possess or do not. It doesn't encourage the notion of attaining skills and knowledge through hard work.

By praising a student's effort, or acknowledging the strategies they have used while working and how they have paid off, we are encouraging the student to repeat these work habits in future, and therefore continue to improve.

Active Constructive Responding

We are forever being told tidbits of stories by our students. Everything from what they had for breakfast, to what they're going to call their new puppy, to the fact that their grandma passed away on the weekend.

The way we respond to these stories can have a huge impact on our relationship with that student. The video below demonstrates how:

Whole School Relationship

This can be a harder one to utilise unless your whole school is embarking on the BSEM journey. It essentially looks at ensuring a whole-school approach to things such as establishing morning routines, handling discipline and behavioural issues, codes of conduct for students and staff and establishing classroom agreements.

I hope you've enjoyed hearing a little about the Berry Street Education Model and if you like what you've read I highly encourage you to find out more at their website or consider undergoing some PD as it offers invaluable teacher training.

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