6 Strategies for Building Better Student Relationships
Alyssa, an eighth-grade girl, arrived at our middle school one day wearing a purple bandanna as a headband, even though she was well aware that bandannas were not permitted under our school’s dress code. While it appeared to be a straightforward situation to resolve, I was surprised to find another teacher knocking on my door the following morning, requesting me to instruct Alyssa to remove the bandanna. He admitted that he was uncomfortable dealing with the matter, but he was confident that I would be able to persuade Alyssa to follow the rules because she placed her trust in me.
During that day, I pulled Alyssa aside and we had a private discussion about why bandannas were not permitted at school. When she expressed concern about wearing a headband, I informed her that I understood her motivation, and even offered her the option of wearing another. Immediately following our chat, Alyssa walked quietly to the bathroom and returned to class without the bandanna still on her head.
This seemingly little incident reminded me of the importance of positive relationships in schools and the need for teachers to be deliberate in their efforts to foster them. Developing positive classroom relationships is essential for students to achieve their full potential in school. However, as teachers, we sometimes fail to invest the necessary time in getting to know our students as individuals, which can create hurdles to learning and make even little interactions (or disputes) difficult to manage.
Alyssa wasn’t a great student, and math wasn’t her strong suit, but she put out considerable effort in my class. She inquired about things. It was even possible for her to come in before and after class for additional assistance or simply to talk about her social life. She had faith in me because I had worked hard to establish a relationship with her, demonstrating to her that I respected her and cared about her welfare.
Please include me in the program.
The campaign for the newsletter has come to an end.
Many teachers are under intense time pressure to cover subjects as well as complete a slew of other job-related tasks. In contrast, I have found that dedicating time early and frequently to learning about kids—as well as making little improvements in our classroom—creates a climate in which students are motivated to achieve success. Here are six tactics that I use to help my students develop stronger relationships with one another.
1. Acquire a quick and accurate knowledge of names. Students, particularly those from underrepresented groups, are frequently made to feel invisible in our educational institutions. By learning students’ names quickly and correctly pronouncing them, you may demonstrate your appreciation for their uniqueness and individuality. Do not use nicknames unless students express a preference for them; do not develop a nickname for a student because this removes him or her of the identity that is embedded in his or her given name. Every year, on the first day of school, I have my pupils make name tents and practice pronouncing their names correctly in front of the entire class. I work on pronouncing their names regularly. I set up the name tents and send them out to each student at the end of each class period until I have learned the names of all of the pupils. Before class, I greet each of my students by their first and last names as they walk through the door.
2. Students are never too old to participate in a show-and-tell session. Allowing kids to bring in something that represents them, their culture, or an activity that they enjoy doing at the beginning of the year can help them feel like they are more than just another student. Every day, set aside five to ten minutes for a few kids to present what they’ve brought to class until you’ve given everyone the opportunity. The following items have been brought into my classrooms by students: newborn images of themselves, goggles that they use for their competitive swim team, and keepsakes from a family vacation. Hannah, one of my students, once came to class with her ukulele and sang a song for the entire class. The show-and-tell session developed into a party, and my students thoroughly enjoyed themselves.
3. Display student photos and student work on your website. Primary and secondary school teachers are excellent at sharing student work, but middle and high school teachers are less adept at this vital activity, believing that older students don’t have to participate. I’ve discovered that even older students need to be informed that you appreciate their efforts. As an example, I take a picture of my kids when they participate in the show-and-tell session in class. Those photographs are then printed and displayed on a bulletin board in the classroom, which remains up throughout the school year. The children enjoy seeing how much they have changed over the year because they learn that their development and growth extend beyond their physical appearance to include intellectual and emotional development as well. Besides that, when students’ excellent work, such as individual math projects and group work on math challenges, is shown and celebrated, they feel tremendous pride in their achievements.
4. Assign seats and rotate them regularly. Students in middle school don’t always get along, as we all know. However, when students have opportunities to work together, they learn about one another and develop methods to work together although they are different. Middle school arithmetic students sit at desks in my classroom, which I set up for them. Each week, they change seats using an online random seat changer that is integrated into our attendance management system. I assign them to tables of three or four students each, and they rotate around the tables once a week. In between each shift, the students respond to a simple question, such as “Who would you like to eat dinner with and why?” to get to know the people at their table before spending the next week working together on mathematical projects.
5. Look for tiny opportunities to connect. In my first-period class, circle time is frequently held on Monday mornings or immediately following a break. We form a circle and pass a ball around amongst ourselves. The person holding the ball expresses a compliment about another person in the circle, tells about their weekend or break activities, or describes how they are feeling at the moment and why they are feeling that way. Throughout the weekend, one of my students took part in goat yoga for a friend’s birthday. Her images of goats walking on their backs during yoga class piqued our interest, and we all took notes. On Mondays, if I forget to have circle time, my students are always there to remind me. They also always insist that I participate as well. Even though it may appear as though every minute is required to get through the academic content, I’ve discovered that a five-minute investment once a week to learn about one another is invaluable to my students and helps to create a more positive culture in my classroom.
6. Simply pay attention. As teachers, we are sometimes under the impression that we must maintain a professional distance from our students. However, I have discovered that taking the time to engage in small talk can help break down obstacles to learning. Because I’ve established myself as personable, some of my students may confide in me about their personal experiences during the five minutes that elapse between classes. It causes me to pause what I’m doing, look them in the eyes, and pay attention. I enjoy watching their faces light up as they tell me their experiences, and these interactions always leave me with a better understanding of who they are as individuals.
All children need to have professionals in their schools who care about them enough to take the time to intentionally create meaningful relationships with them that allow them to make errors and learn from their experiences. If we want our students to learn with us, they must first and foremost understand that we care about them. They also require opportunities to learn more about one another to form a community in which they may all grow as learners together as a group.