Building Relationships with Students

Instructor: Michael Quist

Michael has taught college-level mathematics and sociology; high school math, history, science, and speech/drama; and has a doctorate in education.

Teacher-student relationships can make the difference between success and failure in the classroom. In this lesson we will explore techniques for building relationships with students.

What is an Effective Teacher-Student Relationship?

Think about some of your favorite teachers. What was your relationship like with them? Did they seem genuinely interested in you and your life? Did they make you feel like you really mattered to them? Chances are good that they did -- and that you responded by working hard in class. If you had trouble, you knew you could ask them for help. And if you made trouble (rarely, of course!), they were probably able to help you get back on track fairly quickly.

The best teachers develop good relationships with their students by:

  • Listening
  • Empathizing
  • Showing that they care
  • Giving time, attention, and help
  • Offering constructive feedback

In this lesson, we will take a closer look at these techniques for building and maintaining good teacher-student relationships in the classroom.

Building and Maintaining Relationships with Your Students

As a teacher, it's your job to take the lead in building the teacher-student relationship. If you're proactive in creating relationships, then you can prevent or quickly resolve many behavior problems, while helping each student to perform up to potential. And isn't that why you became a teacher in the first place?

Of course, even teachers are human! We all have our favorite students and others who frustrate us at times. As educational professionals, however, we know that it's our job to try to do our best for each student. So we must regularly check ourselves, examine the way we think about each student, and remind ourselves what we need to do for that student.

Now let's focus on behaviors that can help us develop strong teacher-student relationships.

Listen Carefully

If a student is taking the time to speak to you, listen carefully. Listen to what they're not saying, as well as what they're saying. Listen to the message 'between the lines'. If they happen to be long-winded, gently redirect their conversation to focus on what's really important. 'I know you're having problems with some of the other kids, Mary, and that bothers you. Tell me what you think you could do to get along better with Alicia.' Get them to focus on the things that they can really control.

Watch with Empathy

Notice the students who withdraw. Notice the students who have something to say, but don't say it. Reach out to them. 'Jordana, you seem pretty quiet, these days. Are you all right?' Empathy is the practice of feeling what the student is feeling. If you can feel their pain, then you can understand.

Show that You Care

Realize that the students can see through you if you're just pretending to care, so make it genuine. Remember why you're a teacher and what you're trying to accomplish with your students. Then show that you care. Greet them. Treat them as valued persons. Show concern for what matters to them. 'Good morning, Greg! How did the game go yesterday?'

Give Students Time, Attention, and Help

When you ask questions, some students require more time to think than others. Keep track of the ones who need more time, and give it to them. If they're struggling, give little hints. Focus on creating a success for each student. 'Well, Susan, let's back up a little. What was the Civil War even about? Why were they fighting? How would you feel if you believed that all your rights were being taken away?'

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