I know you’ve heard this.
“Building positive student-teacher relationships” is a phrase we always hear in education.
We hear it from professional development, our administration, and colleagues. But if you are anything like me at the beginning of each school year (especially when I was a new teacher!), you are probably left wondering at times:
“How exactly am I supposed to build meaningful and authentic relationships with my students?”
“How can I simultaneously affirm their identities, further their academic success, and make them motivated to learn?”
“Is there a neat and straightforward rubric out there that can magically give me all the answers and guarantee success?”
I sure wish there was (as I would be the first person to grab it!) but unfortunately, there isn’t.
Not all relationships develop the same way and not all students bring the same experiences to the classroom.
BUT, I do believe there are a few guiding principles and strategies that can help you kickstart your quest to building relationships with ALL of your students in natural, simple ways — whether it be through your lessons or in the “in-between” moments when a lesson is ending, students are packing up, or when you are picking up your students from lunch.
Here are just a few key tips that have guided me in the past to building positive student relationships:
10 Tips to Build Positive Relationships with Students
Tip 1 | Always set the tone before and after students enter the classroom.
For example, every morning, I greet my students at the door with a big smile and give them an individual handshake of their choosing. I do the same in the afternoon before dismissal. Making an effort to greet each one of my students at the beginning and end of the school day demonstrates that I care and respect every single one of them.
Tip 2 | Try to stop and listen.
Listening to your students is an effective yet simple way to learn about their interests. Whenever I have recess, there are always a few stragglers who stick around before running off so they can tell me stories about themselves, such as what they did at soccer practice the other day. I simply stop and listen and watch as their eyes light up because of the level of excitement they have in sharing their experiences with me!
If you find that you do not have many spaces for those “in-between” moments, you could strive to set aside 2 minutes of one-on-one talk with each student for 10 consecutive days.
This is known as the 2×10 strategy which is a research-based strategy intended for creating purposeful spaces for meaningful teacher-student talk.
Here is a link if you would like to learn more about this strategy: https://www.panoramaed.com/blog/2×10-relationship-building-strategy
Tip 3 | Be explicit about how much you care.
I remember having a few kids in one of my former classes who struggled a bit behaviorally. I could tell that with these specific kids, it was not simply about needing to remind them to “stay on task” or assuming they are “acting out” because they wanted to make my life difficult (even though it sometimes felt that way). They needed someone to reassure them that they have people in their lives rooting for them.
Think about all the times someone in your life pulled you aside and reassured you that they love you and are here to support you. Remember how amazing that felt?! That’s exactly what I believe we should be doing with our students.
Tip 4 | Incorporate fun, humor-filled activities that support social-emotional learning.
Let’s be real: laughing builds relationships!
Anytime you can build lessons in the curriculum that are effective but also just plain fun, you will find it much easier for your students to let down their walls.
One activity I like to incorporate in my classroom during math is called “Solve It To Laugh About It.” It is my word problems resource that reveals an interesting, funny joke once the problems are solved. In this past school year, it was amazing to see that my students were always so eager to do this activity and couldn’t help but let out soft giggles or offer huge goofy grins anytime we read the jokes together! This included kids who did not enjoy math in the past! If you are interested in learning more about this resource, you can access it in my TPT store HERE (currently only available for 2nd grade – 3rd grade is coming soon).
Tip 5 | Encourage “Self to Peer to Teacher” connections through Morning Meeting.
Making sure that my students develop a sense of belonging in my classroom has always been my top priority. I’m always trying to find ways for my students to build connections with me and their peers all at the same time because I believe they go hand-in-hand.
Something I love to incorporate in my classroom every day is Morning Meeting, which is a research-based strategy. Since Morning Meeting gives students the chance to share anything they would like, both me AND the kids can learn more about each other in order to build on these connections later. Incorporating morning meeting also teaches my students that their perspectives and voices matter to me and their peers.
Tip 6 | Incorporate Group Shout-Outs.
A follow-up activity that I love to do after Morning Meeting is called “Morning Shout-outs.” This happens at the end of Morning Meeting when I have everyone think about someone in the class they would like to give a shout out to. Maybe they saw a classmate work really hard on a math problem that was tough for them, or saw someone help a friend during math rotations, or maybe they helped a friend who was feeling sad. Basically, they can say something positive about a classmate they are proud of! After each person shares (I call on three students each day), we clap and cheer for the person being shouted out. It is always great to see all of their big smiles. It is just the happiest part of our day and really brings us all together. I always make sure that I shout someone out too because it helps me build stronger relationships with my students.
Tip 7 | Make classroom rewards social!
Whenever my students are doing something awesome in the classroom, I give them an opportunity to choose a reward each Friday from my reward-system. One of these rewards includes small-group lunch bunches with me. Whenever a student chooses to have lunch with me, they are given the opportunity to invite two-three other classmates they would like to pull along for the ride! These lunch bunches always give me and my students an opportunity to bond more and it is always so heartwarming to see them choose to eat lunch with me and their classmates.
Tip 8 | Share and highlight student work.
This is a rather simple one but it is SO effective.
Research shows that showcasing student work in the classroom helps make students feel valued. Anytime my students complete a project, I hang up their work for everyone to see! Anytime my students want to share research they did over the weekend for Science and Social Studies (which has been so amazing to see!), I give them the opportunity to share their discoveries with the rest of the class. So, anytime students complete work, take that as an opportunity to hang up their work on any bare wall that you can find! Along with meaningful compliments, sharing and highlighting student work shows students that their effort does not go unnoticed by their teacher.
Tip 9 | Don’t be scared to get loose with your students during recess.
Sometimes, I simply do not have the energy BUT whenever I do, I like to join in on the fun at recess. You could join a basketball game by just shooting a basketball or ask if you can have a turn jumping rope if you see that some of the kids have already started their own jump-rope session!
Fun fact: I used to be on a jump rope team when I was a kid, so jumping rope with my students was just as fun for me as it was for them. They got a kick out of it!
Tip 10 | Be Weird.
Listen, I’ve always been a weird person and teacher.
Life is too boring NOT to be weird, right? So, I like to bring my weirdness into the classroom. Sometimes I stand on my students’ desks during a lesson or make up math songs to current songs my students know from the radio and have them sing them along with me.
Another way I like to be “weird” is through FUN FACTS in math class. And some of these facts may involve animal poo or how a roach can live without its head for up to a week! Check out the video below for a fun fact about wombat poop!
Essentially, whenever we are working on math problems together (either in small groups or whole-group) and answer each section of a problem correctly, part of a fun fact is revealed over time. Once it is completed, a super silly fun fact is revealed followed by immediate laughter and snickers that I’m sure you can hear down the hall! I truly believe that when teachers and students can laugh together (bonus points if you’re laughing about cube-shaped wombat poop), they can create memorable experiences together that will last forever as they look upon some of the best memories they have of school growing up.
Free Fun Fact Resource
My students also love solving these math puzzle worksheets because once they’ve solved the problem, a fun fact is revealed! You can download a free set here!
I hope you found these tips for building positive relationships with your students helpful. Which did you find most helpful? I’d love for you to post in the comments below! And if you have any additional tips, I’d love for you to drop those tips in the comments below, as well!
But before you go, I want to end with this short video that has so many golden nuggets that can help us continue to build positive student relationships. There was one piece of information that really stuck out to me and it’s something I think every teacher should know (the science in me loves this information): When children have experiences of closeness and consistency and trust, oxytocin is released. Oxytocin has many positive effects on the development of the brain. Being nice to a child isn’t enough.. instead, we need to give our students experiences of trust, closeness and consistency, strong enough to release that hormone, oxytocin.
Hover over the image below to save this to your Pinterest Board to refer back to later.