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5 Ways to Build Strong Relationships with Students

One of the strongest ways teachers can connect with students is by making them feel valued and respected. When students feel their teachers care about them, want what’s best for them, and have confidence in their abilities, this can be powerful enough to move mountains. 

Strong teacher-student relationships improve students’ academic achievement, increase cooperation and prosocial behavior, and even factor into students’ decisions to stay in school and graduate. 

Some students are harder to reach than others, but these students often benefit most from a caring teacher relationship. 

Here are five strategies to help you build stronger relationships with all of your students:

1. Show students you care.

Think about a mentor in your life and the impact that individual had on your success. Chances are, this person made you feel like they cared about you and believed in your ability to succeed. 

Showing students that you care about them is critical to building strong relationships and sets the foundation for trust, mutual respect, and cooperation. 

Here are a few simple ways you can reach your students on a personal level:

  • 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 rank lowest on your list.
  • Every student wants to feel seen and heard. Take a few minutes to focus your attention on each student throughout the week. Listen to students and ask questions to show that you are interested in their lives. 
  • Host regular morning meetings to give students a space where they can share about their lives outside of school. Morning meetings set a positive tone for the day, build a sense of community, and fulfill students’ need to belong, feel valued, and have fun.

2. Consider your students’ perspectives.

We often talk about the importance of teaching students empathy. Practice what you preach and try to put yourself in your students’ shoes to understand their experiences better. This will help you address the root cause of issues and problem behavior to better address their needs. 

Try asking yourself these questions when working with a student: 

  • What is the classroom experience like for this student?
  • How often does the student receive positive or negative feedback? 
  • Does the student believe you care about them? 
  • How do you think the student feels about you? 
  • What outside conditions or experiences influence the student’s behavior and actions?

Use this exercise to improve your students’ experiences. For example, if a student is receiving an unproportionate amount of negative feedback, take a step back and try to correct their behavior or performance in a more constructive way. You can also try explicitly asking the student what they like or dislike about class, teachers, and the school environment. Find common ground that you can use to build a relationship based on mutual respect and trust.  

3. Develop mutual trust.

Mutual trust is important in any relationship. With students, educators often need to take the lead in building trust. Here are a few ways you can do that: 

  • Share about your own life. You don’t have to get too personal, but telling students about yourself outside of school can help them see you as a real person, and they might feel more valued because you opened up. 
  • Give students the opportunity to make choices as often as possible. This could be in their assignments, how they demonstrate specific skills or knowledge, setting class rules, etc. 
  • Ask students about the challenges and hardships they face and help them take action to resolve or reduce those problems. For example, you might offer extra one-on-one support, direct students to needed resources (i.e. free school lunches or tutoring services), and/or connect students with counselors and social workers. 
  • Advocate for your students and consistently act in their best interests. This could mean sitting in on a disciplinary meeting to show support or collaborating with other educators on interventions like restorative justice circles. 

4. Practice constructive discipline.

Believe it or not, correcting behavior can be an opportunity to strengthen relationships with students. Too often, teachers do not take the time to explain why rules are in place and the need for fair consequences when rules are broken. By establishing clear guidelines and consequences, you can create a predictable, stable, and fair environment where students are treated with respect and know what is expected of them.  

Here are a few tips for practicing constructive discipline: 

  • 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, and communicate in a way that preserves the student’s dignity.
  • Involve students in the process of establishing class rules and defining the consequences for breaking rules. This will help hold students accountable and reinforce that students are responsible for their choices. 
  • Give students one-on-one time. Often those students who struggle with behavioral issues can benefit from individualized attention. When a student has your full attention, they may not feel compelled to perform for other students and will usually open up and speak more honestly.  
  • 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 ensure all students are treated fairly. Here is a quick tip sheet to help you begin this process. 

5. Get to know students’ families.

Getting to know parents or caregivers encourages effective communication and can be particularly helpful with students who need extra support. Your efforts can show students that you care enough about them to take interest in their home lives.

These tips can help you better connect with your students’ caregivers: 

  • Make it a goal to call each family in the first few weeks of school. Introduce yourself, share a positive observation of their student, and ask the parent or caregiver about their children and if there’s anything you should know that will help them succeed.
  • Learn about your students’ cultures and customs. You can send home a simple questionnaire or give students an assignment to share about their families. Talk with your students about how every family is different and why it’s important to celebrate diversity and practice inclusion.
  • Send home a weekly or monthly newsletter to share what you are working on in class and any themes you are focusing on.
  • Ask parents to alert you 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.

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 relationships with their teachers it impacts their academic achievement, increases the likelihood of disruptive behavior, and even factors into their decision to drop out. 

Use these strategies to build stronger relationships with your students and improve their learning experiences. If you want to learn more about how SEL programs promote strong relationships that contribute to positive student outcomes, contact us through the form below.

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