Have a Relationship with Me!

I recently had the privilege of participating in “Teacher of the Year” visitations for our County Office of Education.  Our team observed teachers in many schools in several districts.  We visited elementary, middle, and high school classrooms.  After each observation we met with the teacher and asked them a series of questions.  One of the questions we asked was “To what do you attribute your success as a teacher?”  In every interview, whether it was kindergarten, high-school math, or special education, included in the teacher’s answer was “I build relationships with my students.”

A positive relationship with a student provides a comfortable space in which they can learn, increases student motivation to learn, and improves student behavior.  Teachers, along with learning the curriculum they will teach, and how to effectively manage a classroom full of energetic students, need to learn about the value of building relationships with their students.  Students need to know their teacher cares about them and their learning; they need to know the teacher believes they “can” learn and will support them in that process.  We need to build trust and create a safe environment in which students can learn.  To do this we need to listen, understand, engage, respect, and expect them to succeed.

How often do we take the time to provide positive feedback to students when they are doing what is expected?  There is a term I recently learned called Ratio of Interactions (ROI) (1).  The ROI is making a conscious effort to interact with a student more frequently when they are doing something appropriate as opposed to when they are doing something inappropriate.  Attention from adults is sought after by students more often than not on any school site.  Much to our surprise, many students would rather be yelled at by an adult than ignored.  Increasing your positive interactions with students and calling out the good they do, has lasting benefits for both student and adult.

According to Christopher Emdin, an author and dducator, another approach for getting to know a student is to use his “2 x 10” strategy.  First select a student you are struggling to connect with.  Engage that student on any topic for two minutes, then continue having those two-minute conversations about any subject for ten consecutive days.  His research indicates there is significant improvement in that student’s behavior.  When a student knows you care enough about him/her to engage them in conversation it lets them know you respect them, it helps to build trust, and provides a safe environment for learning.

During these conversations, and other times, talk to students about what’s important to them, ask them questions to learn more about what they are interested in and what motivates them.  If you sense something is troubling them, ask if they are okay.   If they are working on an assignment, ask them what their focus is?  What their next steps might be?  What is challenging or tricky about the assignment?  Do they need any help in completing the assignment?

Make a list of several things you know about each of your students – you may be surprised to learn there are some you know little about.  You may have them and/or their parents fill out a Student Strengths Survey.  This lets the student know you are interested in them and provides valuable information for you to employ when planning lessons or managing your classroom.

Some behaviors that are important to avoid as the adult in the room are sarcasm, holding grudges and embarrassing students in front of others.  Conversations about missing assignments, grades, etc should be held one on one and not in front of others.  Holding grudges and “teaching them a lesson” is a non-productive strategy that diminishes trust and creates a hostile environment.  Sarcasm, as defined in the dictionary, is “a sharp and often satirical or ironic utterance designed to cut or give pain.”  It has no place when trying to cultivate a positive relationship with students.

When students receive praise a positive occurrence happens in the brain, and it releases dopamine, which makes the student feel good.  This can create a cycle.  When the student feels good they are more motivated to feel that way again, which hopefully results in more positive interactions and increased learning taking place.

Taking the time to build a relationship with students is fundamental to academic success.  Feeling good about themselves at school helps students feel more supported and safe in the classroom, results in more engagement and increased learning occurs.

“Students don’t care how much you know,

until they know how much you care.”

John Maxwell