by Geoff Flemming
Today’s teachers play a role that extends far beyond academics alone, inevitably becoming trusted figures in students’ lives. Educators hold a special place as trusted influencers, holding the potential to mould young minds and alter their behaviour.
Throughout their formative school years, children will look to teachers for social and emotional guidance on a wide range of topics – and we’re not just talking about maths homework. From navigating complex experiences around drugs and alcohol to establishing healthy boundaries, teachers must accept and embrace their role as powerful influencers.
Navigating complex topics
As most of us know, our impressionable teenage years are often when we first come into contact with potentially difficult experiences with drugs, alcohol, sex, and relationships. Throughout this period, teachers are often in the best position to not only identify concerning patterns of behaviour but also help students navigate them as safely as possible.
The topic of drug use is particularly important amongst high school students, with a recent study revealing that almost 40% of high school students aged between 12-17 had used at least one illicit drug in their lifetime. While it can be confronting for educators to broach such a complex topic with students, approaching this topic with sensitivity and understanding is key. Rather than simply ‘lecturing’ students on the dangers of drugs, teachers have the power to influence safer behaviour by creating a non-judgmental space where a productive conversation about drug use is possible.
This approach involves active listening, showing empathy, and creating an open dialogue that allows students to express their concerns, seek guidance, and make informed decisions. By addressing the topic with compassion, teachers can steer students away from harmful behaviours and foster an environment where seeking help is encouraged.
Establishing healthy boundaries
Healthy boundary-setting is essential for personal growth and maintaining positive relationships. It’s a skill that not only affects how students interact with others but also how they perceive and respect themselves. Healthy boundaries cannot exist without healthy communication habits, and as teachers, we are constantly offered opportunities to teach students how they can master both essential skills.
For example, you may notice a student becoming frustrated at a classmate for using one of their personal items. Instead of communicating clearly, the student may resort to anger and violence in order to set their boundary. This is a great opportunity to demonstrate how healthy communication goes hand in hand with boundary setting, and why this is the best approach for everyone involved.
Teachers are also able to influence students to set healthy boundaries by demonstrating these skills in their own interactions. Leading by example is powerful and allows students to directly benefit from the behaviour, influencing them to begin modelling it themselves.
In the classroom, this may look like respecting each student’s individual space and needs, valuing each student’s emotions, and communicating calmly and vulnerably when setting boundaries.
Through open communication and fostering a classroom culture that values respect and consent, teachers can empower their students to establish boundaries and understand the importance of mutual respect in their interactions with others.
A great teacher prepares their students academically, socially, and emotionally. To do this, it’s essential that all educators embrace their roles as influencers in the classroom and acknowledge the way that students will inevitably learn from their own communication skills, for better or for worse.
Doing the work to become compassionate, empathetic, and powerful communicators puts teachers in the best position to shape not only academic success but also emotional intelligence and personal development in the classroom.
About Geoff Flemming, General Manager, Crucial Dimensions
Geoff Flemming is the General Manager of Crucial Dimensions, the exclusive ANZ licensee of the global Crucial Learnings training programs.
Geoff has been working with the South Australian Education Department, The Western Australian Education Department and Melbourne Archdioceses of Catholic schools, where he has been helping teachers and principals facilitate the Crucial Dimensions programs to give educators the tools they need to speak up and have the difficult conversations required to help facilitate a culture of openness and wellbeing.
He has also trained education leaders on how to assess their internal cultures to identify areas where their employees are avoiding having crucial conversations.
Through his training with the South Australian Education Department they undertook a Kirkpatrick Impact Study to assess the effectiveness of Crucial Conversations training. The report proved that it consistently created significantly better communication within staffing resulting directly in better student outcomes.
Outside of his education work, Geoff regularly presents on creating high-performance teams, building accountability, and speaking up with confidence, to audiences ranging from small executive retreats to large conferences in various industries. He has successfully implemented Crucial Conversations training across more than 600 organisations, with the aim of improving communication around business performance, leadership, quality, and safety.