Improving teacher-student 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.

Open channels of communication:

An open channel of communication is the foundation of any successful teacher-student relationship. Include your contact email and office hours in your syllabus/introduction letter, and post them in your room so that all students can easily find this information to know how and when to reach you with questions and concerns. Be mindful of your own schedule and time commitments to avoid overburdening yourself and taking on more than you can handle. If you set an unrealistic expectation of the time and attention you are able to give to help students with assignments and answering questions, it can end up damaging the relationships you’re attempting to build.

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, with students 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.

Calling out and reacting to these behaviors after they occur can only go so far. To make these teachable moments rather than punitive ones, consider establishing guidelines for conduct in advance, reviewing them often, and correcting students by reminding them what the rules are, why they exist, and how they serve to keep them safe. GoGuardian’s Teacher program has within it multiple tools to help move us from “caught ya” to “taught ya,” including content 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 and 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 learning activities, games, materials, books, etc. that they are free to touch and explore. Pre-established boundaries and guidelines and consistent, stable routines help create a bond of trust between teacher and student by making students feel respected, safe, and secure. 

Positive guidance:

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.

  • 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, and 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, and 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. 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 versus watching a video versus 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.