July 24, 2019

5 Strategies for Building Positive Relationships with Students

Nina W.
Photo of a teacher leading a class with students raising their hands

Building Positive Teacher-Child Relationships

Building healthy relationships is an essential part of the learning process for both teachers and students. Establishing and maintaining healthy relationships with coworkers, administration, and parents enables us to effectively partner to give our students the best educational experiences with the greatest outcomes. But equally important to this process is creating and sustaining healthy relationships with students that allow us to provide the supportive guidance necessary to ensure their academic and personal success. Below are a few strategies that can help each of us improve these relationships.

Building relationships with students through open channels of communication:

An open channel for teacher-student communication is the foundation of any successful classroom relationship. There are several ways you can do this, including:

  • Include your contact information and office hours in your syllabus/introduction letter.
  • Post your contact information on the door of your room so students know how to find them.
  • Let teachers and students know that you’re there for them and will answer their questions and concerns during your allotted hours.

Keep in mind that unrealistic expectations of the time and attention you are able to give to help students can end up damaging the relationships you’re attempting to build. Setting specific hours and letting them know you’re available sets expectations for you and your students.

Moving from “caught ya” to “taught ya”:

Part of our role as educators is to maintain the safety of our students, both in class and online. This can be especially challenging in the age of smartphones, social-media, and Fortnite. Students are constantly looking for creative ways to text friends, access the ‘gram, and play their favorite games in class. Teaching students how to use technology and access the internet responsibly can go far in encouraging responsible digital citizenship. However, it is important to know how to respond to students getting off task or attempting to access restricted content. Implementing content filters can help by eliminating distracting or inappropriate sites from their search results. These filters can even block specific URLs. Adding content filters eliminates the need to reprimand the child. Instead, it keeps them on track from the start, so you don’t have to disrupt class to tell students to stay focused.

Calling out and reacting to these behaviors after they occur can only go so far. Aside from content filters, consider establishing guidelines for conduct in advance. You can then correct the student by reminding them of the rules and how they keep them safe. This helps to turn these instances into teachable moments rather than punitive ones.

GoGuardian’s Teacher program has within it multiple tools to help move us from “caught ya” to “taught ya,” including web filtering filtering, tab control, and a real-time teacher-student chat function.

Proactive classroom management:

One of my personal favorite teaching practices is to create “yes spaces.” To create a “yes” space is to create a space that encourages autonomy and self-sufficiency in students by defining clear boundaries and expectations. It’s about placing emphasis on what they can do rather than what they can’t. Create a list of classroom guidelines of expected behavior such as “in this class, we listen when others speak” or “we use computers for schoolwork only,” and post them in places where they’re easily visible and clearly displayed.

Fill the room with a mixture of relationship-building activities, games, materials, books, etc. that they are free to touch and explore. Pre-established boundaries, guidelines, and consistent, stable routines help to create a positive student-teacher relationship in which both parties feel respected, safe, and secure.

Positive teacher guidance and relationship building strategies:

As teachers, we spend much of our time helping students navigate the rough seas of life and education, but we cannot sail for them. We can, however, help them navigate by providing supportive encouragement and positive guidance in line with their learning styles and needs. We can improve their emotional wellness, provide guidance, and build relationships with the following actions:

  • Ask questions often and encourage them to find answers on their own rather than telling them the answers (intervening only to provide assistance if they seem stuck or struggling.)
  • Promote mindfulness of their bodily powers and capabilities.
  • Discourage negative self-talk. If a student says, “I can’t do this,” encourage “I need to take a break” instead.
  • Respond to challenging behavior and outbursts with patience and compassion rather than punishment.
  • Model appropriate behavior and responses.
  • Correct challenging behavior or missteps by reminding them of the classroom expectations and “dos.”

Students feel valued in learning environments in which they are guided with patience, compassion, and encouragement.

Student-initiated learning:

Student-initiated learning is a teaching practice that entails empowering students with freedom to make choices regarding how, what, and when they learn. You can create this belief in them with the following student-teacher relationship building practices:

  • Use surveys to find out what students are interested in, or combine surveys with exit tickets to get student feedback on a lesson, theme, quiz, or teaching method.
  • Encourage students to be vocal about what is working for them and what they would change.
  • Support differentiated instruction by providing students with a variety of choices in how to engage with lessons—a choice between working independently or in pairs or a choice between reading a book, watching a video, or completing an online activity.

One of the most impactful ways to build improved relationships with your students is by creating a classroom environment that gives them a voice, respects that voice, and includes them in the decision-making process. Show students the respect and compassion you expect from them, and be a model and a guide. Your actions will always speak louder than anything you could say.