5 Strategies to Build Student Relationships – Part 1

Building relationships with students is one of the most important parts of being a teacher. The classroom experience is much deeper than compliance (getting students to do what you say) as it centers upon connection (showing them how much you care about their success and growth).

1. Make Eye Contact with Your Students

Making eye contact with your students is an essential strategy for building relationships. It shows that you are engaged in the conversation, it’s a way to connect with people, and it shows that you are paying attention. Eye contact also conveys your interest in what they’re saying.

One of the fun ways to do this is through a classroom tradition of greeting students at the door. Create a unique or fun way for them to enter – handshake, special quote, or something else. Years ago, one of my teachers stood at the door every morning and had her middle school students line up in the hallway. One by one, they entered the class after having made eye contact and going through this tradition – the students would say “Good morning, I’m ready to learn” and she would reply “Good morning, I’m here to help you.”

That extra 5 minutes for students to get to class were invaluable. This step made sure that she had a brief and positive connection with every student, every day. Some days, she could detect that students were not ready to learn and would set up a secondary contact during class. Because of the extra efforts to connect with those students, this teacher rarely had to write disciplinary referrals.

Simply, engage with your students! When you’re talking with students and making eye contact, they can see and feel your engagement.

2. A Personal Interest in The Students

Listen closely to student answers and ask questions about their interests and hobbies, where they are from, what their family does for fun, what they plan on doing after high school, and the like. Taking an

interest in students’ lives outside of class helps build trust between you two—and confidence is essential when working with young people!

As you ask about their interests and hobbies, make sure you record those somewhere for future use. Here’s a super simple example – if you have a word problem on the board to start math class, incorporate student interests (e.g., dancing or video games) into that problem to grab their attention. Students will recognize that you have listened to their interest meaning that they will be more at ease.

When teaching history, I asked my students at the beginning of the year to share their primary interest at that moment of their life. Those responses were kept in my notes, and I infused them into lesson or unit plans. I also created a small sign – Today is YOUR special interest – and would give it to the appropriate student when their topic was going to be merged with the content. Our tradition was when that topic came up, the student would raise their hand, and they got the chance to share why that was special to them. Be warned, however, that students will make you dig deep sometimes to make that connection to the content!

Another thing you can do is at the beginning of the year is to simply ask students to share their strengths, struggles, preferred learning style, etc. This little bit of information gets them to reflect and prepares you to help them later. Once you have a good idea of these things, use that knowledge to connect with the student in meaningful ways to help him/her succeed in school and life.

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