Tuesday, March 7, 2017

74 practical ways to build relationships with students

It all goes back to relationships!

Relationships are the essential element in our schools. The old adage, “Kids don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” is true especially in today’s society when kids are used to so much choice in their world. Also, in today’s busy world, it’s important for teachers and school staff to make positive connections with students. We must be intentional, and taking time with these relationships must be purposeful.

Members of the Compelled Bloggers Community have teamed up to share practical ways for educators to build relationships with students. As connected educators we also embrace the notion that it is the power of the team that drives much of what we do. How do you build relationships with those that you serve? See the list below for ideas to add to what you may be already doing in the buildings and districts in which you work.

1. Greet students at the door. Smile and call them by name. Tell them you are glad to see them.
2. Ask your students to share three things about themselves. Let them choose what they share. Keep them on index cards to help make connections throughout the year.
3. Know your students families. As important as it is to know the students, make the connection to home. Great relationships with your kids starts where they kick off their day. As the year continues and both the good and bad arise, having that connection will be crucial to getting the results you are seeking.
4. Journal writing is an activity to get to know your students well and give students a voice in the classroom.
5. Make positive phone calls home especially within the first two weeks of the school year.
6. Genius Hour/Passion Projects really give teachers an opportunity to learn about student passions.

7. Have kids make something that represents them out of Play-dough and share.
8. In the first couple of days of school, learn the first name of every student in your first class of the day, and something personal and unique about them that has nothing to do with your first class of the day.
9. Be vulnerable!  Let your guard down and show your students that you are a learner, you make mistakes, and persevere.  They will see you as a person, opening the door for a relationship built on trust. Share stories about yourself as a learner or challenges you’ve faced when you were there age and help them see what it took to overcome it. It’s easy to forget how much a simple connection can make the difference.
10. Eat together.  Have breakfast with a small group of kids or join them at the lunch table.  Gathering around meal time provides an informal way to have conversations and get to know your students.
11. Hold Monday morning meetings (We call them “Weekend News Updates”). Ask each student to share about their weekend - good or bad.  Ask questions. Be sure to share about your weekend too!  Occasionally bring in breakfast or make hot chocolate.

12. Laugh with them. Frequently. Show them that school, and your class, is just not about learning stuff. It is about sharing an experience. Tell them you missed them if they were out.
13. Keep in touch with past students.  Show past students that you do not have a 1 year contract with them.  The ongoing relationship will also model to your current students the value of a positive classroom community.
14. At the elementary level -- hold morning meeting everyday as a class and stick to the routine of greeting, sharing, team building activity, and morning message.  This is a sacred time to build and maintain a culture of risk tasking and building relationships.
15. Send positive postcards home to every child. Have them address it on the first day of the quarter, keep them and challenge yourself to find at least one thing each quarter to celebrate about your students, let them and their parents know.

16. Find their interests and what motivates them! Sometimes it may take a bit to break down barriers and build trust, but through being genuine and authentic with them this will happen in no time.
17. Make personal phone calls to parents. Find one good thing to say about the children in your class.  It can be how they contributed to a class discussion or how well mannered they are in class or in the halls. For older students it can be how diligent a student is at learning challenging content.
18. Share something about yourself that they will find relevant or interesting to extend your relationships with students.
19. Tell a story from a time you were their age. This approach allows students to see teachers as they once were and make connections easier to establish and maintain.
20. Create a unique handshake or symbol for each of your students.  Use it when you greet them at the door or say goodbye.

21. Eat lunch with a group of kids throughout the week. They will enjoy a time dedicated just to them. (And you will enjoy a peaceful lunch!)
22. As a school, hold monthly celebrations to recognize students and educators their accomplishments.
23. Take pictures with students. Print. Write a special note on the back to the student.

24. At the end of a term or year, write a thank you to students telling them what you have learned from them. Be specific and honest - authenticity goes a long way. Try to make the note handwritten if possible, but email works well too.
25. Each day write two students a personal  note about something that you have noticed about them.  Go into some detail and be specific. Keep track of who you reach out to over the year and try and reach as many students as you can. The time you spend doing this will deepen connections and pay off 10 fold.
26. Have dance parties! It is so fun to let loose and get down with students. Students love seeing you have fun with them, and the saying goes, “The class that dances together, stays together”.
27. Play with students at recess or during a free time. Climb the monkey bars, play kickball, or tag. Students will never forget you connecting with them on the playground.
28. Hang out in the hall to give high fives or to have quick conversations with students. Relationship-building can be squeezed into any time of the day.
29. Notice students having a bad day. Ask questions without prying. Show that you care. Follow up the next day, week, etc.

30. When a student is having a rough day, ask if he/she has eaten. We are all more unreasonable when we are hungry. Keep a supply of snacks on hand (ex: breakfast bars, crackers, etc).
31. Go see students at their events: sports, theater, dance, volunteering. Meet parents and families.
32. When a student stops to say “Hello” and has a friend in tow, introduce yourself and be sure that the guest feels important.
33. Stop class from time to time with a comment such as, “Hey, everyone, Katie just asked me a great question. I think you’ll all benefit from this. Katie, could you repeat that for everyone?”
34. Sing “Happy Birthday” to students; send birthday emails (I use “Boomerang” to schedule my birthday emails each month).
35. Say “I missed you yesterday” when a student has been absent. Be sincere.

36. We have to make time to grow relationships with our students. This time can not always be in a planner or a calendar. Sometimes, this simply means just being there for your students.
37. Mail them a postcard for their birthday. They are always amazed to receive personal mail!
38. In a leadership position, learn as many names as you can. Greet students by their name as often as you are able.
39. Music! Bond with your students over music. Play soft classical music while they are working. Incorporate music/songs into special events or lessons.
40. Classroom: Start a compliment jar. Share comments at the end of class or randomly throughout the day. School: Do shout-outs during morning (or afternoon) announcements/news show.
41. Smile and make eye contact.  “Good morning”, “Good afternoon”. Something as simple as a greeting in the hall with smile and eye contact conveys both warmth & safety.  Try it tomorrow.  
42. First day of math class have them choose 10 numbers that are significant to them (3 for number of cats, 1 for brothers, 20 for number of hours they work, etc.).  Everyone shares out.  You will learn lots about all your students in one day.  

43. Cut them some slack every now and then.  “What were you doing?  What should you have been doing?  Can you do that for me next time?”  We all make mistakes.  
44. Hold class celebrations and have students develop unique cheers for various accomplishments...these can be anything from a sports team victory, to being selected for something, to earning a grade, and they need not be school related.
45. Allen Mendler’s 2x10 strategy for challenging students. Spend 2 minutes per day for 10 consecutive days talking to a student about something not academic.
46. Share your own goals, successes/failures. Don’t be a mystery to your students.
47. After morning announcements have students participate in a daily discussion question.  Have a student read the question and set a timer for two and a half minutes.  Each person turns to a partner and answers the question then volunteers share with the whole class.  Each question, in some way, will help you get to know your students.

48. Halfway through the year, have your parents and students fill out a feedback form.  In my classroom, these forms look different.  Allow them to evaluate you so you can keep what works and change things that aren’t working.
49. In your summer introduction letter, include a letter asking parents to write about their children in 1,000,000 words or less.  Keep the assignment voluntary and open so they tell you what is most important to them.
50. Don’t be too busy to truly listen.  Listen to understand, not to respond.  Are you starting a lesson when a student interrupts and tells you they are moving? Take the minute to hear them out.  That time will mean more to the student than the first minute of the lesson ever will.

51. When students get stuck in class, teach the other students to cheer them on.  We do a simple, “Come on, [Name], you can do it,” followed by three seconds of clapping.
52. Teach students call and responses to uplift each other.  When a student responds with something profound and someone loves it, that student gets to start the cheer.

53. When you check in with groups to give them feedback or see how it’s going, make sure you are seeing them eye-to-eye.  If they’re sitting, don’t stand.  Pull up a chair next to them.  If they’re sitting on the floor, sit down on the floor next to them to avoid standing over them.
54. Give honest feedback even when it may not be positive.  Your students will appreciate that you expect more out of them than they’re showing.
55. Create a “You Matter” wall.  Take fun pictures of each of your students. Print each photo and put each student’s photo in an 8x10 frame.  Hang them all on your wall under a “You Matter” heading.  At the end of the year, send the photos home with students.
56. Tell them what was hard for you when you went through school and how you worked to overcome the challenges.  It shows they aren’t the only ones who struggle.
57. Defend your students in front of other people.
58. Take risks so students feel comfortable doing the same.  Don’t ask them to do anything you wouldn’t do.
59. Create something that is unique to your class.  For us, it’s a house competition.  It’s something that connects my past students and current students.  It’s also a family bond that only the students who have been in my class understand.

60. Apologize when you make a mistake.
61. Cook together and then you can eat family style in the classroom. Some fun and easy crockpot meals: applesauce, vegetable soup, chicken and dumplings. Then, make cupcakes for dessert!
62. Every so often, take the pulse of your building according to students. Convene a volunteer roundtable with student reps from various groups (athletes, scholars, quiet, loud) and ask them for critical feedback about topics you are working on. Some ideas I’ve seen discussed in this format include schoolwide incentives (assemblies, sledding event, etc.), dress code, and discussing recess options for winter.
63. During your informal walk throughs, saddle up right next to students and ask them the purpose of the lesson they are involved in. Why do you think the teacher is asking you to work on this? You’ll be more than surprised with the honest feedback.
64. Bring board games back! Add a few games like Checkers, Uno or Chess to your lunch table options. See if any students are willing to play a game or two with you and others.
65. Use sidewalk chalk to decorate the entry of your building with positive messages to students. Have teachers help you write and draw the notes!
66. Leave nice notes on post-its for students on the outside of their lockers. Recruit other students to help spread the kindness throughout many lockers!

67. Forgive them when they make mistakes. Remind them that mistakes are opportunities for learning. Don’t hold grudges against misbehavior and don’t allow other adults to hold them either.
68. Make time for dismissal. Tell them you can’t wait to see them tomorrow and share high fives on the way out!
69. Notice which students still don’t have money to pay for lunch. Help them out when you can. Treat them to a snack they don’t usually get to purchase at lunch time.
70. Find special projects that need to be done around school and recruit the most unlikely helpers.
71. Remind your students you and your staff were all kids once too. Have your team bring in pictures of themselves as children (at the ages you have in your school). Post them and have a contest allowing students to guess which teacher is which. Those 80s pictures are the most popular!
72. My favorite question to ask my students or any student I come in contact with is what are you into lately? This opens communication with your students and let's them know you are interested.
73. Allow students to do a job shadow. Give them a peek into what you do and how you make daily decisions.
74. Host an ice cream social for students that meet certain goals.


  1. Thank you so much for this list! I feel inspired just by reading it. Really looking forward to at least attempting some of these.

  2. Which strategies speak to you and why?

    Strategy 2 is one that spoke to me "Ask your students to share three things about themselves. Let them choose what they share. Keep them on index cards to help make connections throughout the year." I think this is a great idea. It can be done on the first day of school and referred to many times. This is excellent at making students feel special and being able to build a relationship with them by simply knowing their interests. Kids will want to learn when they know that you truly care about them. This is a great start at building relationships. I will be using this idea in my classroom and can see it being a huge success.

  3. I enjoyed reading so many to build relationships with students. Building a relationship with your students is key to their success. Your students success will increase when they trust you and have a relationship with you. I truly believe kids who know you care are far more likely to try that much harder to do well in school.

    "1. Greet students at the door. Smile and call them by name. Tell them you are glad to see them." This one is so important, you never know how much this can impact children. Using this allows you to see a students mood and how they are doing.

    16. Find their interests and what motivates them! Sometimes it may take a bit to break down barriers and build trust, but through being genuine and authentic with them this will happen in no time.
    I like to incorporate fun ideas in my classroom and talk with my students to get ideas of what they like. This is great in math to keep them constantly engaged. We are working on addition and we print out pictures that students love like movie characters and ect, for them to make a visual number sentence.

    33. Stop class from time to time with a comment such as, “Hey, everyone, Katie just asked me a great question. I think you’ll all benefit from this. Katie, could you repeat that for everyone?”
    I recently started doing this and see the benefit. It is an excellent way to have students learn from one another by hearing their peers explain what you just explained. I think this one is huge and that kids learn by simply listening to others.

  4. I think building relationships with students is the most important aspect of a classroom community. We spend more time with our students than our own families, so it is important to make our classroom feel like home and that everyone matters. If the students feel like they have a voice and a connection with the teacher, they will feel safe and can grow and be successful in the classroom. One of the strategies that stuck out to me was playing with the students at recess because this is something they truly appreciate. I know when I have played with my students at indoor recess they are so involved in the game and are so excited that I am playing a simple game with them. They also open up more during this time and like to have lots of conversations that are related to things outside of their school life. Another strategy I think we as teachers forget to do at times is asking the students why they are learning this lesson that we’re teaching. We become focused on getting through the lesson and making sure to stay on track that it can be easy to forget to connect that learning back to the why. I think being conscious of it in planning and making that connection at the very beginning of the lesson will give the students more control of their own learning and understanding the purpose of the knowledge they are obtaining. I think this list covers so many essentials that teachers can do to make their classrooms a thriving, welcoming environment for students of all ages.

  5. What are your thoughts about the importance of relationships as they relate to the classroom?

    I believe that it is very important to build relationships with students. I believe that it is one of the most important things that you can do to make your classroom feel more inviting for students. Your students are with you for 5 days every week, so it is important that they feel safe and welcomed into your classroom. Personally, I have made it a priority to get to know all of my students and build those relationships. I believe that the fact that I have built these relationships has definitely helped me to not only get to know my students but also be able to make the content relatable to their interests. I also believe that building these relationships has made my students feel more comfortable coming to me with any issues that may arise like bullying or just asking questions if they do not understand what is being taught.

  6. As a teacher candidate, and lifelong learner, I really enjoyed this blog post. Relationships are essential there’s no doubt about it. A few of them really spoke out to me.
    Greeting your students at the door- That smile, that greeting that cheerful attitude to begin their day is something that I do every day with my students. Hugs are definitely included.

    Journal writing – journal writing is something that all districts are asking for. They’re asking for an in math science and every course subject. Writing is reading is writing. When we practice these every day and making it a journal entry we’re telling the students the writing is important and they can learn to enjoy it. These are also helpful for samples for any students that are needing it, to see how far the students of come

    The last one laughing - my classroom management is tight, so I’ve been told however the students know that I love them and that I care because we laugh together, and believe it or not when Math gets tough we cry together.
    All of these relationship builders, are important to me and I use them and exercise them in my classroom. I’ve learned a lot about my students through laughing, journal entries, and just hearing their stories before they walked through the door. This is why relationships are important and building them in different ways will help you understand your students just a little bit more.

    This blog would be a blog that I always go back to when I’m starting a new school year. I may not be able to get them all in but every year I should brush up on trying to get them in as much as possible. I believe that this post is important because relationships are important, and all that were listed will make an impact and your students’ lives. And as a teacher, and a learner it will also make it impact in your life all you have to do is try.

  7. I love how many different ways there are to build relationships with your students. Every little thing matters to a child and even later on in their lives when the become adults. One practice that was stated in here spoke to me. Number 13 said to keep in contact with your old students. This happened to me recently. One of my elementary school teachers emailed me asking how I was doing and what she has been doing since she has retired. In the email she told me that she was reading to her grandchildren and found a book that I gave to her as a gift when I was in her class years ago. It showed me that those simple connections and memories last forever, both for the student and the teacher.

    Making connections and creating strong relationships is vital to teaching. We have no idea what some of our students are going through but one constant these students have should be their teachers. One teacher or simply just one action can impact a students life forever. In my own personal experience i had a handful of teachers that inspired me and were one of the reasons I became a teacher. They showed me care, support, grit, passion and to never give up on myself. This happens more often than we know. Teachers who believed in their students when the student may have not believed in themselves. From this action students learn and grow without really thinking about how this change started. Many times that change or spark was started by a teacher.

    If you have a teacher that inspired you or made an impact on your life take a moment. Reach out to them and simply say thank you.