7 Insights for Building Positive Relationships with Your Students
Effective teaching requires many components: classroom management, thoughtful lesson-planning, student engagement, meaningful assessment, and much more.
But one of the most important things necessary to being an effective teacher is building positive relationships with students.
It may not be taught in teacher education programs, but relationship-building is vital in the classroom. Students are more likely to treat teachers with respect when they are respected as well, and they’re more open to listening and learning when you’ve taken the time to build a relationship.
Researchers Jeffrey Kottler and Stanley Zehm explain that students won’t trust their teachers or “open themselves up to hear what [teachers] have to say” unless they feel valued and respected. Leading educational researcher and speaker Robert J. Marzano says that students will resist rules, procedures, and discipline “if the foundation of a good relationship is lacking.”
Building positive relationships with your students helps establish mutual trust and respect. This goodwill translates to improved behavior, increased engagement, and a positive learning environment that allows your students to succeed.
Here are some tips to build positive relationships with students in your English classroom.
Greet Students at the Door
This is a simple way to make your students feel welcome and important. It sets the tone for a positive and productive day in your classroom.
As students begin trickling in, hold the door open and greet them with a smile. “Good morning,” or, “How’s your day going?” goes a long way.
Address Students by Name
Addressing students by name is another easy way to establish positive relationships. You can do this when you greet students at the door (“Good morning, Nathan”) or when you call on them to answer a question.
Calling students by name communicates respect and helps students feel acknowledged as individuals. Dr. E.W. Willemsen, a developmental psychology researcher, states that students feel they are part of a community when addressed by name. As part of this community, students begin to feel that the subject matter of the class is more accessible.
Get to Know the Individual
Recognize each of your students as individuals by getting to know more about them. What extracurricular activities are they involved in? What are their future plans? What do they do in their free time?
During the first week of school, you can have students fill out “Getting to Know You” questionnaires. You can also provide creative writing opportunities that allow you to learn more about your students. Of course, simply talking to your students is another valuable way to get to know them as individuals.
Students appreciate it when teachers remember these details and bring them up in conversation. If you know your student is on the soccer team and they had a game last night, ask how the game went. Recommend books to your students based on their interests. Not only will this help you build relationships, but you may spark an interest in reading as well!
If you get to know your students and express an interest in them, you’ll notice their interest in English class increase too.
In most cases, your students will come from many different backgrounds, cultures, and experiences. Try to celebrate and embrace these differences.
Give students opportunities to talk or write about their lives, traditions, and unique experiences. Introduce different voices into your classroom through literature. Sometimes your hands may be tied when it comes to your curriculum, but you can build a classroom library representing both male and female authors with varying ethnicities, religions, and perspectives.
You can also connect required texts to shorter texts (stories, poems, essays) by authors from diverse backgrounds. When students can recognize themselves in your classroom, they feel included and comfortable. They’ll want to learn from you and participate in your class.
Being inclusive also means creating an environment where any student can learn. This includes English language learners, students with disabilities, and gifted students who may need additional enrichment. The more you get to know your students and build relationships with them, the better you’ll understand what they need and how you can provide it.
Communicate Positive Expectations
Every student should know that you believe they are capable of succeeding in your classroom. Inevitably, some students will struggle more than others and some students will be more frustrating to work with than others.
Still, it’s vital for you to remain positive. When students struggle, talk to them about what you can do to help. Pull a student aside and asked if he studied for the last exam. If not, what can he do next time to better prepare? Ask a student why she hasn’t been turning in work. Does she not understand the material, or is there another problem?
Even the most “difficult” students want to know that you care. Some of these students don’t have people to support and encourage them and showing that you believe they’re capable of improvement can make a significant impact.
Give Fresh Starts
This one is difficult, but it’s also important. If a student says something rude or is disruptive on Wednesday, address the behavior as needed. But on Thursday, greet the student with the same smile and positive attitude as always. Be forgiving, and give each student a fresh start each day.
It may take patience and time, but a consistently positive and forgiving attitude will win over your students and result in vastly improved behavior. When behavior improves, reaching your students and teaching your class becomes much easier.
Provide Positive Comments and Feedback
As a teacher, you’re familiar with contacting parents about a child’s bad behavior or poor work ethic. But it’s also important to contact parents when a child does well. This improves your relationship with both students and parents.
For instance, if a child who has failed to turn in assignments starts completing work and raising his grade, send a quick email to his parent recognizing and praising the improvement you’ve noticed. The parent will likely mention the email to your student, who will feel proud and motivated to continue improving.
You can also write positive notes to your students. It might sound cheesy, but even high school students genuinely appreciate such gestures. Let’s say you’re passing out lists of missing assignments to your students. You can write quick notes like, “You’re capable of much better! Let me know how I can help!” or, “I’m really proud of the improvement you’ve shown this quarter. Keep it up!”
Most likely, you’ll notice that your students are now more motivated to get missing work turned in. They may approach you and ask questions, request a worksheet they can’t find, or even thank you for your words of encouragement.
When you read your students’ writing, take time to leave a note or two of praise and encouragement as well. Writing is a highly personal activity, and students are more likely to continue learning and trying if they receive praise along with constructive criticism.
In the English classroom, groans and complaints about reading and writing are common. You may not convert every student into a voracious reader or willing writer, but building positive relationships will increase their willingness to listen and learn.
Treat students with respect and kindness, and they’ll do the same for you. As your students come to understand that you value them as individuals and genuinely want them to succeed, you’ll gain their trust. They’ll want to hear what you have to say and learn what you can teach them.
Something as simple as a kind greeting or a smile can make a big difference in your students’ lives—and in the effectiveness of your teaching.
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