Establishing Student Relationships with Classroom Strategies

Dr. Clay Cook, a researcher at the University of Minnesota, has developed a method he calls EMR, which focuses directly on establishing, maintaining, and restoring student relationships. Students crave genuine relationships, and often times students who find themselves in the most trouble are the students who need genuine, positive relationships the most! As relationships begin to be established between you and your students, classroom management will begin to be more effective and less necessary.

Many of the strategies involved within Dr. Cook’s method to build relationships with students are universal. While the strategies are not necessarily new, it is important to have more than one tool in the toolbox when attempting to build relationships with students, as well as have a sense of where the relationship with a student is.

Strategies to Use

Below are some strategies that can be used to help establish a relationship with students.

  • Ask students open-ended questions. This strategy is a great tool not only for building a positive relationship with a student, but also getting information about the student. “Did you do anything over your weekend?” “If you could do anything in school, what would it be?” Even a survey to start the year can begin this positive communication between teachers and students.
  • Check in on student interests. Once information is gathered, begin checking in on student interests. “How did your football team do over the weekend?” “Did you see the sale happening this Wednesday?” Continuing to check in on student interests can build the relationship from one that is being established, to one that is being maintained.
  • Share humor! Too many teachers are still told not to smile until November. Find humor and share it with students. My personal favorite is to play the “old man” card, and ask about ‘insta-chat’ and ‘snap-gram’ and ‘twitter-face’.

  • Use Second-Hand Compliments. When talking with a student, give a compliment that you ‘heard’ from another teacher. “I heard Ms. Jones saying that you are always calm in a crisis – that’s impressive!” “I heard Mr. Paulson saying that you sang very well in the play on Friday!” To use, or give, second hand compliments, be sure to keep in mind:
    • Complement must be specific
    • Can be told from a third party, or given through a third party
    • Make sure the compliment gets back to the student
    • Can be in any form – phone call, face to face, email, note, etc.
  • Sandwich Feedback. If you find it necessary to give feedback to students before a relationship has been established (or even if one has), sandwich any feedback. Frontload anything positive you have to say, use a growth mindset when giving anything students need to work on, and end with positive feedback. This strategy can be utilized to completion in one sitting, or throughout the year (always coming back to positives). Be sure to use “I believe” statements as well, as these can be very powerful to students.
  • Bank Time. Be positive with students as early as possible. Like a bank account, these positive deposits begins to build and establish a relationship. If an event happens that requires a withdrawal (like a student is sent to the “think away” room), it doesn’t bankrupt the relationship. A goal for banking time would be 5 deposits for every withdrawal.

What’s Next

There is more to EMR than just establishing relationships! Continue here to part 2 – Maintaining Student Relationships. Additionally, if you want a free staff development resource that helps identify where each relationship is with each student, check out Relationship Triage – a free EMR staff development activity.

Finally, if you are looking for additional strategies or are struggling to establish new relationships, use the comments below or share your story with me on twitter. Let’s get better together!

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