At the centre if every good classroom is a teacher who is skilled at building relationships with the children they teach. It isn’t just important it is absolutely essential. If you can’t build relationships with students, and there are different ways of doing this, they will simply not perform as well for you. Strong relationships are the foundations upon which great classrooms are built. The good news is, it’s something that can get better with practice.
One – Myth-busting bad practice. The idea that handing out punishments to students ruins your relationship with them. Or worse still, reneging on sanctions builds a relationship with students. Both of these statements are fundamentally untrue and are actually two of the most damaging things you can do when it comes to building rapport with students.
Two – Invest in them. Ask them how their weekends were or what they have been up to recently. If they are into sports, talk about that or ask them how they are doing in their team outside of school.
Three – Make them laugh. This is the biggest one for me. I love a bad pun and the students love to hate it. There will always be an eye roll and a smile. Self-deprecating jokes are always the best I find.
Four – Never walk past without saying hello. I was told this by somebody on my PGCE and it has stuck. On the corridors, outside or wherever it may be, never pass a student without a smile and a hello. It shows you care outside of just the classroom.
Five – Greet them at the door. We do this anyway at my school but greeting them into the classroom with a smile and a handshake means that within the first 30 seconds of the lesson you have spoken to every child once.
Six – Explain yourself. This counts for if you are praising a students behaviour or criticising it. Why is their action exemplary or unacceptable. In the case of the former, it allows them to know what they are doing well so they can repeat it. It also highlights that as positive behaviour to the rest of the class and is sometimes effective at praising that individual while also bringing others in line. Make it short and snappy with no room for reply in the case of the latter. “Your name is going on the board now Michael because you are speaking when I am and that’s bad manners, stop it thank you.” Follow it up with number seven…
Seven – Catch them doing something right. Try to find reasons to praise your students. This is especially important if you have just called them out on an unacceptable behaviour as it rebuilds that relationship and trust. Make it genuine though, never praise something sub-par or that is just the norm like listening. This could mean asking them to wait behind after class to praise them. This is for all students though as everybody should be told when they are doing a good job.
Eight – Be consistent. If you have given somebody a detention for talking over you then do it for everybody. The quickest way to ruin a relationship is to have one rule for one person and not the others.
Nine – Show them the real you. I have always found that the teachers with the best classroom relationships are transparent. What I mean by this is they are happy to talk about what their hobbies and outside of school activities are, within reason of course. It gives you something to bond over. My students know I play in a 5 aside league and that I’m terrible at it!
Ten – Never take it personally. The biggest barrier people have to relationship building with students is taking their behaviour personally. Children don’t misbehave or lie for any reason other than they aren’t fully grown humans yet and will always push boundaries as that’s how they learn. If you see it as an attack on you personally, as much as you may try otherwise, you will treat students differently as a result and the relationship will never be built up. So, whenever little Johnny has been rude to you or not worked hard enough for you, remember that it won’t be just you this is happening to and follow through with a suitable sanction.
This isn’t meant to be a comprehensive list but it’s something that I’ve found has helped me. I’ve known form tutors and teachers who have gone to watch their students play in their sports teams on a Saturday. What an incredible way to build relationships! There are so many ways to do it and the most important thing is let them see why you are in teaching. We are all here to improve the life chances of our students and when they know that in their bones, they will be on you side for good.