7 Ways to Build Better Relationships with Students

Leadership, Learner Experience, Smart Teachers

By Stephanie Shaw

I once heard a story about a girl who went camping and hated every minute of it. She hated the hard ground, the bugs–basically the whole experience.

After this, she decided that she was never going camping again, but then…she fell in love with a boy and this boy loved camping. Since she loved the boy, she decided to give camping another shot. Much to her surprise, this time camping was amazing. She saw the beautiful scenery, the falling stars and many other wonderful things.

What made the difference? The difference was that someone who cared about her took the time to help her see the experience in a new light.

It is no secret that building relationships just like this with students is key to success in the classroom. We have students coming to us who have had bad experiences with school and now they hate it. It is our job to help them turn this around and see it in a different (and more positive) light. The ugly truth is that many times we do not know what they have been through or what they go home to, and we might be the only positive influence they have.

I once had a student who lost his mother the year before who was significantly below grade level. I was really able to connect with him and he showed tremendous growth on his end of year tests. I was so excited for him, but I also learned a huge lesson from the experience. The last day of school I had my students write down their favorite memory from the school year, and when I opened his it said, “The time Mrs. Shaw said that she loved me.” I have saved that paper for more than ten years because it reminds me that students will remember how you made them feel much more that any subject you taught.

I also learned that academic growth is a natural effect of building relationships with students. It is a fact that students will work harder for teachers they know love them, but that is easier said than done. Making sure my students feel loved is a top priority in my classroom, and here are seven specific ways I try to do it.

  1. I greet students at the door every morning. This is one small thing that speaks volumes–it lets my students know that they are important enough that I am going to stop whatever I am doing to speak to them before we even start.
  2. I have a “family meeting” with my classroom. Several times a week for 10-15 minutes, I let students share what is going on in their life and I also share with them what is going on with me. This is one of my favorite parts of the day because their stories remind me that they are not a number or a score and they have real successes and struggles. I see this time as an investment and feel it pays in dividends in the end.
  3. I use a class social media posting site through SeeSaw. This is a great place for students to share and post pictures and interact with each other. This is safe because it all goes through me before it makes the “wall.” It gives everyone a chance to see the new puppy or game ball and builds relationships within the class as we celebrate with each other.
  4. I write positive notes and make positive phone calls home. This may be one of the most powerful things I do. It takes just a minute and it will make a student’s (and parent’s) day. This lets a child know that I value and see the good in them.
  5. I make a point to have personal conversations with my students. I know what is going on in their life because of the outlets I have for them to share, so it gives me something personal to talk about with them. I think this can significantly improve behavior as well. The 2×10 Strategy is great to try with your more difficult students.
  6. I try to make a connection to my students. For example, I had a student added to my classroom mid-year who had some trouble transitioning. I knew this kid loved a particular basketball player, so I would seek out articles about this player and put them on his desk or find funny memes to share. The difference this made was amazing! His behavior improved and it was noticeable enough for my inclusion teacher to ask what had happened. This small connection went a long way.
  7. I try to talk the talk and walk the walk. My goal is for all of my students to know that I love and care about them. I am not only going to tell them, I am going to make an effort to show them by taking time to really listen, get to know them and, in the words of J.M. Barrie, I am going to make an effort to “always be a little kinder than necessary.”

Please know that I am a “work in progress” and I have not mastered student relationship building. But I assure you I have seen it’s miracle working power over and over in my classroom.

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Stephanie is Teacher of the Year at Mooresville Intermediate School in North Carolina, and a Digital Scholar with the DigiLEARN program. Follow her on Twitter: @stephshaw413.


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