April 24, 2011

10 Fail-Proof Ways to Build Relationships with Your Students

Be this kind of teacher... (source)
When I was student teaching, the principal at the school kindly offered to do a mock-interview with me for practice.  During the interview, he asked me this question: "Do you want your students to like you?"  Caught off-guard, I mumbled some kind of inarticulate, "Well, no, but they need to respect me..." type of answer.  Afterwards, he told me to throw that answer right in the trash and tell the truth: of course I want my students to like me.  And it's true.  In order to really teach kids, you first need to capture their hearts.  When they like you, they'll do ANYTHING for you.  I truly believe that teaching is a relational endeavor.  Here are my favorite ways to build relationships with students...

Not this kind of teacher... (Source)
1. Greet them at the door every morning with a handshake, eye contact, a smile, and a "Good morning, (first name)."
I do this every morning.  It's a quick, easy way to interact one-on-one with the kids.  I can quickly ask them how they are, assess who is still half asleep, and let the kids know that I'm glad they're here.  It's a wonderful start to the day for all of us, me included!

2. Respond to their journal entries as often as possible with personal notes.
If you have your kids write in a journal, every couple days or weeks collect them and read an entry or two.  You don't need to write much in response, just enough to show them that you are interested in what they have to say.  

3. Celebrate their achievements with them privately.
When one of my students gets a particularly good grade on a test, especially if it's unexpected or if they have been working extra hard, I like to call them over to my desk and share it with them that way.  It's wonderful seeing their eyes light up and being able to share in that excitement with them.  It also lets them know that you really truly are proud of them.

4. Learn about their lives.  
From the first day of school, find out what sports they play, how many siblings they have, what kind of books they like, etc.  Then mention these things to the student as often as possible.  Ask how football or cheerleading practice was.  Wish them luck at their soccer game.  Find out how that book was that they were reading all week.  

5. Share your life with your students (in appropriate ways).  
In my experience, this helps the kids see you as a real person, and opens up the door for them to share their lives with you.  I tell kids about my running, what book I am reading, etc.  I don't go into details, but share just enough so that they see that I have interests and hobbies. 

6. Regularly say these words out loud to the kids, as cheesy as they may sound: "I like you," "I'm glad you're here," "I'm so happy you're part of our class," "It's great to see you today," "I care about you," "I want to help you succeed."
Trust me when I say that these little things WORK.  Especially for tough kids who don't hear these things at home.  Even when a kid is upset with you, say them.  One of my kids earlier this year who had big time behavior difficulties was telling me on repeat how he hates this school and hates me.  I just smiled and said, "I'm sorry you hate this school and hate me.  I really like you.  I will keep on liking you all year long no matter what."  Unfortunately he moved in January, but let me assure you that by the time he left he was like putty in my hand thanks to the amazing relationship we had built.

7. Call parents to share celebrations in front of the student.
I save this one for really special achievements to keep it extra meaningful for the kids.  Sometimes if a student makes BIG growth on the MAP test, I will call the parents with the student and tell them what special news we have, and then let the student talk.  I will tell you, it is amazing to see how excited the students get when I call home for something positive, and even more amazing to hear the love and pride in the parents' voices.  I haven't done this much this year, but I plan to look for more opportunities in the upcoming weeks.

8. Have lunch with a few kids every once in awhile.

This is another one that doesn't have to be frequent--doing it just every now and then keeps it special.  Sometimes I will invite a student or two to have lunch with me in the library or some place.  I usually do this as a reward for extra hard work, or some times with a student I am especially concerned about socially to talk.  It shows them that they are special to me, and it's great interacting with the kids outside the classroom.  

9. Be consistent.
Consistency helps build trust.  When kids know they can count on you to reward them when they do the right things and correct them when they do the wrong things, they will see that you are dependable and trustworthy.  A little trust goes a long way in the classroom--kids who trust you will risk everything for you in learning, because they know you will be there to help them when they need it.

10. Deliver consequences with empathy.
I can't take credit for this one; it's straight from Teaching with Love and Logic by Fay & Funk (my absolute favorite book about classroom management!  Read more about some of the ways I use L&L in my classroom here).  The idea here is that you can build relationships even when you're delivering a consequence to kids.  The long and short of it is that while no one likes giving consequences, kids make mistakes and we need to follow through with what we say we're going to do.  But that doesn't mean we have to destroy our relationships with the kids in the process.  In my experience, when I deliver consequences with empathy, it tends to make our relationship STRONGER almost instantly.  Here's how it looks for a disruptive kid, for example: "What choice were you making during class?  Do you think that the best choice you could have made?  Listen, I really like you.  I care about you, and I love having you in our class.  But when you choose to [fill in the blank], it makes it tough for you and others to learn, and for me to teach.  Do you think you can turn things around right now, or do you need a little break first?  When you're ready, we'll move on and keep learning."  The message is simple: I like YOU.  I care about YOU.  I do not like your CHOICE.  

What am I missing?  How do you build relationships with your students?


  1. wow!! I am not a teacher but it sounds like you are really GREAT at what you do...reading these actually made me kind of jealous. I wish my teachers had been so caring when I was younger. Not that they weren't great...it just sounds like you genuinely care about each of your students on such a personal level. I am not sure that I could say that for many of my teachers. Thanks for sharing :)

  2. These are all fantastic strategies! I once attended a workshop on this very idea (it was even called "Capturing Kids' Hearts"). I'm a strong believer in that your effectiveness as a teacher is tied to how much you communicate to the kids that you care about them as people! :)

  3. Yuuuup, you just need to go ahead and write weekly advice posts cause this is yet another great one! I particulary like the "YOU vs. CHOICE" one...so important to distinguish between the two. I'll have to check out that book you recommended. Thanks!

  4. I loved this post and printed off a copy to share with my team. Thanks for the great reminder!


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