Building student relationships is the single most effective and important teaching technique teachers can use. If there is one thing that will make or break your year, it comes down to the relationship you have with each student in your classroom. It sets the tone for your classroom and the entire year.
Maya Angelou wisely said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Students who are learning in a caring environment with a teacher who shows an interest in them typically try harder, behave better, and have a more positive outlook of school.
Building student relationships is free
Teachers spend a fortune on decorating their classrooms, buying items for their classroom, and creating treasure chests and reward systems.
Think back to the classrooms you sat in and think about how many you remember. If you’re like most people, you remember the teacher and the students, but don’t recall much about the physical room.
I recommend that you forget spending money on rewards, decorations, and fancy supplies.
Have you ever had a student say, “Thanks for spending your money on cute bulletin boards. They’ve really changed my life.”
Have you spent hours of your time and money to give your class a special reward and been met with complaints, whining, or indifference?
And let’s face it, as a teacher, you don’t have a ton of extra money to spend.
Instead, I suggest investing in your students with your time, listening, and compassion. The payoffs are higher, the memories more lasting, and the results more impactful. And, it doesn’t cost you anything financially.
Good relationships improve student success
When you build student relationships you can increase student success. Students who like and respect their teacher and know that their teacher likes and respects them will bend over backward for that teacher. That means they are more likely to do what is asked of them and try harder.
According to the American Psychology Association, students who have “close, positive and supportive relationships with their teachers will attain higher levels of achievement than those students with more conflict in their relationships.”
One reason for this is that when you build a good relationship you are providing a secure base that helps the student feel safer making mistakes and accepting challenges. They trust you will be there to help them through when they fail.
This feeling is important for students in an era when teachers commonly see one of thee two trends:
- An environment in which parents don’t allow their children to fail and learn from their mistakes
- An environment that is indifferent or non-supportive when it comes to academic learning
While you are not, nor should you try to be, the parent, you can help provide students the support and structure they need in the classroom to improve academic success.
Teachers who build good relationships experience fewer discipline problems
Frequently, teachers who have a harder time with classroom management have not taken the time to build relationships with their students. It is much easier to misbehave for a teacher if you do not like or respect them.
I learned early on in my teaching career to build relationships with troubled students quickly. By finding a few interests they had and talking to them daily, I was able to show interest in them as a person. Soon they were coming to me to tell me about their fishing trips, engine rebuilding, hunting expeditions, etc. The topic didn’t matter. If I had no idea what they were talking about, I asked questions and along the way learned a lot too!
The upside to all of this was that in my high school classroom, I rarely had discipline problems. I was able to gauge their bad days, give a quick look or move over and say a few words of encouragement, and that was usually all it took to reign in misbehavior.
Does it work 100 percent of the time, of course not. But it works most of the time. I’ve even had students who gave other teachers fits, stand up to other students who were trying to give me a hard time.
Positive relationships result in better outlook on school
Positive interactions between teacher and student benefit everyone.
Students who have a good relationship with their teachers tend to have a better outlook of school in general. These students tend to have better attendance, fewer suspensions, and are more likely to stay in school.
Research has also shown that teachers who develop good relationships with their students also enjoy their jobs more fully.
A classroom full of good attitudes, smiles, and encouragement is an environment in which all people can thrive.
Good relationships result in long-term effects
An article published by the American Psychology Association reveals that one long-term benefit of a positive teacher-student relationship was improved adult health.
Another study showed that students who had good relationships with teachers and peers in middle school and high school reported having better mental and physical health in their mid-20s.
Likewise, negative student-teacher relationships can have harmful long-term effects, including “a greater chance of having physical health issues, psychological illnesses, and adulthood health-harming behaviors.”
Teachers continue to have an impact long after students have left school.
My experience building student relationships
I’ve never had a student come back and thank me for changing out my bulletin board, for throwing them a reward party, or for spending money on a class event. But I have had many, many students thank me for the time I spent making them feel important by listening to and encouraging them.
Over the years, I have had students contact me to tell me they got their GED, went back to college and graduated in their 30s, started a business, or chose to go to college for a career they had never dreamed about until having me for a teacher.
I’ve had former students contact me and thank me for not giving up on them, for seeing something in them no one else did, and for pushing them for more.
The common thread of all of those exchanges was they wanted me to know they had succeeded and to thank me for the impact I had made in their lives. They knew I cared about them and would want to know.
Did I do anything extraordinary? No. I invested a little time. I simply took a genuine interest in them personally and developed a human relationship built on caring and trust.
So I ask you, which teachers do you remember from your school days? How do you want to be remembered?
Investing in the time to build a relationship with your students will have big payoffs now, but will have lasting impact in the future as well. Building good student relationships truly benefits everyone.