You do not need to become best friends with your students to build rapport with them. Just seeing your students every day gives you a special type of relationship with them. Some of your students may see you as a caring parent, others may view you as an overbearing mother or father, and some may see you as their best friend who they can always turn to in times of trouble or to share their happiness.
As with all relationships, these student-teacher relationships can be strained, wonderful, and everything in between. However, as a teacher, having a rapport with your students is important not only for you but for them as well. According to dictionary.com, rapport is “a close and harmonious relationship in which the people or groups concerned understand each other’s feelings or ideas and communicate well”. If only it were that simple in a classroom!
There are strategies you can use to help you build rapport with the students in the classroom. A teacher that has a good rapport with their students will get the most out them and they will trust the teacher when they need an ear. Here are a few tips and reminders to build the best possible rapport with your students:
- Remember that you are not their parent, friend, counselor, brother, sister, aunt, or uncle. You are their teacher, but at times you may need to take on some of the responsibility of a parent, friend, or counselor. The key is to wear the right hat at the right time and for the right reasons. For example, you must act as a parent when a student needs some extra compassion and care in their lives or when they need to be reprimanded. Wearing different hats is not always easy, but effective teachers know when to wear the right one, whether in front of the entire class or when speaking one-on-one with a student.
- It’s okay to show you care. It’s okay to compliment your students. They need the occasional ego boost just as much as you do. They see that you notice them when you share a compliment with them. It could be a quick “good job!” or something more thought-out. What matters is that they know when they are doing good work or when they have done something particularly commendable. Positive reinforcement is key!
- Show a sincere interest in the stories they share with you, whether it is related to the movie they saw the night before, a complaint they have about another teacher or any other anecdote they may share. Students want their voices heard and listening shows that you are interested not only in their grades but in their personal life and activities as well. You don’t necessarily need to carry on a long conversation with them but they will sense your interest simply because you are sincerely listening. It shows you care, and you are “communicating well” with each other.
- Find out how your students feel about things without being judgmental. Value their opinions and let them appropriately vent at appropriate moments. It doesn’t matter whether you agree or disagree with them – we all enjoy voicing our opinions and letting others know how we feel. For example, students may have strong feelings about a controversial news story, an issue within the school, or even have something to say about how you run the classroom. Every opinion need not be voiced publicly, but try to give the students the opportunity to share their personal feelings.
- Students know you have a personal life and you cannot hide everything from them. You can build rapport by being the same person in the classroom as outside the classroom. Be real with your students. Of course, you should not use them as a sounding board for your personal problems, but it is okay to say, “Class, I have a personal issue I am dealing with at home, so if I am not my usual self, please be patient with me. However, you will still be expected to listen and learn as normal.” That single line alone will not only show your students that you are human, but will give them a golden opportunity to demonstrate empathy. However, do not burden your students with your personal problems; it is not the place and certainly not appropriate to do so as a teacher.
Building rapport with students does not mean becoming close friends with them. You can become close to your students as part of a healthy, friendly, respectful and caring relationship. Use our tips and you will be well on your way to a more productive relationship that will make you a better teacher and will enhance your students’ experience in your classroom.