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A Teacher’s Guide to Building More Meaningful Connections with Students

    a teachers guide to building meaningful connections with students

    Not all student-teacher relationships are created equal. Making connections with students is the key to having a lasting impact on students’ growth and success in and beyond your classroom. I created this guide to help you build more meaningful connections with your students.

    No matter what grade or subject you teach, building meaningful connections with your students is vital. After all, if you’re anything like me, you didn’t necessarily get into this profession for the lesson planning, grading, and ever-growing to-do list. You’re in this for the students. To help them learn, grow, and tap into their potential. To equip them with transferable skills that will help them succeed in and beyond the classroom.

    If you’re wondering how to foster strong, meaningful connections with your students without it feeling awkward or forced, this is for you.  I’m going to share my best tips and strategies for building more meaningful connections with students. But first, let’s dive into why student-teacher relationships are so important.

    The Importance of Student-Teacher Relationships

    Yes, it’s easy to get lost in the curriculum and focus on the standards, but it’s essential we also make an intentional effort to establish meaningful connections with our students. Not only will this make for a positive classroom culture, but it will lay the foundation for successful teaching and learning experiences all year long.

    If you’re looking for a why to support your student-teacher relationship efforts, here are some reasons why building those connections is so vital.

    • Fostering Trust and Respect: When students trust and respect their teachers, they are more likely to feel comfortable asking questions, seeking help, and participating in class, leading to a more active and enriching learning experience.
    • Promoting Social and Emotional Learning: By having meaningful connections with students, teachers can provide better emotional support and guidance. In turn, students can develop life-long essential social and emotional skills. 
    • Creating a Positive Classroom Culture: When students feel a sense of respect, acceptance, and belonging, the classroom will become a safe space for students to express themselves and engage in meaningful interactions.
    • Reducing Classroom Management Woes: Strong student-teacher relationships help build a sense of mutual respect, reducing instances of disruptive behavior and encouraging students to take accountability for their actions.

    More Benefits of Building Meaningful Student-Teacher Relationships

    • Allowing for Personalized Instruction: Knowing students on a personal level allows teachers to tailor their lessons and approach to their unique learning styles and interests, leading to more effective instruction and improved academic outcomes.
    • Encouraging Motivation and Engagement: Students who have positive relationships with their teachers are often more motivated and engaged in class, and are more likely to take ownership of their learning.
    • Supporting Student Success: When students feel seen and supported by their teacher, they are more likely to take academic risks and take ownership of their learning. In turn, this enhances student confidence and, ultimately, their success in and beyond the classroom.

    Strategies for Connecting with Students

    Now that you understand why student-teacher relationships are crucial, you might be looking for some practical strategies to build more meaningful connections with your secondary students.

    1. Get to Know Your Students Personally

    Take the time to learn about your students as individuals, making them feel like more than a name on your roster. Ask about their interests, hobbies, and aspirations, including those outside of the classroom. Refer to this information throughout the year to show a genuine interest in your students. You can also use this information to make personalized book recommendations throughout the year.

    2. Really Listen to Your Students

    Rather than seeking out a specific answer, listen to what your students have to say. That means that when your students speak, practice active listening. Give them your full attention, maintain eye contact, and provide physical or verbal cues to show that you are engaged in the conversation. Active listening shows students that you value their input and gives you valuable insight into their perspective.

    3. Be Willing to Get Personal

    Don’t be afraid to show your students that you may be a teacher, but you are also a human.  Sharing relevant personal anecdotes can help make you (and classroom content) more relatable to your students. You can use these stories and personal experiences as intentional teaching tools to illustrate concepts, provide context for lessons, or simply connect with students. In other words, don’t talk about yourself for the sake of… well… talking about yourself.

    4. Create a Supportive Classroom Environment

    The teenage years are complicated enough, filled with social pressures and insecurities. Make it a priority to welcome students to show up as they are. Foster an inclusive and safe classroom environment where students feel comfortable expressing themselves without fear of judgment. When students feel safe and accepted, they are more likely to open up and engage in meaningful discussions.

    5. Recognize and Celebrate Achievements

    Make an effort to acknowledge your students’ achievements, both big and small. Celebrate their successes in class, whether it’s a well-written essay, a thoughtful analysis, or a breakthrough moment in their learning journey. However, also make it a point to acknowledge their achievements outside of the classroom, like winning a basketball game or performing in the school play. Recognizing students’ efforts helps them feel seen, encouraging further motivation.

    6. Be Approachable and Accessible

    From day one, make it clear when and how students can receive your support. By being available when your students need you, you show that you are invested in their success and well-being. However, you should also be proactive in supporting their success and well-being, checking in with them often, offering additional help, and encouraging them to seek out your support as needed. Instead of feeling vulnerable, students will feel comfortable reaching out when they need help.

    7. Be Flexible and Empathetic

    While it’s important to have clear and consistent expectations, it’s also important to recognize that no two students are alike. Each student is unique, coming to your classroom with different strengths, weaknesses, and both academic and personal experiences. Do your best to approach situations with empathy, being flexible with deadlines and assignments as needed. 

    8. Encourage Student Voice and Choice

    Empower your students by giving them a say in their learning. Allow them to choose topics or books that interest them, incorporate their suggestions into the curriculum when feasible, and encourage them to express their opinions and ideas. Not only does this encourage engagement in the content but, when students feel their voices are heard and respected, they are more likely to feel a sense of ownership over their learning.

    9. Host One-on-One Conferences

    Incorporate one-on-one conferences with your students. Whether you use these meetings to give individualized writing feedback, make personalized book recommendations, or simply check in, these brief meetings are a great opportunity to connect with students. Even if for only a few minutes, this individualized attention demonstrates your commitment to each student’s success while offering a safe space for them to voice their concerns or ask questions.

    10. Make Personalized Book Recommendations

    What teacher doesn’t love to see their students reading? Encourage a love for reading and build meaningful connections with your students by making personalized book recommendations tailored to individual interests and reading abilities. While making these book recommendations supports literacy and independent reading, it also demonstrates your attention to and understanding of the student’s personal preferences and individual needs.

    Ready, Set, Start Building More Meaningful Connections with Students

    Remember that teaching is about more than your curriculum. It’s also about preparing them to become active, engaged, and empathetic citizens. When you build more meaningful connections with your students, you can have a lasting impact on their personal and academic growth and well-being.

    Don’t be afraid to press pause on the lesson planning and grading to ask yourself the following: Am I creating a supportive and inclusive classroom environment that welcomes diverse perspectives and promotes respectful communication? Am I encouraging active participation and providing support where my students need it most? What can I do to build more meaningful connections with my students, empower their confidence, and champion their success?

    And when you do ask yourself those questions, don’t be afraid to come back to this post for inspiration!

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