Five Ways To Build Relationships With Students

Jourdan Huber

Relationships have always been an essential aspect of education. This has been heightened by recent events in our history. Building relationships with students, and between students, helps increase engagement, motivation, behavior, and social skills. All of these benefits help improve learning for students, the ultimate goal. It is important for educators to remain authentic and genuine with their students if they want to build relationships with them. Even adults do not want to have relationships with people they believe are ingenuine, fake, or inauthentic. In addition to being yourself, five ways to develop these relationships are encouraging effort, providing the opportunity for feedback, asking questions, greeting students, and incorporating interests into daily activities.

Encourage Effort

Encouraging effort is probably the easiest way to start building relationships with students. Optimal positive reinforcement includes educators maintaining five positive interactions with a student for every negative interaction or correction. That is a 5-to-1 ratio. Praising effort is one way to get those positive interactions. This could be as simple as acknowledging a student for getting out their materials or trying to attempt their work. Examples of this include: “Thank you for getting your pencil and paper out, Jessica.” or “Nice try on this experiment, Miguel. What if you tried this instead?” These small positive reinforcements help encourage desired behavior and motivate the student to give more effort in the future. A student is not going to want to try to be successful in a class where they feel that they will fail and are never successful. Encouraging effort with students can help them see that they can find success. This also demonstrates that there is an educator in their corner to support them and cheer them on when things get challenging. 

Provide the Opportunity for Feedback

Students often feel that they have no control or say in their own education. This reduces their desire to focus and achieve. One way to put control back into the students hands is to give them opportunities to give feedback. This means that students are given the chance to share their opinion about different topics from teaching practices to instructional activities. Students could also give feedback on each lesson. This does not mean that students are telling the educator if they like or dislike a topic. It is more about their learning and them evaluating how they learn best or would like to learn in the classroom. It is up to the teacher how many changes, if any, they want to make. Still, students have the opportunity to share their opinion, which gives them a sense of value in the teacher-student relationship. Making changes to accommodate students will increase their focus and engagement in the classroom. These changes also demonstrate that educators do listen to the voices of students and causes them to feel seen and heard. This is an important aspect of any relationship, but many students often do not feel seen or heard, at school or at home. This feedback can also provide helpful data to use for instruction and improve student learning. For example, if students report feeling confused about a certain activity, then the teacher can be aware of this and either avoid this activity or be certain to clarify directions to maximize learning. 

Ask Questions

Get to know students by asking them questions about themselves. This can be done in many ways: individually, in small groups, or as a whole class. Building peer-to-peer relationships in whole class and small groups is key to creating a healthy and safe environment for learning. Starting class with an ice breaker or journal prompt is one way to incorporate these questions and help students get to know one another on a deeper level. It is important to also get to know students one-on-one. At the beginning of the school year a student interest survey can help gather information about students, however it is important to actually utilize the data that is gathered. Individual conversations can serve as an excellent tool to better understand students and their perspectives. Two minutes of targeted, non-academic conversation with a student can help improve positive behaviors and engagement in the classroom. This would be challenging to do daily with each student, instead, focusing this time on students who need additional support for academics or behaviors will result in the most impact. 

Greet Students By Name

Welcome students to class by greeting them by name. This causes each student to feel noticed as they step into the classroom environment. It can also set the tone for the rest of the day or class period by starting interactions with students in a positive way. This is also a great time to reinforce any desired classroom behaviors. For example, “Good morning, Eric. I appreciate you being on time and taking your seat when you enter class.” or “Hi Jazmine, thanks for being here today. When you take your seat please get out a piece of paper and a pencil for our journal today.” This prompts student behaviors and reminds them of classroom expectations. Another option when greeting students is to remind them of their behavior goals. For example, “Hey Malachi, remember, today our goal is for you to ask for permission to leave your seat.” or “Welcome, Laticia! Remember, this week we are focusing on not shouting out in class. This week, if you shout out less than three times you can earn a homework pass!” These small interactions make a large difference for students who are quiet or the students that sit and passively absorb material in the classroom. It helps improve their engagement and buy-in when it feels that their teacher is invested in them as an individual. 

Incorporate Interests into Lessons 

Getting to know students allows educators to create lessons that relate to student interests. Doing so shows the students that they are important in the classroom. It demonstrates that the teacher cares if they are involved and invested in their learning, because of the additional effort to try to accommodate the students. Unfortunately, many students have had experiences with educators who they felt did not care about them or their learning. This creates apathy and reduces resilience. Regardless of the truth behind these perceptions, it is important to assist students in seeing that they are valued in the classroom and their opinion is important. Lessons, units, icebreakers, brain breaks, decorations, bell work, and exit tickets are all parts of a class that can include student interests. In the same way that educators are more than their profession, these children are more than just students. Incorporating their lives outside of the school building will acknowledge this and will also help them retain material due to the background knowledge they already hold. 

The best way to build relationships with students is through authenticity. Students can tell if an adult is behaving in a way that is not genuine and this distances them from the desired learning outcome. In addition, it is beneficial if educators take the time to praise their students for the things they are doing correctly, it helps reinforce these behaviors. Another way to build relationships is by asking questions. This helps educators get to know their students and gives them data they can use to inform their instruction. Questions can be about a range of topics, but it is best to get information about student interests so that lessons, units, and other aspects of daily classroom life can be adjusted. Greet students at the door to help them feel valued and seen. Lastly, give students the chance to give feedback on teaching to help them feel heard. Try these strategies with students today to see how they can make an impact. 

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