Teaching Tip # 19 – Restoring Student Relationships

Restoring Student Relationships

Strategies: Restoring Student Relationships


One very effective way to be proactive and prevent inappropriate behaviors in the classroom is by establishing student relationships. Clay Cook, a researcher at the University of Minnesota, describes this in three phases of relationship building, which is what these tips are based on. This series of teaching tips will discuss:

Establishing Relationships

Maintaining Relationships

Restoring Relationships

Often times, conflict will come up in a relationship. If conflict cannot be dealt with in a positive, healthy way, conflict will define what the relationship becomes.

If you are a board game fan, I have an example. While playing Settlers of Catan, I traded a handful of wheat away to the other players, mainly my wife. I could see she was excited about her next turn, and I watched that excitement turn to pure loathing as I played a monopoly card to gather back all the wheat I had just traded away.

We had a long discussion about how the game “should” be played, and have since arrived at an understanding. The point is, we had a strong relationship prior to that game. Because of that strong relationship, we were able to work through the conflict and restore our relationship – and we still play lots of board games together! With students, it is your goal to maintain strong relationships, so that conflict does not define that relationship.

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). Either way, when conflict arises, it is important to deal with the immediate situation first, then move towards restoring the student relationship.

When repairing a relationship, it is important to remember to use empathy. Often times, restoring a relationship won’t happen immediately. Don’t look for results – rather, use empathy, and observe the reaction of the student. Then, repeat as necessary to restore and maintain the relationship. The strategies below assume that you have already established a relationship with the student, and were maintaining the relationships prior to the conflict.

Restoration Strategies

1 – 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.”

2 – Ownership – If possible, take ownership of part of the problem. “I could have handled the situation better.”

3 – Empathy Statement – Use empathy to seek the perspective of the student. “You were frustrated, that makes a lot of sense.”

4 – Statement of Care – Separate the student’s actions from their sense of self. “I love you.” “I love having you in class.”

5 – 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.

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