Written By Gabi Guillory-Welsh
Teachers and parents alike understand the importance of building strong, trusting relationships with students. According to a Review of Educational Research analysis of 46 studies, strong teacher-student relationships were associated with the following:
- Higher student academic engagement
- Higher attendance
- Better grades
- Fewer disruptive behaviors and suspensions
- Decreased school dropout rates
Additionally, “a teacher's relationship with students was the best predictor of how much the teacher experienced joy versus anxiety in class.” (Review of Educational Research)
Is this why I’m on cloud 9 with my classroom this year? Almost my entire class is made up of returning students. I am able to taste the fruits of my previous year’s labors...which we teachers rarely get to experience first hand.
This year, I’m grateful to fast-forward through the getting-to-know-you phase with many of my students and focus more immediately on their academics. I know my students’ strengths, their triggers, what motivates them to succeed, and what time they need to stretch or take 3 big deep calming breaths, all because of the growing we’ve already done together. My students have gotten to know me too. They can tell when I’m having one of those days, and it is a relief not to pretend I’m a superhuman.
So what does a “strong teacher-student relationship” entail?
To me, these two key pursuits:
First, I set aside intentional time every week to meet with each student, one-on-one. I ask them directly if there is anything they want me to know about themselves and about their performance in specific classes. Sometimes, we utilize question cards, a stack of cards that have different questions about school or personal topics. What’s important is that they know I have set aside time specifically for them with my undivided attention.
Second, I praise my students and praise them frequently. It is often much easier to notice a bad performance than a good one.
Who is being disruptive? Who is forgetting their homework? Who is holding us up when we’re trying to leave the classroom?
The ratio of negative to positive teacher feedback is staggering for students with ADHD in particular. With that constantly on my mind, I find any opportunity to give genuine, personalized praise and notice the efforts of my hard workers. My relationship with my students allows me to set high, yet realistic expectations for them. You can only do that when you know someone’s true capabilities. I make sure to look for what they’re proud of and build on that.
A benefit of a strong student and teacher relationship is honesty. My students are willing to share with me what is bothering them or what is awesome in their lives. I know their passions, and I know about their home lives. They know that, alongside “teacher,” I really am their fan, ally, and pillar when they need one. Ultimately, when we make time to genuinely invest in getting to know our students, we can build them up and expect more.