Building positive relationships with students is a fundamental teaching skill. Great teachers are masters in earning students’ trust during the school year with their amazing classroom management techniques. When students learn that they are valued for who they truly are, they tend to be more collaborative and feel more comfortable, confident, and excited about school and learning. Furthermore, positive relationships with teachers tend to increase student motivation and engagement with the academic content being taught.
The educators at Educate. Radiate. Elevate. make relationship-building with our students a top priority. We have seen firsthand how positive student-tutor relationships have improved students’ enjoyment of learning and boosted overall comprehension of the subjects taught. Here we share five tips for how you too can build positive relationships with your students.
1. Remember your students’ names
This may seem basic, but it is foundational in relationship building to know each other’s names and correct pronunciation. Doing so helps students feel recognized and included. You can easily remember your students’ names by using memory cues, such as associating a student’s name with someone else you know with the same name. Another effective strategy is to print photos of your students and write their names underneath. Alternatively, you can create a simple seating chart or utilize name cards at the beginning of the school year. Whatever method you use, remembering your students’ names is step one to building a relationship with them.
2. Teach self-awareness
Teaching self-awareness is rewarding as it helps students to understand who they are. It also guides them to recognize their traits, feelings, thoughts, and interests. The more they know about themselves, the better they can make sense of the world around them.
You can promote self-awareness by having them reflect on their “Glows and Grows.” By journaling about what they do well and what they can improve on – in their academic and personal lives – they feel more empowered to take on challenges. Plus it gives you as the educator valuable insight into the student, allowing you to form a better relationship with them and meet them where they are. You can help them with this process by saying things like, “I’ve noticed that you learn things quickly when you combine text and images.” This models for them the process of self-reflection.
It is also essential for educators to make space for emotions by helping their students identify and articulate how they are feeling. For students who struggle with this, you can ask them to describe their feelings using colors, emojis, or illustrations. Or you can model it for them by stating something like, “When __ happens to me, I feel __. Are you feeling __ right now?” Alternatively, you can utilize supplementary materials, such as My Feelings Journal (ages 4-7), GoZen.com (ages 5-15), Big Life Journal (ages 6-11), My Mixed Emotions (ages 7-10), or Happy Confident Me (ages 7-12). Allowing opportunities for emotional self-reflection helps students to open up, allowing you to better assist them.
Another strategy is to encourage your students to talk themselves through a problem. This type of self-talk can help them identify and recognize what is causing stress and what is producing confidence. It is especially effective for perfectionist students who often have negative thoughts that prevent them from moving forward. Talking themselves through the challenge helps them notice those personal hurdles and better address them.
3. Teach self-regulation
Helping your students learn self-regulation techniques can improve their ability to monitor and manage their emotions, thoughts, and actions in healthy ways. This will likely result in more positive outcomes related to relationships, self-esteem, and learning.
One way you can teach self-regulation is through guidance and modeling. For example, if your student seems frustrated with an assignment, you can check in, asking open-ended guiding questions like “Where are you stuck?” and “What did you do last time?” This will help your students feel supported by you, while also increasing their confidence since you are not immediately fixing the problem for them, but you are instead demonstrating that you believe they can resolve it themselves.
Also, you can propose proactive stress relief techniques to students, such as practicing yoga, listening to music, or creating art. There are also great mindfulness apps you can suggest, like Headspace, Calm, and Stop, Breathe & Think Kids. These activities help students learn how to manage their emotions and resulting behaviors. Therefore, if something happens unexpectedly, your students can react in a healthy manner.
4. Teach growth mindset
A growth mindset encourages students to explore their values and potential. It inspires them to surpass limits regarding their own knowledge and abilities. For example, the article “What Students Are Saying About Rejection, Overcoming Fear and Their ‘Word of the Year’” is a collection of teenagers’ comments on rejection in their lives, highlighting their optimism and drive. With the right mindset, students can grow.
To teach a growth mindset, you could start a session with a compliment, focusing on their character and effort rather than their talents. For instance, you can say “You are so kind. I really enjoy working with you.” Or you can tell your student “You did a great job working on this project. You should be proud of yourself.” With your motivation, students’ inner confidence levels can rise tremendously.
However, keep in mind that it is okay for students to experience discomfort and uncertainty when learning, reminding them that challenges allow for growth. For instance, if a student is struggling with a math problem, you can suggest resources to assist them in finding the solution (i.e. reviewing similar examples, studying their notes, asking a peer, etc.). Make sure not to immediately go into “Fix It Mode” and do the problem for them, as that sends the message to the student that they are incapable of success on their own. Once the student has overcome the challenge and their feelings of confidence are high, have a discussion about how setbacks often provide a way forward. Remind them that struggling is inherent in growth. You can even liken it to going to the gym. Curling your arm with no weight is unlikely to build muscle, but adding the challenge of a barbell quickly builds strength.
5. Stimulate curiosity
Curiosity is a natural driving force that promotes critical thinking, deep reasoning, and overall understanding. Curiosity also propels students to ask questions, devour information, and seek out new learning experiences.
So how do you stimulate students’ curiosity? You can encourage them to ask challenging questions starting with “Why,” “What if,” or “How.” This requires them to think carefully and look for more evidence before accepting someone’s claims as truth. Rather than just giving them the answer, you can help them form hypotheses and allow them to work together to test their validity. You can also introduce tools to help them explore new topics of interest, such as Mix, Discuvver, or URL Roulette, as well as unconventional sources, like anime or What are My Strengths? When they tell you about their discoveries, praise them for their curiosity and efforts.
Another way to spark your students’ curiosity is to connect what you are teaching to things they are interested in. For example, you want to teach a new concept of chemistry, and you know your students get excited to learn by experimentation, so you can start your class with a critical thinking question like “Why does a volcano suddenly erupt?” You allow them to work with their peers to complete research and create their own models of erupting volcanoes. Then, you can ask them to share with the class the answers they discover. Linking topics to what your students love shows you understand them and value their opinions, which deepens the student-teacher relationship.
We Are Happy to Help!
E.R.E. is dedicated to providing academic and emotional support for students. In our goal to assist students, we love sharing tips and resources in our articles for educators. Tutors at E.R.E are experienced professionals who devote their time to providing high-quality instruction for underserved students. You, too, can help us create positive learning opportunities for students, equipping them with the tools to take charge of the future they want for themselves, their families, and their communities. You can nominate a student to participate in our free tutoring program or you can donate today to support students in need!