Six Ways to Successfully Build Relationships with Your Students

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Educational Leadership: Relationships FirstBy Rachael George

It is all about relationships when it comes to education. This is probably something that you have heard a million times, but have you really stopped to think about the true effect relationships have on your students? Study after study has shown that a classroom teacher is the number one contributor to student achievement, even above the parent, peers, the entire school, or poverty.

Here are some ways you can start building a solid foundation when it comes to relationships with your students.

1. You Have to Believe

For starters, you have to believe that you make an impact. Just like in the movie Field of Dreams, you have to believe in order for it to become reality. You have to do the same with your students. As an educator, you must believe that you can energize, engage, and connect with your students.

2. You Must Adapt

“Students these days!” Sometimes I hear teachers say that they can’t relate to their students and if they were like the students they had 10 years ago, their relationship would be better. This is just an excuse. Times change and so do you. In fact, education is always changing, and, as an educator, you need to remain nimble to respond to parents, schools, and students. If you aren’t constantly pushing yourself to get better, you are falling behind.

Connect First as a Person

In his recent book, Poor Student, Rich Teaching, Eric Jensen talks about the importance of connecting with your students. He encourages you to always connect first as a person and then as an educator. As you move through the school year, I encourage you to reflect on how you put students first, how you connect with students on a daily basis, and how you show you care—not only about their school successes but also their home successes.

4. Personalize Learning

If you want to keep students in school, you have to build the relationships and make learning personalized for them. Start with greeting students at the door and welcoming them into your room. Always call them by name and pronounce their names accurately. Nothing is worse than having your name butchered every day. This strategy seems very simple, but you would be surprised how often it is overlooked.

5. Get Your Students Interacting

Students connect by talking to and interacting with one another. Often, educators feel the pressure to plow through the curriculum and standards, usually by way of a lecture, as they believe it is the fastest and most efficient method. We have to stop this. We must create environments were students engage with one other and us as they learn and experiment with their research, theories, and applications of the content. Jensen recently recommended the 50/50 rule—50 percent of class time should be structured in a manner that fosters social interaction while the other 50 percent should be for individual work. Although the time spent on each might vary from day to day, by end of the week, students should have spent roughly equal amounts of time in both settings.

6. Relationships Mean the Most to At-Risk Students

Yes, relationships are important, but they are the most important to at-risk students. Often, students that come from a poverty background only come to school for the connections they have with the other students and staff. I was recently working with a school district that shared with me that for students who had experienced some form of adverse childhood experience, the number one thing that helped them pull through and graduate high school was a strong, caring relationship with someone outside of their parents. This was usually someone in the school community, but it could have also been someone affiliated with a church or community organization.

To learn more about how to engage students in learning by building caring, respectful relationships with them, check out the September 2016 issue of Educational Leadership, “Relationships Matter!”

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Rachael George is a member of the ASCD Emerging Leaders Class of 2015 and is currently the principal of Sandy Grade School in the Oregon Trail School District. Prior to serving as an elementary school principal, George was a middle school principal of an “outstanding” and two-time “Level 5: Model School,” as recognized by the Oregon Department of Education. She specializes in curriculum development, instructional improvement, working with at-risk students, and closing the achievement gap. Connect with George on Twitter @runnin26.

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