As an educator, one of the strongest impressions you can make on students is how you make them feel. When students feel their teachers care about them and want what’s best for them, they are more likely to engage, work hard, and cooperate.  

The opposite is also true: When students lack strong, supportive relationships with their teachers it impacts their academic achievement, increases their likelihood to engage in disruptive behavior, and even factors into their decisions to drop out.   

Especially in the age of distance learning, educators need to prioritize building strong relationships with their students. Here are five social and emotional learning (SEL) strategies to get you started. 

1. Show students you care. 

Students report that one of the main reasons they  drop out of school is because they feel as though their teachers don’t care about them. But the truth is that most teachers do care about their students they are just not communicating those feelings  in a way that gets through to their students.  

Connecting with students on a personal level is even more challenging when learning remotely. It can be difficult to convey authentic feelings through channels like email, instant messaging, and video conferencing.  

Here are a few strategies to start building and improving your relationships with students: 

  • Ask students about their lives outside of school. Host recurring in-person or virtual morning meetings where you invite students to share about themselves or any problems they are having. 
  • Pay extra attention to students who display high emotions, disrupt class, or seem withdrawn.   
  • Listen to students and ask them questions to show you are interested in them. During remote learning, you can set up individual or small group meetings with students to chat about how they are doing.   
  • Be mindful of how you talk to students, especially in front of their peers.  
  • Make a list of your students and rank how well you think you know them. Make a point of learning more about the students who are at the bottom of your list often these students can benefit the most from extra attention. 

2. Develop mutual trust.   

Mutual trust is important in any relationship. With students, educators often need to take the lead in building trust. One way to start building trust is to share about your own life. You don’t have to get too personal, but telling students about yourself outside of school will help them see you as a real person and they might feel like you value them by opening up.  

Another way to build trust is to advocate for your students. This doesn’t mean getting them out of trouble or not enacting a consequence for negative behavior, but that you consistently act in the best interest of your students. This could mean sitting in on a disciplinary meeting to show support or collaborating with other educators on interventions like restorative justice circles 

During remote learning, build trust by asking about the challenges and hardships students are facing and take action to resolve or reduce those problems. For example, you might offer extra one-on-one (virtual) support, direct students to resources for free school lunches, and/or connect students with counselors and social workers.  

3. Consider students’ perspectives.  

We often talk about the importance of teaching students empathy and encouraging them to consider the perspectives of others. Practice what you preach and try to put yourself in your students’ shoes to understand their experiences. This will help you understand the root cause of an issue or problem behavior so you can better address their needs.  

Start by considering what the classroom or virtual learning experience is like for a particular student. How often does the student receive positive or negative feedback? Does it seem like the student believes you care about him or her? How does the student feel about you? Test your assumptions by observing the student’s behavior. You also can try explicitly asking the student what he or she likes or dislikes about class, teachers, and the school environment.  

Use this exercise to improve your student’s experience. For example, if the student is receiving an unproportionate amount of negative feedback, take a step back and try to understand the student’s home life, how he or she is adjusting to remote learning, and if there are underlying issues that are causing the student to act out.  

4. Practice constructive discipline. 

Believe it or not, correcting behavior can be an opportunity to strengthen relationships with your students. The number one rule when it comes to discipline is to be respectful. Losing your temper and reacting with sarcasm, scolding, or anger can harm your relationship with a student. Instead, take a deep breath and administer a consequence that is fair and meaningful. Show that you respect and care for the student and communicate in a way that preserves the student’s dignity.  

Be mindful of equity in your discipline and corrective behavior. Research shows that students of color receive significantly higher rates of disciplinary action. Take steps to reduce unconscious bias and make sure all students are being treated fairly. Here is a quick tip sheet to help you begin this process, and check out our recent webinar, Promoting Educational Equity Through SEL Assessment 

5. Get to know students’ families. 

Introducing yourself to students’ parents or caregivers, if you haven’t already, can encourage effective communication and is particularly important during remote learning. It also can go a long way toward building strong teacher-student relationships because it shows students that you care enough about them to take interest in their home and family lives.  

Additionally, when you are in close communication with students’ families, you can alert one another if something is going on with a student that should be addressed. If something is affecting the student at home, you can talk with the student, offer support, and connect the student to outside resources.  

Strong relationships are an important cornerstone of any SEL program and are especially critical during distance learning. SEL programs and activities can help you take an active role in connecting with students to show them you care and are committed to their success. The bottom line is: when students believe you care about them, they are more likely to enjoy school, perform well, and follow class rules and policies. 

Learn more about how SEL programs and efforts to build strong relationships contribute to positive student outcomes. Contact our experts at Aperture Education to learn more.