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The power of relationships – PP72

The topic of the week is James Sturtevant on the power of relationships and Cheeky Nando’s.


US educator and author, James Sturtevant, joins us to talk about the power of creating great relationships with students and Paul explains what a Cheeky Nando’s is…

jamesJames is from Central Ohio and has spent 30 years in the classroom. He teaches at Big Walnut High School in Metropolitan Columbus, Ohio. Students from 14-18 years old attend his Public High School and James teachers a World History class.

James believes that if there is a strong bond between teachers and students, everything that teachers all over the world want for their students is so much more possible. A student teacher once told James that the students in his class were animated but also very relaxed and happy. She wondered how he had achieved that. This prompted James to take a course at University to try and work out what was going on in his own classroom. This led to the creation of James’ book, ‘You’ve Gotta Connect‘.

In all the many hours of in-service training James has undergone throughout his career, he can’t remember ever having a session in how to build strong relationships with students. In John Hattie‘s list of 138 Influences on Student Learning, student-teacher relationships came in 11th place, ahead of a huge number of other factors we might think are more important.

What are the main behaviour problems in the US?

  • Attendance – getting children there and dealing with the children who aren’t there
  • Bullying – issues of race, ethnicity and socio-economic status, exacerbated by the digital world we live in
  • Digital citizenship – phone use in the classroom – as Paul points out, schools who think they have a phone problem often actually have a behaviour problem

Does using punishment to modify poor behaviour work?

Strict punishment does bring a level of compliance but the repression totally squelches human development and happiness. James says that in his school days schools were so focussed on conformity – if you were not white male and Christian you were not taken seriously. However, intimidation will not work in 2015 – James has some male students who would be happy to be challenged physically – and then the school has no recourse to any other strategy.

James talks about the spiralling prison population in the US despite the incidence of violent crime reducing. He thinks there is a feeling that the country is heading to the edge of a cliff and pure punishment in schools just doesn’t do what some want it to do. So he comes back to the power of developing great relationships with children.

The most effective behaviour management tool in the world is for teachers to have outstanding relationships with their students.

James worries about vindictive punishments. Consequences are fine when they are designed to help but punishments can come from the wrong place – essentially it is revenge.

James is married to a school Principal. He believes that a lot of US Principals are so focussed on the ‘manufacturing process’ – the content, the tests scores – that they don’t focus enough on student relationships. He argues that if you are concerned with test scores etc. then you should be incredibly interested in student relationships because that’s the best way to improve them.

The best way for Principles to connect with students is to be visible. Make sure you are:

  • out in the corridors
  • at events
  • making small talk with students
  • doing informal visits to classes

Paul says that a lot of the work Pivotal do with schools is around adult behaviour – agreeing 3 key behaviours which are modelled every day by all staff and being accountable for them. However, James says that this is not happening in the US yet.

James gives us 3 great tips for managing behaviour complete with great anecdotes – do listen to them in the episode:


  1. Take you ego out of the equation – listen and be a removed observer – you will learn a lot if you don’t get personally invested with being right
  2. Become approachable – by telling stories about yourself, even what you had for dinner last night
  3. Have an organised, thorough and engaging lesson plan

Cheeky Nando’s

Paul’s Tweet of the Week is actually the hashtag #cheekynandos. He attempts to explain it to James – with hilarious results!


Pivotal Podcast Pocketbooks

PEpocketbook-BUNDLE2Newly-created Pivotal Podcast Pocketbooks are now available from Amazon including one on Restorative Practice. There will be a huge range of Pocketbooks from Pivotal Education, starting with the edited transcripts of some of the most popular episodes of the podcast.

The idea of releasing written versions of episodes came from listeners who wanted to be able to make notes and use the content in different ways. If you would like a particular episode to be converted into an ebook, please let us know!

(Creative Commons Sound clip by Johnny Pixel Productions, Inc. –



What would you like to hear covered in forthcoming episodes? Let us know by emailing or by leaving a comment below this post.

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