As new teachers, we have so much room for professional development. Creating lesson plans, staying on top of grading, managing student behavior, dealing with parents, and all the activities not directly related to teaching a subject are challenging for teachers of all tenures. However, experienced teachers will tell you that one of the best first priorities for new teachers is building positive relationships with students.
Why is it important to build positive relationships with students?
Research in the education journal, Teaching and Teacher Education, concluded that expert teachers emphasize cultivating strong relationships to proactively discourage misbehavior before it can even begin. Especially early in your career and near the beginning of each school year, students are more likely to test your boundaries. Building relationships with them reduces resistance to classroom rules and expectations.
Moreover, positive teacher-student relationships lead to more engaged learning and promote academic and societal success. One study found that good relationships with teachers decrease the likelihood of students engaging in antisocial behavior, delinquency, violence, or other misbehaviors.
How to build positive relationships with students
The following tips and activities to build relationships with students can help create a positive classroom culture and effective learning environment:
Hit the ground running. One of the best ways to begin building relationships with students is to learn their names as quickly as possible in the first days of school each year. Spend your opening day prioritizing introductions and connections rather than overwhelming students with traditional first-day activities such as pretests, syllabus reviews, and textbook distribution. Give students a brief questionnaire or play a game to learn their preferred names, personal details, and any fun facts you may also use to help build relationships among students.
Welcome students to school or class each day. At every age, greeting students as they arrive is a small yet significant daily interaction to build familiarity for a positive relationship. Stand at the door and acknowledge each student verbally or nonverbally.
- Recognize appropriate behavior with praise. For example, “Thank you for walking in quietly, [Student name].”
- Use simple, polite greetings. For example, “Good morning, [Student name].”
- Ask a question that shows your interest in them outside of your classroom. For example, “Did you win your soccer game, [Student name]?”
You may also try nonverbal greetings such as a high five, elbow bump, or personalized handshake.
Share glimpses of your life outside the classroom. Students feel more comfortable around adults and authority figures with whom they are more familiar, and sharing information about yourself helps them see you as a human being. Let them know about your family, pets, or hobbies you enjoy outside of school—while maintaining a professional distance and not oversharing, of course.
Begin class with a communal “circle time” or brief, structured social check-in period to serve as a relaxed introduction to the day’s agenda. You might choose to:
- Discuss daily announcements
- Preview upcoming activities or assignments
- Introduce current events
- Ask for recaps of students’ weekends
- Check in on sports teams and other extracurriculars, or inquire about anything else that’s interesting to them
These brief conversations can help make significant strides in both overall classroom behavior and relationship-building efforts.
Conduct individual check-ins and one-on-one conferences. Class-wide conversations or small-group interactions may reveal individual students who need additional instruction or may be struggling with any number of factors in or out of the classroom. Depending on your students’ ages and device preferences, you could begin with a shared survey document or email thread as a safe space to facilitate a check-in before setting up individual conferences with students. You may learn about family or home life developments, personal learning preferences, or other insights to help you better understand your students’ needs.
Be an active and involved member of the larger school community. Keep the school’s event calendar handy. Attend your students’ sporting events, concerts, theatrical performances, and other events. Your presence is a sign of support and sends the message that you care about and respect your students as whole individuals, not just learners in your classroom.
Keep your eyes open for relationship-building opportunities. From simple conversations in class or over lunch to hosting a book club or opening your room for study sessions, look for any chance to build sincere rapport.
For more new ideas and proven strategies on how to cultivate and promote positive relationships with students, be sure to prioritize your professional development as a teacher. Relationship-building is a key content pillar and topic of focus for Avanti’s online and on-demand professional learning platform. Explore field-tested techniques for building rapport and genuine relationships with students, in addition to hundreds more videos and professional development resources. Get started with a free seven-day trial today.