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Five simple strategies to improve relationships in your classroom

Little Johnny is Acting Up Again

You told little Johnny about the lesson’s objectives and even provided a computer to make it easier for him to complete. Yet he is still acting up.

As a teacher, you have a relentless and challenging job. Not only do you have to impart your content knowledge and skills to your students, you also have to motivate them to complete the work.

What if motivating students could be easier? What if I told you that by dedicating 10-15 minutes of each day to relationship building, you could get your students to achieve and accomplish more than they had before?

This post is about how you start your each day. It’s about what happens from the moment students leave their previous class and arrive at your door. It’s about those precious first 10 minutes of class.

It’s about investing a small amount of time to ensure you have established the most successful attribute of a highly effective classroom; highly effective relationships.

Strategy #1: Greet them at the door

This strategy sounds so simple, but is extremely tough to enact. Oftentimes before our students arrive we find ourselves shuffling papers and writing last minute lesson objectives onto the whiteboard. Get that stuff done ahead of time. Instead, use the time before class to greet students as they come through the door. Shake their hands and make eye contact. Tell them “good morning.” Finally, instruct them to set their bags down at their tables and take a seat in the circle at the back of the room.

Strategy #2: Circle Time

If you teach high school, I can already predict your initial objection. "Circle time?! Isn’t that for kindergartners?” I understand your objection. I’m not asking that you all hold hands and sing kum by yah. Instead, I’m asking that you create a shape that promotes the kind of equity and focus that will help you start the period or day off right. A circle ensures that every one of your students is able to see each other. It also puts everyone in an equal position- a place more likely to foster equitable relationships. How you seat students also matters. Oftentimes I ask students to sit “boy, girl,” but I have seen other variations that arrange students by date of birth or height.

Strategy #3: Greet Each Other

After teaching the same group of students for almost half a semester I realized that some of them didn’t even know each other’s names! I assumed that because I knew all their names, surely they would, given that they travel in the same cohort throughout the door. Obviously, I was wrong. Starting your class with a simple greeting will help ensure that you are more successful than I was at getting students to know each other. Ask students to greet across the circle, or by favorite sport, or shoe color. Get them to mix up and get to know students they typically would not partner with.

Strategy #4: Sharing Time

Next, provide students time to share. I will generally pick a topic that relates to our current unit of study. For example, if we are studying slavery, I might ask them to discuss instances of racism that still exist today. I begin by asking them to discuss the topic with a partner, and then invite volunteers to share with the larger group. To provide an opportunity for the typically more reluctant students to speak, I spin a marker- whoever it points to “has the floor.” Make sure to provide ground rules/ agreements for how they interact. Teach them how to listen, make eye contact, and show engagement with the speaker.

Strategy #5: Interactive Activity

The final step in fostering relationships in your classroom involves some fun! Get students out of their seats. I like to tailor popular interactive activities to our current unit of study. For example, a popular game called “categories” provides a category and asks students to each think of a word that belongs to it. If we are studying natural disasters, students would each take turns sharing the name of a natural disaster until the list had been exhausted. The last student standing is the winner! I have included some interactive activities below:

In Closing:

Investing time to build and harness relationships in your classroom will ensure you are able to complete the more challenging work you are tasked to complete daily. Organize your classroom in a way that fosters these relationships. Provide students a space to better know and understand each other. And finally, make sure to have some fun in the process!

To your success.

What do you do to foster relationships in your classroom? I would love to hear your story. E-mail me at and I will add your tips to the blog post!

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Kyle Wagner
School Transformation and Project- Based Learning Coach

I coach school leaders on how to lead change and improve student learning through simple, innovative srategies and teaming structures.

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