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  • Beth Ott

How to Really Build Relationships with Students

Updated: Jan 26

I've been seeing a lot about teachers wanting to focus on building relationships with students this year. This is encouraging, as I believe it's one of the top predictors of success. But if your idea of building relationships is focused on being nice and fun, it's not going to get you very far. Building relationships take a long time, and can't be taught in one community building activity, one circles lesson, or one more day filled with trust falls and sharing.



Building relationships starts with cultivating a community where students feel open to share with you and their peers. It starts with setting community agreements together. Talking about what a community looks like, how a community treats each other. It means planning with them how the class will handle disagreements or instances of harm, because they will happen, and they should know what to expect. And these community agreements should be reviewed and revised regularly. Don't expect that what works for one class will work for all your classes. You have unique individuals who make up a unique community, don't treat them like they are anything different.


I think one of the things that gets me fired up about building relationships is that teachers often stop at that, as if building a community was all that was needed. We have to hold ourselves accountable to leverage those relationships into academic success for all students. Zaretta Hammond and Joe Truss do a great job of explaining this on Twitter...(are you following them on Twitter? Because if you're not...)


Building relationships means sharing our celebrations and our frustrations. Being nice and kind is great, but that doesn't equal building relationships. In fact, if you just tell students to be nice, that under values their feelings, and disagreements and misunderstandings will go unchecked because they fear they can't be anything but nice. So how about we stop focusing on being nice, and we start being real? Realness builds relationships.

Who else is focused on building relationships?

Can't Miss Tips for Building Community


Interested in how to build relationships with elementary students? Believe me, the above will work, but here are some other teachers who teach the younger grades who are rockin' it too:


10 Strategies for Building Relationships with Students

5 Free Ways to Build Classroom Community

Building a Classroom Community From Day 1

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