October 19, 2017
October is already here and students have settled in for the duration of the school year. Those first days of “get to know you” worksheets and activities seem like a distant memory, as classrooms are in full swing with lots of learning projects and end of grading period assessments. By this point in the school year, teachers have long since learned their students’ names and some of their individual strengths and interests. As research has shown many times, these teacher-student relationships can have a high effect size and be the key to student success and achievement (Hattie, 2009).
Beyond learning names and basic interests though, how do teachers continue to grow and build positive relationships past those first weeks of school? With the high number of distractions and demands taking place in the classroom daily, coupled with very full and quickly paced curricula, teachers must be intentional about taking the needed time and actions to build and strengthen those relationships throughout the entire school year.
In the book, Poor Students, Rich Teaching, Eric Jensen highlights the research correlating positive teacher-student relationships with student achievement. Although these relationships are vital for every student’s growth and development, they have an even greater positive impact on students dealing with trauma and stress, including those students from low socioeconomic environments. Building a strong relational mindset says, “We are all connected in this life together. Always connect first as a person (and an ally) and then as a teacher second” (Jensen, 2016). Following are three ways to build powerful, positive teacher and student relationships.
3 Timely Tips
1. Personalize the learning.
Go beyond name learning strategies and begin to share everyday problems and progress you and your students are making toward your goals. Teachers can customize and design learning experiences aligned with interests, as well as adjust pacing based on levels of mastery. Through maker spaces, project-based learning and flexible environments, opportunities for students to have some say in how and what they learn can prove to be a powerful relationship builder between teachers and students.
2. Connect everyone for success.
In addition to building stronger teacher-student relationships, opportunities that allow students to strengthen peer connections can have an impact on student success. Belonging and cooperative learning are two key social elements which have a strong effect on academic success. Learning how to establish and work within group norms, value diversity and focus on critical thinking can be powerful ways of building stronger relationships within classrooms.
3. Show empathy.
Positive relationships, whether these are between teachers and students or students themselves, require the provision of both cognitive skills and emotional support. Empathy is the ability to understand and share in another person’s feelings. Eric Jensen offers three Quick Connect Tools to help build stronger relationships and higher levels of empathy.
- One and Done: Do one favor or make one connection with someone else. This does not need to be a huge, grand event. It can be as simple as paying attention to notice that a student enjoys a particular restaurant and sharing a coupon that you found.
- Two by Ten: For ten consecutive days, invest two minutes each day to connect and talk with a student about anything, not necessarily school or academic-related. The intentional act of making time to connect each day can be a powerful relationship builder.
- Three in Thirty: Discover at least three things about another person, ideally within 30 days of meeting them. Find out more about their home life and family or what their goals and dreams are for the future. The more intention that goes into building and strengthening connections and relationships, the higher the impact on student success in the classroom.
2 Teaching Tools
Teaching Tolerance offers four strategies for building positive relationships with students that build on sharing mistakes and modeling respect for each other.
A four-step system for Getting to Know your Students that includes strategies for keeping up with all of the valuable information learned about each student allows for more in-depth relationships to be built over the course of the school year.
“When students feel connected, respected, and trusted by their teachers, they behave and learn better, as student-teacher relationships have a strong effect on student achievement…Students care more about whether their teachers care, than what their teachers know.”
Hattie, John. (2009). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. New York, NY: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group.
Jensen, Eric. (2016). Poor students, rich teaching. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.