Building relationships with students can take time, but it’s worth the investment. In fact, I’d venture to say that it’s THE most important thing you can do as a teacher. In order to gain respect, commitment, loyalty, etc. you must work on relationships.
I’d like to share strategies that I use to form a bond with my students as a group and then how I build relationships with individual students.
5-Tips for building relationships with students
Tip #1: Keep it real.
The number 1 tip for building relationships with students is honesty. Kids respect honesty. I laugh and I show emotion. I let students see me crack up and or tear up over read aloud novels. I let them know when I don’t understand something or when I don’t know the answer.
I also let them see me frustrated at situations when a student is detracting from the learning environment. I don’t put up with a lot of goofing off unless it’s time for messing around. I draw firm boundaries with the kids that can handle those boundaries, and for those who need special circumstances, I show that I’m flexible while maintaining my expectations.
Tip #2: Admitting mistakes will help in building relationships with students.
I believe it’s important for kids to see adults apologizing and admitting when they are wrong. I will apologize in front of the entire class, a group of kids, or one student. Apologizing allows kids to see that you are human. EVERY SINGLE TIME I have apologized, I have felt relationships grow.
If I am apologizing in front of the whole class, I’m always amazed to see their kind faces and how attentive, humble, and generous they are with my mistakes. What a life lesson for all of us!
Tip #3: Build excitement for upcoming units.
I have a closet of costumes for different social studies units, but building excitement can be much more simple than putting on a Greek toga. Teach some cool fact, and then share why it’s important to learn about the topic. Anticipate the question about how this will help them in their lives. (Is it obvious that I teach middle school?) I let students know how thrilled I am for the opportunity to explain, and then do so with enthusiasm. Excitement is contagious.
To further enhance engagement, I hunt for items to show and share. For example, we just learned about the tools made by early humans. I happened to have a piece of sinew (animal tendon that early humans used to sew, make tools, etc.) I explained what it was, its use, then I passed it around.
I create hands-on learning experiences. I’ve collected many items to use in artifact digs, so we simulate being archaeologists.
I even dress up as an archaeologist and give myself a goofy name like California Howe. Yep, that’s me below. I sacrifice fashion in the name of student engagement.
One of my favorite activities to engage students is to use Character Trait Scenario and Task Cards. Students learn what a character trait is and isn’t, how to find a character’s trait in a novel, and then we put it all together with skit cards where they act out a scene several times with the character trait changing each time. Click HERE to learn more.
Tip #4: You’re building relationships with students by adding fun.
When I do something to reduce the class workload (like write a sentence starter), I let them know that I have helped them out a bit. In these circumstances, I’ve trained the class to respond to my cue,”What do you say?” which is said in a high-pitched witchy voice, and they all respond in unison with a high-pitched witchy voice, “Thank you, Ms. Howe.” I quickly reply, “You’re welcome, Class.” It sounds so simple, but kids love it. I’ve been using it for years, and it never fails me. They laugh, I laugh, and we move on.
Tip #5: Make simple things into a class tradition
I have a jar on my desk labeled Rat Scat and Whisker Sauce (Halloween sale at Michael’s). In it I keep what I call “Wicked Witch Potion”. It’s really Tic Tacs (but don’t tell them that). When the class is working hard, I’ll come around with my jar, pour some into my outstretched hand, and hold it in front of each student. I’ll often ask, “Wicked Witch Potion?” After they take one, the rule is they must say, “Thank you, Ms. Howe.” in a high-pitched witch voice, and I quickly reply, “You’re welcome, ____” using a similar voice, and move on. They must continue working and not let it distract them.
It’s silly, simple, and effective. They LOVE it when the jar comes out! Discover your own silly ideas and bring them to life.
Tip #6: Build relationships with those kids who really need it.
If you have a struggling student, it can impact your teaching, the class tone, and learning. When you let those few high-needs kiddos know that you care, and you show it, this can work wonders. Here are some simple things you can do to help those relationships grow:
- When you see a student is struggling in some way, kneel down and ask if there’s something you can do to help. If the student can’t answer or won’t answer, simply let the student know you’ll be there to listen.
- When you do need to talk to the student, get your face lower than the student’s face. I find that this is less threatening and makes the teacher more approachable. I like to kneel down. Kids tend to open up faster when your face is at or below their eye level.
- When you ask the student a question or are discussing an issue that’s happened, reduce the amount of talking you do. Silence shouldn’t be threatening. Rather, let the quiet linger. Chances are the student will begin to talk.
- Reduce the workload. For example, you might say, “If you do two problems, I’ll excuse two problems.” Or begin to write out the response you’ve asked to a question, but leave the last part for the student to complete. This way the student sees that you care, and that they can be successful.
- Make a positive phone call home or send a positive note home to their mailing address.
- If you do classroom book orders, let a student know that you’d like them to pick a book for the classroom and you’ll order it. The student can be the first one to read it.
- Front load the student with information on something coming up in class so he or she can successfully participate in discussion or help someone else. You can also just walk around during work time to see who’s needing help and check in with your kiddo. See how it’s going and then ask a whole-class question that this student can answer correctly. You be amazed at what a confidence-booster this is. For more information on Teacher Walk Arounds in the Classroom, check out this blog post.
- Talk to the student when there is no crisis and find out something about them. On the first day of school we tour our new sixth graders around campus. I had previously heard that one of my new students shuts down easily and doesn’t do much work. When I recognized the name, I had this student help me lead the group and I had a moment to talk with her.
- I found out that basketball was really important to her, but she has never able to play on the school team due to grades. I let her know that I, too, love basketball, and that I’d be happy to help her earn her eligibility to try out for the team. Now, 6 weeks into the year, I keep coming back to this first-day talk. I remind the student that try-outs are coming up soon and ask if I can help in any way. Thus far, all work has been completed.
Of course there are many more ways to build bonds with your students. I have just mentioned a few.
What are some of your favorite strategies for building relationships with students.
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