Building a relationship with your students is a critical piece of creating a safe, positive, and efficient classroom. About 6 to 8 weeks into the start of the new school year, students often begin to really settle in–they get to know you, the other students, develop friendships, and are more comfortable testing classroom expectations and boundaries. This often coincides with the time of year when you’re starting to feel some fatigue as well. It’s exhausting launching a classroom and getting to know (and make the right impression on) dozens or hundreds of new students and their families! By the middle of the first quarter, you’re also likely seeing your efforts fall flat with at least some of your students.
This is the time when grit comes in. It’s one thing to learn about it and talk about it, but actually slogging through the difficult times in your classroom and also building real relationships with the students who push every one of your buttons? That’s when your grittiness gets put to the test. We’ve found a lot of “what” and “why” about grit, but not a lot of “how.” Here we’ll provide some great advice and practical classroom strategies you can implement today with all your students (especially those who need a bit of extra love from you) to ensure your classroom runs smoothly and that your students know how much you care.
How to Implement Strategies to Improve Classroom Management & Student Relationships Inside & Outside Your Classroom
Outside of the Classroom Strategies:
Have lunch with students one-on-one or in small groups. Everyone brings their own lunch and eats together.
Capitalize on opportunities to talk to students who have gotten in trouble while they’re serving detention or sitting out of recess. Hold your expectations high, but also let students know that you believe they can meet them. Explain why their behavior isn’t okay and why you won’t allow it to continue. Ask what the student needs from you to help them be successful. Really listen to what the student tells you (rather than just pushing your own agenda). Ask questions and talk through what you expect of the student and what they expect from you.
Follow through! Say what you mean and mean what you say. Use whatever strategies you need in order to hold yourself accountable for following through—leave yourself post-its, put reminders in your lesson plans, set reminders on your phone, email yourself, etc.
Don’t leave bad times unspoken about. Even if you’re frustrated with a student, don’t let unpleasantness go without acknowledgment. It’s understandable to be frustrated, but it’s important to circle back with students to talk through what happened so they can learn from it (and so can you!)
Set expectations with individual students before class. Make a quick call to your highest priority students (usually those that are the trickiest to positively engage) to let them know you’re excited to see them and are expecting them to have a great day in class the next day (feel free to be more specific). You can also do this quickly on a student’s way into your classroom rather than or in addition to calling them at home.
Call home and talk to a student. This is just like you would do for a parent phone call—positive or negative—but talk to the student instead of/in addition to the parent.
Prioritize students you need to build relationships with over a few week period. Make a calendar and block out the times/ways you’re going to build relationships with your highest priority kids each day.
Offer tutoring (lunch/after school/before school)—it can be optional or required. Some of the best relationships can be built over doing hard and meaningful academic work. Offering some of your own time to students shows that you’re willing to give of yourself in order for them to succeed. You can also chat with them about life while you’re working, further strengthening your relationship with them.
Ask students to help you after school with classroom things you need assistance with (make sure to get parent permission). You can put out a blanket “ask” and/or pointedly ask specific students that you know you need to prioritize building relationships with.
Attend extracurricular activities/sports activities that your kids participate in. When your students see you investing in them outside of class, it really goes a long way. Furthermore, attending their extracurriculars is a great way to informally chat with other students who are attending and often a great way to casually meet families!
Depending on what your school permits, give students your cell phone number. If you can’t give your cell number, set up a phone number via google voice that will send calls to your cell phone. Give parameters for using it (via call and text). You may want to set the expectation that students should be calling you to request homework help or to let you know if they won’t be able to complete an assignment to promote accountability.
Inside the Classroom / During Class Strategies:
Have a plan for holding students accountable. Make sure both you and students know what will happen (positively and negatively) when they choose to follow expectations or not follow them. If you’re flying by the seat of your pants each time someone does or doesn’t do what’s expected, it’s so, so hard to be consistent (and therefore develop trusting relationships with your students).
Acknowledge/validate student answers or participation. Don’t offer false “almost right!”s if a student is not right, but do acknowledge their participation in some way.
Notice the positive ways your students (especially the more challenging ones!) are engaging and let them know in the moment that you see them doing what they’re supposed to be doing. If students feel like you’re only seeing the negative things they’re doing, they’re less likely to attempt to engage positively.
Build opportunities to be yourself into your lesson (use pictures of things that are important/represent you throughout your PowerPoint, use real-life examples from your own life in problems/examples, etc.). This way, students get to know you and you feel good because you’re being yourself in class, but you’re also pursuing academic goals at the same time
Follow through. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Use whatever strategies you need in order to hold yourself accountable for following through—leave yourself post-its, put reminders in your lesson plans, set reminders on your phone, email yourself, etc.
Acknowledge when you’re wrong. This goes a long way in both teaching students that it’s okay to do the same and in making you human in their eyes.
Read students’ body language to preempt misbehavior/address frustration/touch base with students when something seems “off.” It’s so much easier to address something preemptively than after students have already gotten in trouble. Also, being able to do this means you know your students well, and once they know you know them, they’ll be more likely to open up to you when needed.
Maximize your class time. This shows students that you value their learning so much that you literally don’t have a minute to waste. It shows students that you’re well prepared for class and sets the standard for having no time for them wasting time or being unprepared either. Plus, it’s harder for students to get distracted with unproductive behaviors when your lesson is tightly planned.
After you get your class started on an assignment, touch base with your high-needs students (academically or behaviorally) first. Get them started and engaged in the work if they’re not already. So many behavior issues stem from students being disengaged in the academic work.
Letter to the Teacher. Check out our blog post for more information here.
Give these strategies a try, and you’ll be well on your way to growing strong, healthy relationships with all the students you teach.
What other strategies do you use? Share below!
Nina Tinsley is the Director of Operations and Outreach at OneTeacher and a former secondary ELA and math teacher and classroom management and culture coach.