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5 Tips for Better Relationships With Your Students

Should teaching be a popularity contest? Probably not. But skilled educators know the value of having good relationships with students. Establishing goodwill can help minimize classroom disruptions, improve student engagement, and reduce stress for everyone. Here are some approaches to win student support.

Become a Popular Teacher

When you were a student, did you put more effort into an assignment or not cause mischief because you liked a teacher? That teacher you liked was popular (at least with you). As teachers, our primary goals are for students to try hard and behave in our classes. If we can make that happen, then being popular is a good thing.

Teachers become popular by building good relationships with their students by treating them the way they would like to be treated. Simply stated, students want to be treated with respect. Talking down to students or lecturing them about their inadequacies will only irritate or frustrate them. Offering positive reinforcement, being consistent, smiling, and listening to their concerns all help to gain students' trust and  friendship.   

Get To Know Your Students

Work at getting to know your students as individuals. Find out their interests. Initiate conversations with them about sports, TV, or school activities, or compliment them on their clothing. As you talk to them and listen to what's on their minds, they will begin to see that you're not just another adult, but someone who is genuinely interested in them 

What you are doing is building up goodwill. There may be some hard times ahead, where you will have to be tough on certain individuals. Having some previous interactions that were positive may help. Though having “favorites” is not a good idea, it doesn't hurt to make a special effort to build a friendship with those who may become your problem students. This can be accomplished as simply as looking for opportunities to give them compliments, not overheard by others, such as “You did a nice job in class today by raising your hand instead of blurting out when you had ideas to share. Your cooperation in class made it easier for me to teach today. Thanks.”

Protect the Student’s Self-Esteem

As teachers, we are dealing with fragile beings. Adolescence brings insecurities. Individuals at this age are pulling away from adults. Being accepted by their peers is the key to their self-esteem. Being criticized by a teacher in front of their peers humiliates them. To avoid “losing face,” students may react by talking back, smirking, or walking out of class. They will do whatever it takes to preserve their dignity. 

So, how do you manage a classroom without taking away students' dignity? Make discipline corrections quietly and quickly. When there is misbehavior, keep your voice even. No sarcastic or condescending comments. If you can deal with a problem in a joking or light manner, that's even better. Sometimes, a pause or look will settle the issue and nothing needs to be said.

Whenever possible, try to handle discipline issues without an audience.  When leading a class activity, you may be able to talk privately about a discipline issue at the student's desk or catch him as he leaves class. This allows for better, more genuine exchanges, since the student responses will not be witnessed by classmates.

Occasionally a student will be reluctant to accept disciplinary actions, such as staying a few minutes after class, changing seats, or taking a detention slip. This is the time to invoke what I call the “fairness doctrine.” I point out to the student that if I don't discipline him, it is not fair to others who have done similar activities and suffered a penalty. I end up by saying, “How would you feel if I disciplined you today and then you see me let a classmate get away with the same misbehavior tomorrow? It is only fair that I treat everyone the same. To give you special treatment would be showing favoritism.” This helps them see that, not only is it a fair thing to do, but to let them off would garner disapproval of their peers who would see this as a teacher giving an individual special treatment.

Build Goodwill on Good Days

Too often teachers only interact with students when there is a disruption. When things are going well and students are quietly reading, doing their work, or listening attentively, we just silently accept this situation and enjoy the respite from having to correct misbehavior. Yet this is the time to build a little goodwill by commenting on how much you appreciate your students' good study habits. Here's a great opportunity to use statements like these:

“It's really great to see all of you start your homework without having to be told.”

“I appreciate that you are all working so quietly.”

“The bell just rang. I see that everyone is in the right seat. That's great.”

“It sure is easy to carry on a discussion when people raise their hand and don't interrupt others. I appreciate that.”

“You're a great class; I enjoy being your teacher.”  

Listen to Students

Students like to feel that they have some “say” or influence on what goes on in class. If a teacher is open to receiving feedback, this can bring about a better level of mutual respect. If a student raises a concern about a school policy, an assignment, or grading, we discuss it. I tell my students that they have provided me with some of my best ideas for   improving my teaching. Some of the topics that I use for composition assignments came from students and it was their suggestion that resulted in checklists used for grading projects.

Since my priority is educating students, these discussions don't occur regularly, but they do need to happen. Taking time to listen to student concerns shows that I care enough about them to value their ideas.           
When students feel their teacher is a caring person, then the classroom becomes a happier place for everyone. In a less stressful situation, creative ideas are more likely to emerge. Maintaining good relationships between teachers and students is an all around winning proposition as it fosters an environment where real learning can take place.

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About the Author

Dave Foley taught junior high in Cadillac, Michigan, for 29 years, where he also coached varsity cross country and junior high track. Now retired, he works part-time as a classroom management coach helping teachers who are having difficulties maintaining order in their classrooms. In the summer, he works part-time at Y camps teaching staff how to deal with camper behavior problems and teaching campers canoeing and wilderness skills. Foley holds a master’s degree in counseling and is the author of the Ultimate Classroom Management Handbook.


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