Want to know my best classroom management strategy? No, it’s not doesn’t involve any special gadgets or require a special program. While some classroom management tools can be helpful at times, I believe they are simply short term bandaid approaches to manage student behaviors. In order to truly create an environment where students feel valued, loved, and a desire to be in class, teachers must work on building positive relationships with students.
Building positive relationships in the classroom will create mutual respect and trust. As teachers, we want our students to feel safe. They should know and feel like no matter what, we have their backs. Once students are enrolled in our class, they become “our kids.” Be in their corner, treat them like they are your own children, and create an environment that encourages them to be themselves and take risks.
However, positive relationships and bonds between teachers and students don’t just happen automatically. They require hard work up front and nurturing over time. You have to give your students multiple opportunities to see that you are genuine and truly care about them before they can trust and be vulnerable with you.
So how do we do that?
Here are some of my tried and true ways that I use to build positive relationships with my students throughout the year.
1. SEND A LETTER OR EMAIL TO STUDENTS BEFORE THE SCHOOL YEAR EVEN STARTS
I remember when I was in elementary school, every summer our class list would be posted on my school’s front door about two weeks before school started. I could not wait for that day where I could run to school to see who my teacher was for that year. Then after I found out, I would immediately try and gather as much information as I could about my new teacher from family and friends who were older than me.
When I became a teacher, I decided I would help my students out. Instead of having them do their own independent research about me before school started, I would send them a letter introducing myself and share some of that info voluntarily. In my letter, I include some background information about me, my favorite foods, sports teams, and activities, educational background, contact information, and my picture. There’s something so comforting about seeing a picture of your teacher before you enter the classroom.
Students have expressed that receiving the letter from me before school started eased their nerves and made them feel more comfortable. Also, by sharing my favorites with them, they were able to have some talking and discussion points right off the bat when they started school. “Wow, you’re a Giants fan too! That’s awesome.”
Most importantly, sending the letter to my students shows them that I care, even before I meet them.
Some years I’ve printed the letter and sent it via snail mail. However, other years, I saved it as a PDF and emailed it instead to say some time. Either way, I always find that it makes a profound difference and is a great first step for building positive relationships with your students.
Here’s an example of my Meet the Teacher template that you can use to make your own letter for your students.
2. HOST A DAILY MORNING OR CLASS MEETING
I’m a huge fan of having a morning meeting with my students on a regular basis. While many people believe that morning meetings should be reserved for primary grades, I think it does WONDERS for building positive relationships in classrooms of older students as well.
I make sure that I am consistent with my morning meetings and they become a regular routine in our classroom. Students know the daily meeting is a time to greet one another, share what’s on their mind, and have some fun too!
These daily morning meeting interactions help students get to know, like, and trust each other. Not only that, but I also use these meetings as opportunities to teach and reinforce social skills as well as integrate social emotional learning skills, mainly through our share and discussion time.
3. LEARN AND INCORPORATE STUDENT INTERESTS INTO INSTRUCTION
You need to get to know your students in order to start building positive relationships in the classroom.
Well, how do you do that? In my opinion, the best way to build these relationships is by dedicating a lot of time in the beginning of the year to make it a priority.
Here’s some suggestions:
- Play getting to know you games and activities
- Provide students with interest surveys and forms
- Have genuine conversations with your students when they arrive in the morning, right before or after lunch, or any other time that you have a few non-instructional minutes to spare.
The more you know about your students, the more you can incorporate their interests into your instructional lessons and activities.
If you know your students love sports, create a sports themed lesson, pick out sports books to use as read alouds, and use sports related examples in your mini-lessons.
Do they love social media? Use social media template graphic organizers to have them show their work. Are they obsessed with TikTok? Create a TikTok video to teach them something new.
They won’t stop talking about Fortnite? Have them do a celebratory Fortnite dance every time they complete a task or assignment. Find articles to read about Fortnite to practice nonfiction reading skills.
The more you show students that you know what they like and incorporate it into your instruction, the more they will love being in your class.
The possibilities for incorporating student interests into instruction are endless and the impact is priceless.
4. BUILD RELATIONSHIPS WITH STUDENTS BY MAKING YOUR CLASSROOM A FUN AND ENJOYABLE PLACE TO BE
Students will want to come to school and be active participants if they enjoy being there and are having fun.
Think about your past schooling and/or professional development experiences. Which teachers and classes did you love? Which did you dislike? Now think about the reasons why you feel that way. More likely than not, the teachers you loved made an effort to build a relationship with you and made their classes fun.
Need some ideas?
- Turn a boring worksheet into a game. After answering X amount of questions, students get to shoot a basket, play tic-tac-toe, pull a Jenga piece, etc.
- Provide students with opportunities to implement various forms of technology or art into their assignments.
- Host a mini or full blown classroom transformation.
- Use an escape room to review or teach a challenging skill.
- Switch up your regular routine and head outside to read for the day.
- Allow students to lead the class or morning meeting.
- Read aloud using funny accents.
- Dress up as a character.
Be creative. There are so many ways (and a lot with little effort or additional planning) that you can make learning FUN for kids. The more fun they have, the better the relationship and the easier it is to manage behaviors.
5. BUILD POSITIVE RELATIONSHIPS WITH STUDENTS BY SHOWING YOUR STUDENTS YOU CARE
This seems obvious, but I’d be remiss not to mention that one of the best ways for building positive relationships in the classroom is to actively and continuously show students that you care.
When students talk to you, pay attention. Use eye contact and respond genuinely. Greet them at the door in the morning and after lunch. Smile. Ask them how they’re doing on a regular basis. Check in with them as often as possible.
A few years back, I created and added a “I Wish My Teacher Knew” form based on the book I Wish My Teacher Knew by Kyle Schwartz. Students filled out this form and dropped it in our teacher mailbox when they wanted to let me know about things happening in their lives. It was also optional to write their name. By providing them with that outlet to share with me, it shows them that I care.
More recently, I also started using Google Forms to check in with my students on a regular basis. Sometimes I send my students a general check in form to assess their mental and social emotional states. While other times I use the Google Forms for academic check ins. Regardless of what it’s used for, taking the time to ask students how they’re doing is important. It’s always surprising to see how much students end up sharing when you just ask.
Relationships matter. At the end of the day, the best way to have a successful school year is to create positive relationships with your students. After all, I firmly agree with Dr. James Comer that “no significant learning occurs without a significant relationship.”
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