New Teacher Advocate — Fall 2013
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5 Practices That Build Positive Relationships With Students
Kelley Clark

Tthe objective is posted. The “Do Now” is ready to go. You’ve created a lesson that aligns with state standards, includes a variety of instructional methods, and offers opportunities for formative assessments.

How could you make your instruction even more effective? Establish a strong positive relationship with your students, the kind of connection that makes them want to go above and beyond in your class.

Can you have a good lesson without having this positive relationship? Yes. But can a strong relationship lead to an even higher level of academic.

success? Absolutely! As Marzano (2011) stated, “A weak or negative relationship will mute or even negate the benefits of even the most effective instructional strategies.”

In teacher preparation classes, teacher candidates are given a general sense of what “positive relationships” means in the classroom context. How this looks on a daily basis will depend on you—your personality, but also your strategic efforts to make sure you’re building relationships. Here are five practices that have helped me develop positive relationships with my students:

1. Leave yourself reminders.

I only see my doctor once a year, but every time I go in, he asks about each of my children by name. Of course, I know he checks my file before he walks into the room, but it still shows me he cares.

We need to do the same for our students.That’s why I often have sticky note memos stuck to my laptop with reminders, such as “ask Ari about her sister” or “check on Kristi’s tennis match.”

Recently, thanks to a sticky note, I remembered to ask a student, Brandon, about his father’s accident. On his way out of class, in typical high school boy fashion, Brandon gave me a nod and quietly said, “Thanks.” No matter how many times I had told the class I cared, that one simple gesture proved it to Brandon.

2. Never let the other students see you react inappropriately to a student’s comment.

I’ll never forget the moment when I realized that this was a critical part of forming a positive relationship with the students in my class. Andrew, a student who had trouble fitting in, raised his hand to answer a question. His response was not only incorrect—it was something he should have known. Students began glancing around and grinning awkwardly. Every eye in that classroom was on me.

In that moment, I knew that I could not let my eyes veer even slightly from Andrew’s, nor could I show the merest hint of a smile. Yes, by looking at the other students with a pitiful face or a confused look, I could have bonded with the class. Instead, I looked only at Andrew, thanked him for answering, responded quickly, and moved on.

In a single moment, all 26 students in that class learned three important things: a) no matter how foolish your answer is, you will not be ridiculed in this class; b) all of my students are equally important to me; and c) while I want to have a close relationship with you, it will never be at the expense of another student.

3. Actually use the information you receive from a first-day student survey.

My students have always filled out a first-day survey. I have learned to review them carefully, listing the students’ interests and extra-curricular activities and keeping it handy throughout the semester or year to aid my planning.

I also write down their responses to questions like, “Do you prefer to work alone or with a partner?” Think about it: What does it say to a student if she writes that she doesn’t like sitting in the back or working with a partner, but I seat her in the back and assign partner work without so much as a comment?

4. Schedule bonding time.

I’m not a huge fan of icebreakers. Students work hard in my class, and I work hard to ensure they are learning during every available minute. However, I’ve realized that I can get to know students effectively while they are doing problem-solving activities or small-group work.

If I notice that the dynamics are off in a particular class, I schedule an activity that doesn’t require much guidance from me. During that activity I walk around the class very purposefully and strategically, connecting with certain students.

5. Learn your students’ names immediately.

I always know my students’ names by the time they leave my classroom on the first day. In their eyes, it’s very impressive to learn so many names in 90 minutes. They don’t know that I have access to their photos and names before they ever enter the room!

Like me, you may get so caught up in the act of teaching that you forget the heart of teaching. Teacher preparation programs tend to focus on content knowledge and instructional strategies— which are obviously critical. But, in the process of mastering what we’re teaching, we don’t ever want to forget who we’re teaching.


Marzano, R. J. (2011). Art and science of teaching /relating to students: It’s what you do that counts. Educational Leadership, 68(6), 82–83.