Sunday, February 23, 2014

Positive Relationships: 10 ways to support the most important thing we can do for learning!

 “A quality teacher-student relationship means more than the combined power of all teaching and discipline techniques known to humankind.”
Love and logic Teacher-ism

I love this quote!  Establishing positive relationships with your students, while creating a community where students have relationships with each other, will truly benefit any classroom atmosphere.  Quality teacher-student and student-student relationships increases effectiveness of classroom management and instruction.  It also makes everyone’s experience more enjoyable.   I am fortunate to work with a faculty that views positive relationships as the most important consideration within their classrooms, creating environments where students want to spend their days. 

Teachers are exceptional at building relationships in September; however, the trick is to maintain those strategies throughout the year.  I encourage all of you to continue making our schools a place where students and all stakeholders feel welcomed.  We want every person who walks through our doors to believe that they are going to have an amazing experience!  Below are 10 ways to support positive relationships within your classroom and school.  Enjoy sustaining positive relationships… it is the most important thing we can do for learning!   

1.     Morning Circle Time – Many of our teachers have morning meetings to start the school day.  Creating a morning meeting, allowing for students to learn about each other beyond school life, builds a classroom community of genuine respect and rapport.  Daily questions can focus on student backgrounds, culture, interests, events of the weekend, favorite foods/music/movies/games, special events, etc.  Becoming familiar with each other on a deeper level will support student self-awareness and acceptance of differences, which will decrease the likelihood of relationship issues during the school year.

2.     Classroom Motto – One teacher at our school starts the day by reciting the classroom motto.  He tells the students to push the button on their desk and all student proudly recites together, “feel good about yourself!”  Students truly feel good about themselves… not because they say it… because of the sustained teaching that goes along with saying it, creating a community of students who feel good about themselves.  His students feel good about: being a good classmate/friend, the effort they put into an assignment, learning new vocabulary words, solving problems on their own, being a good son/daughter/sibling, improving their writing skills, understanding their target learning, etc.  It works because it is a consistent approach implemented with empathy and support.   

3.     The Unlikely Student – It is “easy to connect” with students who demand your attention due to an outgoing personality, academic needs, or behavioral problems.  Something to consider, write one student’s name in your plan book each day (those who do not demand your time).  Make sure you are connecting with that child throughout the day by noticing their effort:  “Wow! Johnny did a great job on the writing assignment because he added exceptional detail”… and share those accolades with the class.  Notice things that go beyond school life: new shoes/shirt/haircut, asking about weekend, sporting event, video game, recess, family, etc.  It is important that you have a plan to connect, because if you don’t… the “easy to connect” students will demand that time and the “unlikely” student will not be noticed. 

4.     Student Inventory – Look for the uniqueness of each child – Create a student inventory asking simple questions, such as:

·         What do you like to do outside of school?
·         What is your favorite season? 
·         List 2 of your favorite foods.
·         List 3 games you like to play.
·         What is your favorite animal, color, sport? 
·         List your favorite type of music.
·         Do you like to read? What type of books do you like?
·         List 3 movies you like to watch.
·         Who do you like to play with/why?  Friend, parents, grandparents, sister, brother, other.
·         What is your favorite part of the school day?
·         What is your least favorite part of the school day?
·         What is your favorite special/subject?

Higher level inventory questions:
·         What are your dreams?
·         What do you want to be when you grow up?
·         Who would you consider to be your hero and why? 
·         If you had unlimited money and could only use it to help people… who would you help and why? 

You get the idea!  I am sure there are many other questions you could list.  Creating a student inventory can be helpful for many aspects within a school setting (creating academic plans, project based learning activities, writing topics, child study team meetings, behavior plans, interest level differentiation, etc.); however, I believe the most important reason to use a student inventory is to show your class or individual child that you care about their opinions and life beyond the school day. 

5.     Positive Proximity – Greet your students each morning with a smile and a friendly hello.  Seems simple because it is!   It is also much better than asking “do you have your homework?”  Be present during independent work, supporting students and noticing their efforts throughout the day.  It is even ok to stop by the cafeteria (gym is where we eat lunch) or even shoot a basket or two during recess, positive proximity doesn't need to stop in the classroom.  The extra 2-3 minutes of positive proximity outside your classroom will enhance the community feeling that you are establishing in your classroom. 

6.     Active Listening – When we are busy it is easy to send students on their way with a quick response, knowing that you would give a better response if you had the time... we do this as parents too!  Next time try saying this:  “Your question/need/etc. is really important to me and you deserve more time than I can give right now… can you hold on for a few minutes/after lunch/until tomorrow/etc. and I will give you the attention you deserve.”  If you say this with empathy, the child will usually feel validated and will (most likely) wait for your attention… sometimes it gives them time to problem solve on their own. Obviously, don't use this approach if there is an emergency or safety issues.  

7.     Tone of Voice – Be aware of tone, volume and cadence when teaching and managing  your classroom.  Use a softer delivery when managing behaviors and classroom procedures, planning and using nonverbal cues.   Use voice fluctuation, storytelling (instead of lecturing), and suspense during your classroom discussions.  Students will love it!  I have been in a lot of classroom where I didn’t want to leave because the tone was so engaging.  Your voice can set the relationship tone (positively or negatively) within a classroom.  Charlie Brown’s teachers were funny but I don’t think they were building any relationships with their tone of voice. 

8.     Teach and model gratitude/manners – Many of our teachers focus on manners and gratitude, modeling the appropriate way to speak with each other and supporting a culture of respect and rapport.  Teach the power of “thank you” and “you are welcome” within the daily practice of your classroom.    These are simple phrases that express appreciation and value for one another.  Modeling and expressing appreciation for each other can have a powerful effect on your classroom relationships.  Thank you for making it part of your daily interactions! 

9.     Humor – It is ok to laugh, smile, and tell an appropriate joke from time to time.  Children want to see us having fun!  A morning joke can go a long way to support positive feelings.  We have children telling Friday jokes on the morning announcements, it’s a lot of fun!

Q: What did the ground say to the earthquake?
A: You crack me up!

Q: Why did the music teacher need a ladder?
A: To reach the high notes.

Q: What did the pen say to the pencil?
A: So, what's your point!

Q: What did the snowman say to the other snowman?
A: Do we smell carrots? 

Q: What did the one eye say to the other eye?
A: Don’t look now but something between us smells.

Q: Why did the kid study in the airplane?
A: Because he wanted a higher education!

Q: How did the music teacher get locked in the classroom?
A: Her keys were inside the piano!

10. Closure to the day – Facilitate a reflection discussion at the end of each day, showcasing the academic and social learning that took place.  Give accolades to individuals for positive effort and remember the happy and/or humors moments during the day… maybe even tell your corny joke again.  Set goals for tomorrow and end the day by saying “be kind to one another,” supporting and modeling the positive feelings you are establishing within your classroom.  Make this a consistent conclusion to your day and they will be eager to return in the morning. 

I hope you find this list helpful.  I appreciate everything you do each day to sustain a welcoming environment at our schools and in your classrooms!  Teachers are great!!!! 

I will leave you with this Love and Logic Quote:

Rules provided without relationship result in rebellion.
Consequences given without relationship lead to resentment.
Rewards without relationship feel like bribes.
Love and Logic Teacher-isms

Enjoy teaching!

Keith Howell


  1. Keith, I enjoyed your post. Your list of 10 ways to support positive relationships is detailed, accurate and thought provoking. I kept trying to figure out if I viewed one of these areas higher than the others and I couldn't. They are all important to building positive relationships. Thanks for sharing and posting. Keep it up.


    1. Ben, thank you for the positive feedback. I always appreciate reading your blogs as well. Your are one of the Bloggers that inspired me to start posting. Thanks for all you do!