Let’s look at 10 strategies for building rapport with your students.
- Remember their names. Sometimes we think the most magical words a student can ever hear are ‘that’s all for today’, but actually the most magical thing they can hear is their name. Since the day they were born, students have heard their name whispered softly into their ears, sang to them as a bedtime lullaby and, occasionally, screamed with the full force intensity of a Gordon Ramsay meltdown. Their name is everything to them. Their name is their identity. Remembering a student’s name is personal, it builds rapport and it is not that difficult.
- Make small talk. Busy teachers don’t want to be wasting precious learning time. But what happens when you ask a student ‘how was your weekend?’ or ‘did you see the game last night?’ Magic is what happens. Spending just a few minutes chatting with students creates connections and builds rapport.
- Speak with your body. You can have all the good intentions in the world, but if your body language says: ‘I’m a teacher, get me outta’ here!’ then guess what. All those nice words coming out of your mouth about a ‘good job!’ this and a ‘good job that!’ mean nothing. Students won’t believe it is genuine and they will not believe in you. If a picture paints a thousand words, imagine your body is a self-portrait. It tells your students everything they need to know. Show them a Mona Lisa, not a moaner teacher!
- Show your personality. Who was your favorite teacher in school? Was it the teacher who talked about how easily they beat Sonic the Hedgehog or told fun stories? Then, when it actually was time to learn things, you did it because you knew the teacher had a soul. They were real. They weren’t another robot in a suit making you memorize pages in textbooks just to pass exams.
- Bring in their interests. The average student has to sift through more garbage than a refuse collector working 7 days a week. Most of what they’re tasked with learning is not relevant to them. The Periodic Table? When does this period end? Romeo & Juliet? Can’t we just watch the Leonardo DiCaprio movie and go home? Their interests are as far from the classroom as the Moon is from Alpha Centauri. Bring in their interests: video games, pop music, Marvel movies, and their ears will prick up like their student spider senses are tingling. If you routinely bring in things they care about, they will care about the class and they will care about you. It’s not rocket science… unless they are interested in that too!
- Be fair. Remember John McEnroe and how he felt about tennis umpires? All that love he had for them when a line call didn’t go his way? You cannot be serious! Of course, you don’t. John exploded with rage and fury every time he felt like he was treated unfairly. Most of our students won’t call us out for it, but if we don’t treat all of them in exactly the same way, then we’re done for. Any perceived injustice will launch a nuclear detonation on any rapport you had with them. To build rapport, and keep it, set the rules and apply them evenly across the board. One standard to rule them all.
- Give them a platform. Do you have relationships with people who don’t care what you have to say? We value our voice. We want to be heard. The people we like to be around listen closely. They don’t pretend to listen. They really listen. Give your students a chance to be heard. Ask for their opinions. Hand out surveys. Hold class votes. Make sure they know their input is important.
- Create a nice atmosphere. What happens when you have a toxic classroom atmosphere? Or just a classroom with no atmosphere at all? When students enter your class, it should feel like a home away from home. Not a retirement home, or a vacation home, but a proper home. A home where you can teach them in the living room, and they love it so much they invite their friends over to study, too. Build a nice house and you’ll build an even nicer bond with your students.
- Give positive feedback. Sometimes we just can’t wait to give feedback, especially to those students who have made our classes a living hell. After mountains and mountains of grading over the years, we forget the art of feedback. We forget about the sandwich. We forget that the meat of the sandwich shouldn’t be completely tasteless. To build rapport, and feedback that students listen to, be liberal with the sweet sauce. Don’t shower students with undeserved praise, but when they do something good, even if it’s just writing their name at the top of the paper, let them know how much you appreciate it.
- Respect begets respect. R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me…. You don’t need to be the Queen of Soul to know that a little respect goes a long way! Show your students that you respect them, and they will mirror it. Arrive early for class, say please, and thank you, use indirect questions instead of direct instructions. Can you open your books to page 12? Could you please put away your cell phone? Can you stop using Wikipedia as your only reference for all human knowledge? Treat your students like you want to be treated. If one of them steps out of line, address the behavior and not the student. It’s the rule breaking that was the problem, not the student as a person.
Do you agree with these 10 strategies for building rapport with students? Or is there one strategy so obviously missed, that you wish you could put your hand through the screen and let us know? Please have your say in the comments.