Fostering Relationships Through Unconditional Caring

Through Unconditional Caring

For students to be successful in school they must know the adults caring for them truly care.  The article titled “The Power of Positive Regard” by Jeffrey Benson reinforced this concept and inspired me to reflect upon the extent to which students are positively regarded in my school. Additionally, Benson’s article also inspired staff dialogue and reflection on positive regard in terms of student feedback, discipline, and relationship building. Relationship building strategies outlined in this article has worked well at my school, Glendale Elementary, this year.

A Morning Greeting

The bus driver is typically the first person a student sees when he or she starts the school day. As the principal, I make sure I am the second person. Greeting every student when arriving at school further builds relationships, allows me to provide positive greetings to every student, and provides a chance to assess how each student is beginning the day. Since overall happiness and security contributes to a positive school day (Subramanian and Jomon, 2015), I like to see which students are beginning the day happy versus sad or distressed. Students’ body language, facial expressions, and responses to my greetings give me clues to inform additional support if needed.

An Above and Beyond Bus Driver

On a rainy October morning I noticed that all but one of the buses had dismissed students, so I decided to approach the bus to see if there was a problem. What I found was a very pleasant surprise and example of positive relationship building. Mr. Barnes (a pseudonym), the driver, was speaking to the students over the on-bus intercom. Mr. Barnes shared an encouraging message with students and asked, “Who is going to make it a great day today?” The students were literally out of their seats with hands raised in response to Mr. Barnes’ question. After the bus dismissed I thanked Mr. Barnes for his efforts with his students. He said, “I do what I can to make sure the kids start their days off on the right foot.” I remember the example Mr. Barnes set when I speak with my staff about the importance of impact on students regardless of job title. Any professional in a school (teacher, administrator, office secretary, custodian, etc.) can create positive relationships with students.

Bow Tie Tuesday

When a student gets in trouble for behavior beyond typical classroom management he or she is referred to the office for further disciplinary action. Likewise, students are referred to the office for making positive choices. As of December 2016, Glendale Elementary reported five times as many positive referrals as negative discipline referrals. The popularity of positive referrals can partly be attributed to Bow Tie Tuesday.

For the special Bow Tie Tuesday event, students receiving positive referrals for the previous week join me in the office for a selfie with the principal. Already wearing a bow tie like I do each Tuesday, I allow students to pick one from my collection and join me for a picture. A copy of the picture hangs in the lobby of the school for all to see while a second copy goes home with the student containing a specific and positive note.


  • Jennifer earned a positive referral for being helpful to a sad classmate today. We are very proud of her!
  • Tyrone earned a positive referral for being responsible with technology in class today. Great job, Tyrone!

Positive notes have been translated in languages such as Spanish, Gujarati, Nepali, and French to allow for all families to access the praise for their children. Feedback from students and families about the bow tie pictures has been positive. Many parents share that pictures have been framed in displayed in the household.

An Attitude of Gratitude

A thank you note goes a long way. It is important for students to show appreciation to others, but it is also important for students to feel appreciated. We use a uniform template for thank you notes at Glendale Elementary. The example of this template is seen below.

Students may choose to write thank you notes to classmates, adults in the school, or adults at home. In turn, staff members are encouraged to write specific notes of gratitude to students. Notes of appreciation reinforce desired behaviors at school and further develop positive relationships between students and staff.

Educators can use simple strategies to positively affect students’ attitudes, happiness, and achievement in schools. The best educators love their students regardless of age or achievement (Benson, 2016, p. 25). It is important to have unconditional positive regard for students while also providing positive and specific feedback for effort, in-school actions, and achievement. These are just a few successful examples or relationship building using both unconditional and conditional positive communication.


Dr. Ronald Fausnaugh is passionate about meeting the needs of every child and fostering relationships with all stakeholders to enhance the learning experience for each child. During his fourteen year career, Dr. Fausnaugh has served as an instructional coach, math intervention specialist, grade-level team leader, and second grade teacher. He currently serves as the principal of Glendale Elementary in Cincinnati, Ohio. Follow Ronald on Twitter @PFausnaugh.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here