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Relationships in the classroom: Establishing safe environments & Resolving predicaments

Today’s blog is about relationships.

Relationships in the classroom: Establishing safe environments & Resolving predicaments

It is fair to say, there are great relationships established in a classroom, however there are also negative ones as well. So I believe it is important to discuss both kinds of relationships in the classroom today. If you are having trouble with students, bullying in the classroom, or have a student trying to cross boundaries (which is quite common with younger or provisionally certificated teachers) this may be of interest to you.

Positive relationships:

I always believe that a successful safe environment is established when two things happen: – students race into your class – you can trust that students will continue to work when you momentarily leave the classroom or they work outside / in another area of the school

This means: – you’ve established your expectations well – you have effective and predictable consequences put in place – they care about receiving consequences (and not wanting to go down the path of having them) – the students feel safe to learn and take risks – the students enjoy spending time with you and enjoy learning with you – the students trust that you will help them at any time if they ask or that they know you’ll check on their progress – they feel a sense of purpose and see relevance in your subject – it’s likely they’ve woken up in the morning and thought, “yay, I have [your subject] today!” – they feel heard and respected as an individual in your environment by you and likely by other students in your class

How to develop a safe environment:

It is very important to always start with this before learning can take place effectively. You can do this through the following ways. Get to know your students, make sure your learning space is inviting and educational, and set clear boundaries that have rewards or consequences.

Get to know your students:

This doesn’t mean just learning their names. It also means:

  • learning how to correctly pronounce their names

  • how do they learn best

  • what makes them anxious, sad, triggered

  • what makes them excited, invested

  • who do they feel comfortable working with and who in the class do they need to feel more confident around

  • are their parents/caregivers encouraging

  • what do they know about your subject and also others that can intertwine (cross curricular, hobbies and clubs)

  • what skills are they excelling in and what areas need improvement

  • what influences their moods, energy levels and input

  • what distracts them

  • are they enjoying themselves and learning or is it like pushing a rock up a hill (and why is this)

  • how do they retain information best and when (afterschool, mornings, period 3 straight after another specific subject, after they’ve eaten and ran around in the fresh air, working individually, working with others, having accountability and sharing their answers etc.)

  • what relaxes them

  • what games do they like playing

  • are they introverted or extroverted or a hybrid

  • do they have learning needs or any form of disabilities that need to be taken into consideration to maximise their own experiences

  • are they living in a safe environment and good conditions to be able to learn

  • what is stressful in their lives

  • are other subjects providing them with assessment due dates at the same time and can they manage the work load

  • do they have a busy afterschool / social life

  • were they pressured into taking your subject or did they choose it based on their own interests (e.g. core subject, compulsory subject, wanting to be in the same subject choice as their friends, parents/caregivers encouraging them to take the subject, no space in another subject so they have been put into your subject, transferred to your class because of bad behaviour in another subject, wants to take your subject as a career choice)

  • if you have the time, go along to an event of theirs as their support e.g. assembly where they get an award, watch a sports game, watch a community theatre play they are in. Note: do not go to their 18th birthday or things personal to them, this is crossing a boundary. Sometimes they might invite you to their wedding or something like that, which is fine, but don’t go out for a night on the town drinking with them (seems self explanatory, but it may not be clear to everyone)

  • if you see they are doing something neat, praise them. even if it is so minuscule – it’s boost their confidence and they’ll feel safe. They also like knowing you’ve noticed this about them

There are so many things to understand about teenagers and young adults. I find that I spend more time knowing who my students are than teaching them at times because of the value that comes from their safety. There is a reason why I have such a high data rate in my classes, and I believe it is not because of the quality of my teaching. It has everything to do with making confidence a priority. If you are in a situation where you love who you are around, you feel comfortable making mistakes, trial and error is just a normal part of learning, and you truly believe in yourself because you spend everyday hearing someone telling you that you are incredible – inevitably, you can reach your potential. So with that knowledge, you’d see why I invest a lot of my time in getting to know my students and building a very effective safe environment for them.

Let’s do some Mathematics for a moment: I have taught for ten years. I have taught years 7 to 13. Off the top of my head, I would estimate around 200 students a year. I did however teach a whole school when I did a full rotation for year 7 – 9 at a middle school one year (according to Google there are 720 students attending that school) and around 30 students in extra curricular Dance/Drama clubs, plus the 9 years in high school classrooms –

I have developed relationships with up to 2,750 students. Every single one of those students, I knew who they were (and a vast majority, I still know) and how to get the most out of their learning. If asked, I could tell you something special about them and/or a special moment I have shared with them. Once you are under my wing, you stay there – as a member of the Dramfam. I have always been true to my word and it is a testament to my commitment to my students.

Make sure your learning space is inviting and educational:

I’ve always had elaborate colours on my walls in my Drama and Dance learning spaces. I remember one year I wasn’t allowed to decorate my classroom as my Head of Department felt wall art was a distraction. I truly believe that they students missed out on so much warmth and understanding of Drama that year. I had many restrictions with my teaching and support for them, which I believe wouldn’t be professional to discuss in this blog, but I think this specific example is intrinsic in helping me explain the value and effect wall displays are in the learning development of students in your classroom.

Why have wall displays:

  • students constantly read the walls and therefore retain information that is necessary and relevant to your subject on a daily basis

  • colour and font type (typography) effects moods and emotions and can convey messages, if you actively select bright, playful and educational colours and text types you can encourage them to act in this manner in your classroom

  • colour association and colour coordination can help memory. If you choose specific colours for specific groups of information they can remember it based on remembering the choice of colour e.g. Drama elements = pink posters, Drama techniques = green posters, Drama technologies = blue posters, and as they learn them you can refer to them by the colours as well as the names “What is a Drama technique that you have used in this scene? You know, the green ones. See look up on the wall at the green poster: Voice, Body, Movement, Space.”

  • building confidence in self, and love for self, by putting their own work or a photo of their performance on the wall. Not only are they showcasing their knowledge and experience, but they are showing other students in the class how they can positively succeed and/or sharing knowledge using their own colloquialisms/student friendly wording. They can also have sentimental experiences if you include photos of class trips, camps, clubs, performances. Make sure to use ones they’ve taken as well (as you aren’t always around during a funny or memorable experience that has occurred)

  • building inclusivity. Not only can you put student work and photos on the wall, but you can leave friendly messages, charts, posters and flags on the wall to ensure students know it is safe for them to be who they are in your classroom. I once painted my wall with a big rainbow mosaic flag that said along the lines of it being a safe space to be me

  • Thank you cards and drawings. Some kids really go the extra mile to let you know you are valued. It is important to showcase these experiences and if you are ever talking to them near by their card or drawing you can refer to it and say how it made you feel when you received it from them. They will feel a sense of pride and warmth remembering their act of kindness and likely do it again to others as they see what happens when they are kind

  • When I left a school, I had to strip the walls and return it to its basic look. I had to wash the paint off the walls and pull down all the posters. One of my lovely students said to me, “Miss, it is like stripping all the colour out of a rainbow.” This is another reason why we should have colourful wall displays, it brings a room to life, and therefore, puts the colour in a student’s day

This is a photo of one of my colourful walls in 2017. You can see some student posters, a chart that describes behavioural steps if naughty, colour coordinated Drama terminology (pink area, green area and blue area), and also a mosaic flag / wall of acceptance where students can feel safe to be themselves in the classroom (Emoji faces added to protect students’ identity). There was also a whole wall dedicated to photos of the students. Parents loved visiting on parent interviews nights and felt great to find their child somewhere on the wall. It took ages to develop, but worth every minute.

Quick ideas for on the wall

  • photos

  • posters

  • student work

  • positive messages, whakataukī, memes, other support contact information

  • Post It notes of student voice and opinions about experiences, beliefs, activities, answers

  • LGBTQIA+ flag, encouragement and ‘this is a safe place to be me’ artwork

Not only does the physical presence need to be colourful and educationally encouraging, but your manner towards the space and the students influences how the tone of the room is set.

Here are some ways to make the room’s presence feel positive, warm and inviting:

  • Pick the quality of energy and commitment you want from them That way if you really want them to get stuck in, they will. I have blankets and usually an arm chair in my classroom(s). I know somedays it is cold and they need to be snug in order to learn. Sometimes I see students coming in with their eyes hanging out and I know in those moments that they just need a moment to sleep. It is circumstantial though. If I found out they were up all night gaming, then it would be a different story, but sometimes they are looking after their young siblings and then doing their homework late at night, or sometimes they are experiencing migraines so painful that it fluctuates their sleeping patterns. I had a student that was in and out of the hospital so much with a medical condition, he just needed a time to sleep. So he used most of my lessons to catch up on sleep and when he had the energy, we worked on a monologue together. Not every assessment and lesson holds value for a student and I am firm in my stance that their health will always be top priority and that includes mental health. Some students just need a room to sit in the silence for a lesson because they are introverted living with a chaotic loud family and sometimes students have been cheated on or fired from their job and they just need a safe space to cry it all out. If you give them these moments to live in the real world, you will see their appreciation and they will work hard when they are back on their feet. They take one step back and lose a lesson of learning, but they then jump 3 steps ahead determined to make it up to you because you heard them and cared about them. If they don’t get that time, they end up drained and slogging along with no motivation as there are other factors that matter more. It really is worth the time giving them the actual support they need as young people

  • Greet them upon entry and mirror their energy There’s nothing better than knowing someone is looking forward to seeing you when you enter a room

  • Monkey see, monkey do Show them how to do things practically and be the expert that they can trust, show them errors (we all make them, so why not show them what trial and error really looks like, we all love bloopers too – they make us feel normal and they are usually entertaining to watch)

  • Role modelling and showcasing Have older students mentor and teach younger ones. The more purpose they have and the knowledge that their presence matters, the more important and accepted they will feel. Plus the juniors love working with older students. They are so amazing in their eyes, similar to the older sibling mentality!

  • Include relevant themes, texts and resources into their learning We all have our favourite resources that we cling onto for years, and there is nothing wrong with this, but try include or link something new every year that the students are excited about. If you can show them your subject is used in their everyday worlds then they will link the relevance to their learning / form positive connections and ultimately become more invested in their learning e.g. a movie, TV series, book, musician, celebrity. Prior knowledge is always advised and this is for this very reason! If they understand a link and know that they know at least something about the learning, there’s a potential hook/buy-in

  • If you can, allow them to use your classroom/learning space to hang out in or arrange a club to practice in your space during interval, lunch or after school This encourages the idea of an open door policy (feeling they can approach you at any time), students with like minded interests (in your subject) can come together and hang out (some students may not have friends and develop friendships with other year groups as well), this also demonstrates that your safe environment is not conditional. It will always be a safe space for them to feel accepted and invited into

  • Communication circles Remove the elephant in the room and stop the class whenever you think it is necessary. Put them in a circle and talk about any issues that occur e.g. bullying, clique-mentality, peer pressure, bullying you/intimidation, lack of participation/poor team work skills/time management skills. You are likely to get all the issues out on the table, some venting will occur and then you can decide whether a counselor is needed for one-on-one discussions with specific students. But in most cases the class comes up with solutions and they decide together what is right and wrong, what shouldn’t have happened and what did, and how they can change the situation so everyone feels better again. I always find it is a great chance to share your own personal experiences (to a degree) so they know why it is important to keep the environment safe for all. Communication circles are also good to start and finish the lesson to see where everyone is at educationally and emotionally

Bullying in the classroom

What it looks like Not all bullying takes place out in the open. In most cases, bullying is performed subtly or discretely, and I find this to be the most disturbing aspect of bullying. Bullies know what they are doing and therefore will hide it so they can continue to do it without consequence. So here are some signs:

  • A student feels anxious to work with certain people

  • A student will ask to be as invisible as possible e.g. asks to submit their work at lunchtime, perform their assessment to someone else or at a different time

  • Facial expressions and body language will alter in a closed off manner around the bully

  • Friends in the class are very protective on the victim’s wellbeing

  • Students will make you aware while everyone is working and try initiate a confidential conversation

  • Parents can contact you about the situation

  • Other teachers and counselors can keep you updated about bullying occurrences in a confidential format

  • Jokes and loud remarks are passed around the class that hint on students’ tendencies and behaviour. e.g. “That character sounds like someone I know, nudge nudge, always being mean to others” They can also be used as a form of belittling e.g. “Man you show off when you’re on stage”

  • Students may want to go to the toilet with other students (usually to solve conflicts, vent in the toilets)

  • Random students can linger outside your classroom to check on a student to see how they are doing

  • Students withdrawl from their learning, sometimes all of a sudden (this is likely caused from online bullying via social media or text message)

how to remedy them

  • Simply nip it in the bud. Don’t let a remark float off in the wind. Get the student to elaborate on what was said and let them know how the other student may have felt when they heard it or find a solution to the problem

  • Growl them with the intent to teach them to be kind. It isn’t a matter of telling them to be quiet, but rather tell them what they are doing wrong e.g. “I don’t want to hear sly comments. People that make sly comments are deciding to be mean to others in a sneaky way. I don’t have mean behaviour in my classroom as we treat each other with respect in here. If I see it again, then there will be a consequence.”

  • Sing and dance, scream and shout, jump up and down and make it known! Treat bullying like it is the worst thing on this planet. Bullying is awful and if people don’t see exactly what it causes (many years of trauma and a life time of lack of confidence/uncertainty for so many people) then they will not see the severity and will continue to do it without any care in the world. If it happens, really make a big deal out of it. You are their role model and they need to know that it isn’t ok for it to happen. If they do go through high school known bullying is frivolous then they’ll end up bullying people in employment, in their families, in their friendships, customer service experiences, the list goes on. You wouldn’t believe the data on work place bullying and I bet those bullies have bullied others when they were younger

  • Communication circles. Refer to explanation prior.

  • Include text and resources This is for students to empathise and connect with

  • Follow school protocols. Every school should have a protocol to follow where you involve other staff members and the student’s family to remedy the situation. The protocol is designed to protect all members involved, including staff and the school. It is important to follow through with the protocols and have faith that the system will remedy the situation

Crossing boundaries:

what they look like

  • students thinking you are their friend, not their teacher and trusted role model

  • teachers forming emotional connections with students where it progresses beyond Education

  • students flirting with you and vice versa

  • students trying to be included in your personal life or try to include you in theirs and vice versa

  • students disrespecting your personal bubble and vice versa

  • aggressive, intimidating and inappropriate behaviour

how to remedy them

  • make them aware of what they are doing and give them alternative approaches that is within your boundaries e.g. instead of a student venting to you, they can be directed to a counselor

  • don’t ever be in a classroom by yourself with a student, and if you must, make another teacher aware and keep the door open

  • don’t ever give out personal information such as your mobile number or address

  • don’t ever add them on social media unless you have a classroom dedicated page for public Educational interactions or an Educational profile with your teaching title e.g. Mrs O’Neill where interactions are only public Educational interactions.

  • never respond to private messages, and if you need to, make the interactions short and specific to the Educational task e.g. “I will email your school email address with the requirements for the assessment”. Also advice them to contact you through your teaching email address in future

  • report anything you feel that is inappropriate to your Head of Department, even if it is something small. It is really important to keep all situations open and transparent with your subject leader(s) so they can help you manage anything that could escalate

  • contact parents in a positive manner that shows you would like the issue remedied in the classroom and would like their support or advice. If you approach them complaining, in some cases parents may find you intimidating and upsetting and will not want to help/they may become defensive

  • banter is great with students but be mindful of what you say and how you interact with your students. It is ok to learn their slang and use phrases that they relate to, but when they start using sexual, racist or degrading humour it is important to not go along with it or encourage it and let them know why it is important not to do it specifically in this environment (and also in general, but they need to know appropriate behaviours in a classroom first and foremost)

  • be mindful of touching or hitting them in playful ways. If you notice you are doing it, actively place distance between yourself and the student/make your personal bubble bigger so you aren’t inclined to do it again

  • Whenever you are needing to touch them ask for permission e.g. if you are teaching a Dance lift and need to hold their thigh to help lift the rest of the body, you could say: “Do you mind if I touch here so I can lift you? It’s ok if you say no. I can ask someone else to do this that feels comfortable. No worries at all.” Never pressure them to do something where they don’t have control over their body

  • Politely decline invitations or being a part of a personal situation e.g. “Miss, come get drunk with us this weekend. It’s my 18th!” You could reply with: “I think you and your friends will have a lot of fun and as you are of age to drink, I am sure you will practice safe drinking practices, however, it is not appropriate for me to attend. I think it was lovely that you thought it would be fun for me to come along, but I am your teacher and teachers should not attend 18th birthday parties. I do wish you a happy birthday and I hope you have a great time with your family and your friends. You can let me know what you had for dinner though. I love restaurant meals!” Ending with something light and complimentary will keep their emotions at bay

  • If a student sends you suggestive photo(s) or message(s), do not respond to it and seek advice from your Head of Department immediately. If it is after school hours, let your Head of Department know via email and still do not respond to the student even if they send several messages, phone calls or make up rumours that you wanted that to happen. Your Head of Department will have a process to follow for this specific scenario and if not they will inform management who will know how to remedy this situation

  • It is likely your school will have a process and I encourage you to follow this, but if they don’t (which is rare), if a student intimidates you, don’t look at them, keep non aggressive posture and place something in front of you such as a desk (so you are less likely to be directly injured by them), try not to talk and if you do talk in a gentle tone that is slightly slower than usual. Ask a student nearest to the door to go and get the teacher next door and then ask another student to get a dean or assistant principal (whoever you feel will respond promptly or is closest to your classroom to help you).

Inappropriate teacher/student behaviour allegations

I had an unfortunate moment when a former student teacher relieved my classes while I was on maternity leave. As I said earlier, once you are under my wing, I will protect you and look after you the best way I know how. I had been notified of a predicament that would affect her career. So naturally, I did my utmost to protect her. See what happened was, allegedly, she was caught by other students flirting with a student and the inappropriate behaviour was reciprocated. They had added each other on social media and had been messaging each other pictures of things (uncertain of exact examples, but mostly educational based) as well. As I was instructed to not be in contact directly with the teacher while on maternity leave, I had to find a way to inform her of the severity of this situation. Even if these allegations weren’t true, the teacher could still receive the same repercussions (which I have seen before) and all of your hard work becoming a teacher could go down the drain at the drop of a hat. Since I knew a former colleague lost their job even though it was later proven to be untrue, I knew I had to do something about it to protect her. Here are the steps I took:

Step 1: I contacted another Head of Department for her advice and to see if she could remedy it in a professional matter on my behalf. If I was at the school, I would’ve set up a meeting with her along with a support person to ensure no conflict arises between us and to ensure notes can be taken about the next steps to remedy the situation. Step 2: I set up a meeting with principal to let him know. This may seem like I’ve escalated the situation, however, it is important to also consider the school. If this situation was true, it is important to let the principal know. They need to be prepared for questions from outside parties (parents, staff, students, media) and they are also very experienced with the situation and can guide you down the right path/protocols they think is best for their school. Outside of Education, discussing issues with your boss is always good practice, in my opinion. It keeps things professional and there isn’t any room for unprofessional outbursts, hush-hush scenarios and bullying to occur. If you are aware of something that puts students in unsafe predicaments and you do not warn someone about it/ignore it, you are theoretically encouraging the unsafe behaviour and it can make you liable for the consequences as well. So as a means of protecting yourself professionally, always tell people in writing or in formal meetings (where minutes are recorded) so there is a record showing that you followed a protocol.

Step 3: The principal provided me with advice how I can remedy the gossip. If students approached me they were told the situation was dealt with. I was also guided to refer any further issues or allegations to the principal. When the students were made aware of this, they felt they couldn’t gossip further about it as it would result in talking further about it with the principal.

From here it was out of my knowledge as I was no longer required for the following steps of the protocols. usually what occurs next is:

Step 4: The principal had a meeting with the teacher The principal would have had a formal meeting with the teacher to run through the allegation and talk about the occurrence. They would also discuss the protocols they’d like the teacher to follow to ensure it won’t escalate further.

Step 5: Making the student’s parents aware It is likely that the principal will also set up a meeting with the student and their parents to make them aware of the situation. This does not have to be with the principal, but it could also be their tutor teacher, dean, counselor or assistant principal. This also ensures that the student is aware that any behaviour like this is unacceptable and the consequences given, in case anything like this did or does happen again.

Blackmail / Intimidation of a student

When I was in my third year of teaching I had a year 11 student try to blackmail me. I was teaching Media and we had this little Media box/office up a stairway in the classroom. It was designed for students to work on the computers in the view of the teacher. It was a great place to also put students when they wanted to work quietly, as the noise was reduced in there. I had a boy that loved to banter with his teachers. He was known for his cheeky attitude and his proclivity for not completing work (he always had anxiety about failing, so found giving up stopped the risk of trying and failing). This was a challenge for me, but I wanted to make sure he achieved in my class so he had something to really be proud of. I told him he could work up in the Media box during interval and I’d talk through the assignment with him so he understood it more clearly. At the end of our first and only session, he turned to me and said if you don’t pass me I will spread a rumour around the school about you and your career will be over. As I tend to laugh off confrontational situations as a nervous reflex/coping mechanism, I laughed and ushered him out of the classroom, trying to make it seem like it was just banter and not a legitimate blackmail proposition. I stood there and panicked. I thought about my entire career going down the drain and thought about all the kinds of rumours he could make up about me. It struck a chord that day, as I used to always have rumours spread about me when I was a teenager. But something in me remembered what I had been told to do if this type of situation was to arise, and that was to go and tell your mentor. I was glad I did that, because it meant my career was saved, so to speak. A process was followed and the student apologised and was removed from my class, immediately. Can you imagine what would’ve happened if I chose to pass him illegally?

If you are ever in a predicament like this, each school will have a protocol to follow that is designed to protect you. It is usually the following:

Step 1: You email in writing your mentor or Head of Department and let them know As soon as you put it in writing, the process can move forward, accordingly. If you can also go and see them as you may be a bit distraught and you could end up doing the wrong thing without thinking e.g. telling someone and a student hears and passes it on to other students, reacting to the student emotionally, or venting to other students. They might also be able to direct you to a counselor, send you home for the day or anything else that may be required to ensure your wellbeing is taken care of.

Step 2: You write a professional comment on KAMAR (or any other database your school uses) filing a ‘Refer to Head of Department’ report in their student file By doing this, it keeps their form teacher, their deans and other teachers or counselors informed. Your school will direct you as to whether they’d like it to be a detailed report or a vague one. Sometimes vague is best and details are left for confidential emails to the staff that are needed to be kept in the loop. Other schools prefer details so that if anything further happens, it is easily traced on their file and can be referred to when parents visit the school to discuss the mishap with the Head of Department, their form teacher, their dean or assistant principal.

Step 3: The issue can be raised in a Department meeting Sometimes Head of Departments like to keep their department in the loop and also like to use the opportunity for other staff to upskill in the correct protocols (in case any other student or the same student tries to do it to other staff memebrs). If you stick to the same process each time, it makes it easier for staff above you (deans, assistant principal etc.) to follow through with the process they have been instructed to do. If you take matters into your own hands, you can find yourself in a deeper hole and it is so hard for staff to support and help you out of the mess that can inevitably be created. But if you all have the same strategy, it is easier to remedy the situation.

Step 4: Parents are called in to discuss the issue Depending on the school, this can include the student or not include the student depending on the way in which they discuss and try to remedy the situation. If the student is involved, the process centralises around the student learning a new behaviour and understanding the consequences. If the parents are called in without their child, usually the process has been decided and they are only there to be informed and contribute/voice their feelings of the matter. The staff that are involved in the meeting is dependent on the school, sometimes counselors are involved if the student regularly sees one or may benefit from seeing one (to see what issues are underlying that caused this behaviour). Some schools appoint specific staff to deal with situations such as this or are chosen based on the severity of the situation; for instance the Head of Department, form teacher or the dean could remedy it, before involving the principal and associate principal(s). Other schools prefer principals to have a meeting so it shows the severity of the situation (and hopefully it scares the student into not doing it again).

Step 5: Removal of student from your classroom / Check in Some schools try their best to support you as a teacher and remove the student from your class. Sometimes it is easy to do and in other situations there’s no where else for the student to go so they may either remove them temporarily into a class to undergo a punishment (write lines etc.) or monitor the student by putting them on a daily report system. Some Head of Departments and deans like to visit the class to see how the student is going so the student sees they are being watched and the bad behaviour is remembered. This is a great way for the student to see the consequences that will occur if this is ever done again.

Step 6: Teacher check up At some schools the Head of Department or dean might check in to see how you are doing after the ordeal and whether they can support you in any other ways. Although this isn’t a formalised part of the process, it is their way of ensuring you know you are supported and quite good practice from a management perspective. They may provide you with some short ideas if you are feeling overwhelmed or may come up with quick solutions/ideas what to say if the experience is ever brought up in passing from students or staff. It is common for students to ask without thinking about whether you are still upset or not. So it is a good idea to have an easy sentence to say if this ever happens. Something like, “If you have any questions you are always welcome to ask the principal but right now you are in class and you are here to learn about [your subject].”

Step 7: Board of Trustees are made aware On some occasions the Board of Trustees are informed and a representative from the Board of Trustees are involved in the process from the get go. This is a process so the school is kept safe. The Board of Trustees are there to support and protect the school in all situations that arise whether that is employment or student related. It is their responsibility to organise and manage the school (e.g. disciplinary situations, the wellbeing and concerns of students and staff, budgeting and new concepts). In some cases, the principal might bring it up in the meeting to put it on record.

All the protocols and processes can seem a little daunting, but in our contracts we have something incredibly powerful that we must abide by and that is “acting in good faith”. It is important to know that no matter whatever happens, it is every staff members duty to act in good faith. According to Employment New Zealand (2022), retrieved from Good faith » Employment New Zealand, when we do this we agree to: – act honestly, openly and without hidden motives – raise issues in a fair and timely manner – work constructively and positively together – give each other relevant information as soon as possible, when it is needed – keep an open mind, listen to each other and be prepared to change an opinion of a situation about a particular situation or behaviour – treat each other with respect So it is with this knowledge, that you can be rest assured that your colleagues will do what they can, under good faith, to ensure the situation is remedied in the best way possible, and this is through their carefully thought out process and the school protocols.

If you are ever in any predicaments, talk to someone. Always voice your feelings. Robert De Niro once said “when in doubt, doubt”. It is important to trust your intuition, follow processes as correctly as you can, and do your best to be professional as a trusted member of your community (school, wider community, Educational services). If you can’t talk to any of the staff that should be supporting you, then you can approach other colleagues, Employment authorities, the PPTA/NZEI or an employment lawyer. Keep seeking advice from different places until you feel heard and you can get the support you are entitled to. I have more experiences around this that I may mention in future blog(s). You can also make your family or trusted friends aware of your situation in a confidential manner that allows you to express your feelings and promotes your wellbeing. School counselors are also available for staff, not only students, and they will discuss matters with you confidentially. You can also see professional counselors and psychologists outside of your employment environment. Your well being matters as does your safety.

You are entitled to work in a safe environment. Your students are entitled to learn in a safe environment.

I hope you are never in these negative predicaments. I do, however, hope you see the amazing benefits of having a safe environment and witness the joy that radiates from a student that can learn with confidence!

Time, experience, manaakitanga

Tovah O’Neill Tovah's Tutoring Company Ltd


All experiences and advice is presented in a manner to help assist in these predicaments. It is very important to always follow the processes, guidelines and protocols that your school has put in place, before being influenced by my blog. I am not trained to the equivalent of an assistant principal or principal, who would have the tools appropriate to remedy these situations. These are just my thoughts and opinions which I have accumulated over my ten years as a teacher and Head of Department. Once again, it is important to follow the processes, guidelines and protocols established by your school.

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