How Important is Relationship Building in the Classroom?

relationship2Think about the people in your life you are closest to. If they asked you to do something for them, even something absurd, would you do it? Why?

How about someone you know but you do not particularly like or who does not seem to care much for you. If he/she asked you for a favor, would you do it? Would you want to?

I believe the same rule applies in the classroom. There are many students who have been brought up to respect authority and follow directions simply because a teacher tells them to, and we are very thankful for these students. These sweet, well-behaved kids deserve all of the love and attention we can give them. However, there are also those few who seem to want to do the opposite of what we ask and may not always be interested in our consequences. This is where relationships come in.

I still remember my education professor at Hope College imparting her wisdom: “Some kids won’t do anything for you… until you build a relationship. Then they’ll do ANYTHING for you!” I have taught in elementary, middle, and high schools, and I believe these words to be true at every level.

Check out the words of one of our most struggling and sometimes verbally inappropriate high school students about a teacher who has taken time and energy to build a relationship with him:

“She makes sure I have my work done or at least am attempting at it. If it was another teacher trying to nag at me about doing something, I would of simply told them off. For some people, it’s really hard to get someone to do something. At least for me, I’m probably the most stubborn and hard-headed in the class so that’s pretty impressive. I’ve been kicked out and suspended from the class before (more than once) but she still was there to help. I’ve improved myself I think because of her. She also happened to be there when I was struggling in life. She asks about why I wasn’t at school and how to help. I’ve also more understood that not all people are bad or wish the worst on you to do bad. Most teachers couldn’t care less about you… she could of chose to be like that, but she didn’t. I appreciate that the most. For her to take extra time from her job and put it elsewhere is a great thing. She could hate me and just say I’ll become the next dropout or screw up my own life but does she? No. If more teachers were as helpful as her, some kids would be able to look forward to going to school.”

Building relationships does not:

  • mean you do not give consequences
  • happen overnight
  • involve being on a “friend level” with students, or that they don’t respect you as authority
  • ever become wasted time

Some specific tips I’ve developed over the years:

  • I try to keep this thought in mind: The 55 minutes in your classroom might be the most attention that student receives all day.
  • Kids like to know we’re human beings. Telling stories or even apologizing for something we did wrong helps build a relationship with them.
  • All students, but especially older or “at risk” students, will want a rationale about why they need to do an assigned task. The more we can honestly explain the necessity of a direction we’ve given, the more the relationship is built and the happier the student will be to complete it.
  • If you’re about ready to give up on a student, realize that probably every other teacher (and maybe even the student’s family) is too. That’s exactly when they need you in their corner the most: not letting them get away with anything, but also not disregarding them as “not worth the time.”
  • Some kids enjoy compliments, but to build relationships with those who don’t, I simply make observations. “Oh wow, you got a haircut!” “You really know these quadratic equations.” “Looks like you got new shoes!” These things still show them you’re noticing them.

In the wise words of my mother in law, “Everyone’s carrying their own cross.” When I’m burdened and stressed, I become less pleasant. What I need in that time is not only for someone to reprimand my behavior but more importantly for them to care about me, listen to me, and ask me if I’m okay. (See next tip)

  • Certain students are best disciplined in private. I have learned to switch my conversation from “Stop acting this way!” to “Are you okay?” Once I listen to the student about anything going on in his or her life that may be affecting their behavior, then we can handle consequences.

By building a relationship with your students, they will love you, be happy about coming to your class, and work for you, even when they don’t feel like it, because they know how much you care!

Some kids won’t do anything for you. Until you build a relationship; Then they’ll do ANYTHING for you.

3 thoughts on “How Important is Relationship Building in the Classroom?

  1. “All students, but especially older or “at risk” students, will want a rationale about why they need to do an assigned task.”

    Agreed! And don’t they all deserve one? This is a great point about transparency that is going to help build the relationships and student buy-in for a class. Don’t we as adults, especially educators, want to know the rationale for administrative decisions in our schools? You’re right–our students deserve the same!

  2. Pingback: The Power of Silence | Adventures in the Blended Support Model

  3. Pingback: Building Relationships in the Classroom: What To Do in The First Weeks and Beyond! | Adventures in the Blended Support Model

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