Responsive Behaviour Support: Exploring Responsive Relationships

“It is impossible for a teacher to run a classroom effectively without being the compass point that students look to for support, information, direction, and wisdom”. Beach & Neufeld Strijack (2020)

Collaborative Response provides us with structures and supports to collectively respond to students, colleagues and parents and to be that compass point. Hewson and Hewson (2015) write about the importance of culture and its effects on all aspects of a school. They state a simple belief that “...children learn when all the caring adults in their lives come together with the intention of knowing them well and working together to address their individual needs so they might learn” (p.23). This notion implies that relationships are the foundational component when we consider re-culturing our learning environments. Developing and maintaining positive, caring and trusting connections with others is an essential element of re-culturing and results in interconnected and reciprocal relationships. How we show up for ourselves, for our colleagues, for our students and for our parents matters and sets the direction for connection.

When examining Responsive Behaviour Support, the first component to focus upon is Responsive Relationships. What are 4 important relationships formed within the school setting that have a direct impact on collaborative structures?

1. Relationship with Self - It is important that adults working in a school setting consider and examine their own historical experiences that may affect their interactions with students, colleagues and parents. We know that success and support for all depends on a conscious self-awareness of discovering our emotional triggers, past conflict, and stress tolerance.

Ongoing efforts to increase our self-awareness will not only enhance the effectiveness of our job satisfaction and our interactions with others, but will also remind us that our overall attitude has a huge impact on students and school environments.

Recognizing and reflecting upon your experiences has a direct impact on your ability to connect with and build relationships with others. Taking time to reflect can allow for a proactive approach to working with our students, colleagues and parents and becomes less self serving.

Understanding that self awareness and reflection are important aspects of connection with and to others, we must also remember that we shouldn’t be hard on ourselves when we inevitably make mistakes. These mistakes are not personal failures but rather, they are opportunities to learn or grow and then do better next time.

In order to show up for others, we must examine our personal triggers. It is important to check in with ourselves to be sure that our responses are not reactionary and based upon past experiences. Whenever you find yourself triggered before, during or after an interaction with any individual, stop and ask yourself the following questions:

  • What led me to respond in this manner?
  • Is my response helping or hurting the relationship?
  • Is this helping me grow as an educator?
  • Is my response helping the other person grow?

2. Relationship with Colleagues - Your relationships with your colleagues is one of the most vital links to not only student success but also to your ability to work collaboratively and grow as a professional. Students need to see strong role modelling and adults expressing collegiality, care and concern for each other. This genuine collaboration and connection between adults turns into quality classroom experiences for students. The following is a few suggestions for ways that you can connect with your colleagues:

  • Share your unique skills and talents with each other
  • Get on the same page
  • Work together to create activities and lesson for students
  • Share your classroom experiences
  • Get feedback from others about the work you are doing with students
  • Schedule weekly meetings to talk about kids
  • Adopt a team mentality
  • Connect with each other on a personal level
  • If you need help, ensure you ask for it
  • Create activities that you can merge with others
  • Take professional development together
  • Do not buy into negativity
  • Be open minded to new ideas

3. Relationship with Students - It is extremely powerful and important to build genuine relationships with students and has been proven to be the most positive and effective way to support students socially, behaviourally and academically. We all want to feel safe, connected and cared for by the significant people in our lives. Students grow and thrive in environments with the support of dependable and trustworthy adults that provide love, nurturance, safety and responsive interactions.

Consistent in the research is the notion of teacher/student relationships and its impact on student learning. The work of John Bowlby, Bruce Perry, Gordon Neufeld, and many others provide us with evidence-based information regarding attachment and how developing a relationship with at least one adult will provide an emotional bond that will have a tremendous impact on a student’s success in the classroom and beyond. Healthy connections build safe and positive learning environments. Showing up and being present for your students is being aware and empathetic to their thoughts and feelings, letting them know that they are important, and creating an accepting and nurturing environment

There are many resources available to access more information regarding relationships and attachment. In workshops, I often show the video The Power of Relationships in Schools that helps to identify how emotions and learning are connected. In this video, you will listen to experts, professionals and researchers from the field of education who share the science and the evidence of how building positive relationships at your school will help you create an optimal learning environment for your students. There are a couple of quick practical tips which you can use immediately in your setting.

Students who are grounded in a world of safety and support from adults are more likely to be a willing participant in their learning.

4. Relationship with Parents/Guardians - Much has been studied and written about the benefits of establishing and maintaining a healthy relationship with our student’s parents/guardians. Teachers and parents that work together collaboratively and effectively can have a significant impact on student success in the classroom. Although the relationship between teacher and parent looks different for everyone, most relationships thrive in an environment of cooperation, communication and trust.

Built upon the premise of trust, the relationship between the teacher and parent is one of the most important aspects to a successful academic experience for students. Studies have shown that successful parent-teacher collaboration results in improved educational outcomes for students. How can teachers ensure that they are facilitating a positive partnership with parents and maintain a positive school climate? Please read Dealing Successfully with Your Students’ Parents which is a great article from The Win-Win Classroom, revised edition, by Jane Bluestein, Ph.D. that will give you numerous tips on how to ensure positive parent relationships that support your student’s social, emotional and academic success.

The concept of Responsive Relationships is as profound as it is obvious. For decades, the research has confirmed that positive, effective relationships are extremely impactful to student success. Teachers have very complex jobs and a lot of our concentrated effort involves detailed planning for academic success. The same effort is critical when it comes to the relationship that we build with ourselves, colleagues, students and parents.

Planning for relationships is a reflective and intentional process that gives meaning and richness to our work and to our lives and the lives of our students. The relationships we develop with self, colleagues, students and parents are integral to establishing a system of Responsive Behaviour Support across an educational community.


Hewson, K., Hewson, L., & Parsons, J. (2015). Envisioning a collaborative response model: Beliefs, structures, and processes to transform how we respond to the needs of students. Edmonton, AB: Jigsaw Learning Inc.

Beach, H., & Neufeld Strijack, T. (2020). Reclaiming our students. Canada: Friesens.

Author: Barb Pears