Creating a positive culture in the classroom!

The classroom environment must be a safe place for students, so that they feel comfortable taking risks and engaging in the learning experience. This teacher action includes all those practices that encourage a positive relationship between the teacher and the student, between students, and extends to the wider community.

What is a student–teacher relationship?

A strong student–teacher relationship is a vital component of a successful classroom. It encourages students to work hard in order to please their teacher. A high level of respect in the classroom, towards the students and towards the teacher, is a direct result of strong student–teacher relationships. Working to build strong relationships creates a sense of safety within the classroom. When students have a good relationship with their teacher, they are less likely to be afraid of making mistakes and giving incorrect answers. Students become confident learners when they know their teacher believes in them and their abilities. Students are instantly motivated and tend to love a specific subject when a teacher takes the time to build a relationship with them. Students who have a good relationship with their teacher perform at a higher level and enjoy school much more than a student who does not have this strong relationship.

What are the essential parts?

There are several things a teacher can do to build a relationship with his or her students. The following foundational strategies help build strong student–teacher relationships:

A. Get to Know Your Students: A foundational component in building a strong relationship is taking the time to get to know your students. Conducting student interviews in which they tell you about themselves can facilitate this type of relationship. All of your students have interests and hobbies they would love to share with you. Showing your students you know what they like and are genuinely interested in what they do will create trust and a high level of respect from your students.

B. Individualize: Understanding what a child is going through and making classroom modifications to meet the child’s specific needs will directly lead to a strong student–teacher relationship. Often times, students have specific interests or needs that can increase their comfort level and confidence within the classroom. Recognizing ways to address a student’s individual interests or needs could be as simple as allowing students to select a unique reward rather than issuing a generic prize for a job well done. For some students, this could be as simple as giving them a “no homework pass” or allowing them a free period to bring technology to school.

C. Watch What You Say: As a teacher, it is important to monitor not only what you say, but also how you say it. Setting the appropriate tone for communication in your classroom will create an environment in which students know what to expect when they speak to you and when you speak to them. Being a positive role model for communication will increase the comfort level in your classroom as well as the level of respect your students have for you as a teacher. Establishing positive and consistent communication is essential in creating a strong student–teacher relationships. This is especially important with high school students, who communicate via texting and abbreviations with their peers. Teachers should constantly model positive and open communication.

D. Keep Trying to Reach Your Students: Regardless of the situation, students should always feel you will be on their side and continue helping them grow no matter the struggles they may face. Throughout the year, every student will have ups and downs in their learning. As a teacher, it is important to be consistent and model for the student what a dependable relationship looks like. Students should feel like their teacher will always be there for them. In turn, students will strive to work hard and accomplish tasks to prove to their teacher that they, too, are dependable.

E. Reinforce Effort and Provide Recognition: Students are willing to hear feedback on their efforts when they know their teacher cares about them and is offering feedback as a way to help them be the best they can be. When they know their teacher believes in them and their efforts, students are motivated to continue trying and struggling through challenging tasks.

What is NOT considered a student–teacher relationship?

Simply having students in your room does not create a student–teacher relationship. Quality is often much more important than quantity when building relationships.

A. Student–teacher relationships are not built on the positive relationship a teacher might have with a parent. Sometimes, teachers take the time to be a good communicator with parents, but fail to connect with the student. It is important to show students you are invested in their education and will work with them and their parents to form a strong academic bond.

B. A student–teacher relationship does not mean the teacher is a cool friend for the student to have. Maintaining the role of the adult mentor is vital in the success of a solid and strong student–teacher relationship.

C. Providing compliments and extrinsic rewards as alternatives to sincere relationships does not result in achievement gains among struggling learners.

D. Being a students friend while listening to his or her peer drama and getting involved in it is not an indication of a strong student–teacher relationship.

What is the role of the teacher?

Teachers should be consistent in everything they do. Students will feel calm and ready to learn when they know what to expect from their teacher.

A. Treat every student as an individual, especially for young students who are just beginning their school careers. They need to know their teacher cares about them.

B. Show interest in what your students like to do, in and out of school. Attending a basketball game or cheer competition will do amazing things for a student–teacher relationship. Be involved in your students lives.

C. Stay the course. Never let a student think you have given up on him or her. Giving up on a student is a recipe for disaster. High school students have most likely had some failures in education at some point. Teachers should work hard to remind students this is completely normal and will only make them stronger. If students push away, it might help for the teacher to share some personal experiences of when he or she was in high school. In order for high school students to plan for their educational future, they must know failure is part of the process, and despite anything that has happened in the past, they can still achieve their goals!

D. Consider recognizing students’ effort and persistence as they work through challenges. Students will make the connection between effort and improvement and will develop an internalized sense of motivation. Be judicious in giving compliments for small efforts.

What are the students doing?

Students are watching, listening, and following the example being set by the teacher. Since the teacher sets the tone for the classroom, students will quickly begin to copy their teacher’s behavior toward adults and other students. Students will also begin to love coming to school because of the acceptance and support they receive from their teacher. Young students want to feel loved and supported. Since students know the classroom is a safe place and they are sure that their teacher will not belittle or embarrass them in any way, they will begin to ask questions. Students will also follow the teacher’s directions out of respect. The teacher who has strong student–teacher relationships is a hero. He or she is the role model that every student needs.

When an observer walks into the room, what will he or she see?

The observer should sense a feeling of complete safety in a classroom in which the teacher has strong student–teacher relationships. Most likely, there is a place in the classroom where students are able to share their personal interests. Students could ask questions and share answers without being concerned about what might happen if they are wrong. If behavior becomes an issue, the teacher has to do very little to get them back on task. The level of respect that flows back and forth between the teacher and the students is extremely high. The observer might hear the teacher talking to a specific student about a soccer game that the student had over the weekend. She might allow the student to write about the game instead of the suggested writing assignment in the curriculum.

What variations of a student–teacher relationship might I see?

There are hundreds of ways to build a strong student–teacher relationship. The following are a few examples:

A. Student Interview- Students are given a time to share facts about themselves with the class.

B. Me in a Bag- Students place objects into a bag that represent something that they enjoy or that tells a random fact about them. Students share the items with the class and talk about why they selected them.

C. Wall of Fame- The teacher designates a spot in the classroom to display the successes of her students in and out of the classroom.

D. Lunch Bunch- The teacher invites a small group of students to eat lunch in the classroom with him or her. During this time, the students’ interests can be discussed.

E. Event Attender- When possible, attend the extracurricular events of your students. Nothing makes a student more happy than seeing his or her teacher at a recital or game.

How will I know it is a successful instructional practice with students?

Success will be seen and felt instantly. The neatness and accuracy of students’ work as well as positive behavioral changes will occur. Students and teachers will feel better about coming to school because they are invested in the people with whom they spend their day. The results will be clear and easy to see.

What are the main challenges?

One challenge may be the teacher’s willingness to use class time to devote to non-academic activities. Since time is a constant battle, some teachers do not feel that they have the time to devote to doing interest inventories. Another challenge can be the willingness of the students to open up to the teacher. Building student–teacher relationships take time, and it takes patience on the teacher’s part for these relationships to build.

What are the work arounds?

Teachers are not always comfortable with taking the time to build relationships with their students. However, the time spent bonding with the students will pay for itself ten-fold. Fortunately, most learners respond extremely well to building relationships. Students not only enjoy relationships with their teacher, but also tend to be better learners who grow more academically than students without a student–teacher relationship. The classroom teacher must be patient and diligent in his or her approach with building relationships, and the teacher will find that it pays off when they do.

A. Do not expect every student to be comfortable opening up to their teacher instantly. Sometimes students are shy and reserved, and they need time to open up. Other students might feel they are too old to build a relationship with their teacher. The teacher must be patient, and give these students the space and support they need.