7 easy steps that will give you the best student relationships | Mentoring in the Middle

7 easy steps that will give you the best student relationships

Your students love talking with you - they'll tell you when their dog had puppies, when their grandparents are coming to visit, and when you're being cranky.

"Mrs. Piersol-Miller, did you go for a run today?" 


"Maybe you should have."

I felt the heat climb up to my cheeks.  

A surprised woman

 Behind the Scenes: How long does it take?

Nurturing a relationship with your students can take time, but thankfully, you can take a few simple steps now that will start building a stronger relationship right away:

  • Get to know kids' names and an interesting tidbit about them right away.  They are quirky, funny, sensitive kids who want to be recognized for their individuality.  If you haven’t done this yet, give them a quick Google check-in with get-to-know-you questions.  Then, learn the details they share with you.
  • Do "get to know you" activities beyond the first day of school.  For the first few months, you can weave this into your instruction so that kids can get to know you and each other better.  Use:
    • Four Corners - ask a question with four choices and have kids go to the corner that matches their answer
    • Line up - ask a question with a scaled score of 1-10 ("How much do you like to read?) Students can line up where they belong
    • Small groups - take a position on a topic and organize to debate it.  
        "Wait, you too?!  What house?  Yeah, Hufflepuff forever!"

A boy sitting alone on swings on a playground

  • Set clear boundaries.  Some decisions are negotiable, like listening to music or picking a partner, others are not.  Find out what decisions they'd like to have some say in, recognizing that you have the final vote.
  • Increase your grace.   That doesn't mean you shouldn't set boundaries and stick to them.  Recognize that it's kids' jobs to push and yours to decide when to push back and when to give a little. 

The conversation where my student called me out for being cranky initially made me angry.  It felt rude.  In the few seconds where I debated how to respond, I decided to extend grace.

I had told them that running cleared my head and made me calmer.  And they'd remembered.

And given me a pass.  They hadn’t shut down, they’d been honest in that should-I-be-angry or should-I-recognize that-you-caught-me way?

        I coughed, my brain racing to find the right words.  And then I laughed.  "You're right."

The whole class let out a collective breath, we laughed, and then we got back to work.  

  •  Open up about yourself.  Show students that you make mistakes, talk about the topics you feel passionately about.  Being open does not make them less respectful.  Rather, they connect with you more and want to please you.
  •  Use proximity.  Body language can be powerful.  Is a kid getting off-task? 
    • Walk closer to their desk. 
    •  Put a hand on their shoulder. 
    • Get down at eye level and ask if they need to go get a drink or stretch their legs for a minute.  
A sign on a ski slope that says "Ski Boundary"
Photo by Yann Allegre 

  • Stop and wait. It's much more effective than raising your voice. 

 Kids know what they're supposed to do.  That doesn't mean they'll do it all the time, but they do know.  They all know they're supposed to be quiet when you're talking.  Wait for them to get there.  

In front of the class

Kids want to be important to you.  That's why learning their names is essential.  The closer you get to them, the more they'll talk to you about the stuff that's important. 

And that's what you want.

That kid who called me out for being cranky?  He had been held back and was, unhappily, in my Math class with his younger brother.  He started asking for extra help and opening up about his math struggles.   In many ways, he taught me how to become a better teacher. 

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