By this time of year, you might have a gauge of how your classes differ from each other. Some classes may seem to flow together perfectly in a productive and positive manner. Some other classes may be a bit more challenging in having students gel together and with you as a teacher. In the case of the latter, it might be a good idea to strategize on how to change the dynamics of the classroom. Research has shown that positive classroom climates “help to enhance, promote, and encourage students’ learning in all academic settings.” One significant way teachers can improve their classroom climate is fostering positive relationships amongst students and between the students and the teacher.
Rita Pierson has taught for 40 years. She once heard a colleague say, “They don’t pay me to like the kids.” Her response: “Kids don’t learn from people they don’t like.'”. Watch as she discusses the importance of teachers seeking a personal connection with students.
How can you create strong, positive relationships with your students? Research supports the following suggestions:
Treat students with respect. Recognize the personal beliefs, experiences, and abilities of all students. When students feel they are valued by their teacher, they reciprocate the gesture.
Create and maintain a safe and secure environment for students. Create and adhere to classroom expectations and rules that foster positive behavior and respect amongst students. Make no room for intimidation, bullying, discrimination, and personal offense towards each other. When students feel they are safe, they are more ready and open for learning.
Develop Positive Student Perceptions. Robert Marzano says relationships “have little to do with how a teacher actually feels about students; it’s what teachers do that dictates how students perceive those relationships” Teachers can influence positive student perceptions by showing interest in students’ personal lives outside of the classroom, never giving up on students and motivating them especially when they are down, creating opportunities to speak to students individually (especially those who are struggling), and being enthusiastic and friendly.
The relationships amongst students is also critical for effective and successful learning. Communication and collaboration between students in instructional tasks and products is prevalent in 21st century learning. When students can’t work together, learning cannot happen sufficiently. Teachers are responsible for “modeling” the qualities of a someone who participates and fosters positive relationships as well as structuring the classroom to facilitate positive interactions amongst students.
Collaborate on classroom rules: Teachers should work together with students to collectively create classroom rules that all students can agree upon to establish a positive classroom. When student voice is utilized in a forum to create a product for all, students recognize that everyone is essential and a respected contributor to the whole group.
Use Classroom Meetings: Classroom meetings provide a forum for students to discuss issues and concerns that can be impacting learning. This builds communication amongst students, provides a forum to practice effective communication AND listening, and empowers student voice.
Utilize structured lessons on relationships skills.: Sometimes students may need formal activities to learn essential skills in relationship-building. In this high school lesson plan, exercises are provided to explore and apply the “Six principles from Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People” which includes:
- Don’t criticize, condemn, or complain.
- Give honest and sincere appreciation.
- Give the other person a fine reputation to live up to.
- Praise every improvement.
- Try honesty to see things from the other person’s point of view.
- Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.
Middle school teachers can utilize these resources on social health and teaching healthy relationships. These resources teach students about the pros and cons of having healthy relationships among friends and those who are more than friends. It encourages actions and behavior that leads to positive rather than destructive outcomes. In The Skills of Making Relationships, students participate in a lesson that requires students to think about the 3 key relationship skills (respect, genuineness, and empathy) and how they might put these skills into action.
Take a look at some of these suggestions and see if any of your struggling classes may need some adjustment in the classroom climate. It’s never too late to start and build upon positive relationships that can strengthen students’ social-emotional health and academic learning.