Teaching Tip #17 – Establishing Student Relationships

Establishing Student Relationships

Establishing Student Relationships with Classroom Strategies


In the previous teaching tip, classroom management was discussed through a preventive lens, specifically identifying details in a classroom lesson that could lead to behavior management issues. Another effective way to be proactive and prevent inappropriate behaviors in the classroom is by establishing student relationships. The next three teaching tips will discuss:

Establishing Relationships

Maintaining Relationships

Restoring Relationships

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. Each letter refers to a phase of the relationship that the teacher has with the student. At the beginning when there is no relationship, the teacher and student are in the “Establishing” phase. Once a relationship has begun, the teacher and student are now “Maintaining” the relationship. Finally, when an negative event occurs (sending a student from class, for example), the relationship must be “restored.”

Many of the strategies involved within Cook’s method are universally used when building relationships with students. 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.

These strategies can be combined and used to begin to establish relationships with students. When using these strategies, be sure to continue using open ended questions, listen, and accept student perspectives as their truth. 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 even less necessary.

Continue here to part 2 – Maintaining Student Relationships

Continue here to part 3 – Restoring Student Relationships

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