Strategies: Restoring Student Relationships


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.

Conflict at School

Conflict will often come up in relationships with students at school. The conflict could be a result of an action you take (joking while a student is having a bad day), or the result of an action the student takes (using inappropriate language in class). When conflict arises, it is important to deal with the immediate situation first, then move towards restoring the student relationship.

When repairing a relationship, remember to use empathy. Restoring a relationship won’t always happen immediately. Don’t look for quick results – rather, use the strategies below and continue working to restore the student relationship.

Restoration Strategies

  • Let Go (Do Over) – Communicate with the student that today is a new day. No matter what the conflict was, you won’t hold a grudge and there are no hard feelings. “Yesterday is in the past, let’s leave it behind us and forget it.”
  • Ownership – If possible, take ownership of part of the problem. “I could have handled the situation better.”
  • Empathy Statement – Use empathy to seek the perspective of the student. “You were frustrated, that makes a lot of sense.”
  • Statement of Care – Separate the student’s actions from their sense of self. “I love you.” “I love having you in class.”
  • Collaborative Problem Solving – Problem solve together to identify a win/win scenario. This will mutually benefit both you and the student. “When you start getting angry, how about you take a seat in the comfy chair?”

Conflict can put a strain on student relationships. Being able to react to the conflict in a positive and healthy way will help with restoring student relationships.

What’s Next

Practicing these strategies is imperative to strong, positive relationships with students. If you are looking to improve in this area, check out our free staff development resource – Relationship Triage.

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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