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How to Build Positive Relationships with Students

Northwest | September 01, 2023

A positive school climate is key to student success.1 When students feel a sense of safety and belonging, they are more likely to engage and perform well academically.2

Teachers can make a difference. By establishing meaningful relationships with students, they can help create a more positive school climate.

The Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports developed a resource, Supporting and Responding to Students' Social, Emotional, and Behavioral Needs,3 which provides teacher strategies for building these relationships (p.12 and 16).

Teachers should consider the following six recommendations:

  • Greet students: Positively welcome each student as they enter the learning environment.
  • Interact with students: Engage with students while supervising activities (e.g., ask how they are doing, comment or inquire about their interests, show genuine interest in their responses).
  • Learn about students: Understand students' learning history, cultural identity, and preferences for learning, receiving feedback, etc.
  • Validate students: Affirm students' personal and cultural learning histories.
  • Build time for engagement: Provide structured and unstructured opportunities for students to engage with each other (e.g., cooperative problem-based learning, simulation activities, debates, restorative circles, peer tutoring).
  • Co-design learning: Incorporate student preferences and ideas when designing the classroom environment, instructional activities, and fun learning experiences.

The guide also provides tools to support implementation. It includes a graphic organizer to guide implementation of strategies, descriptions of specific practices with examples and non-examples, a self-assessment, and an action plan.

By implementing these practices, educators will build trusting relationships with students of diverse backgrounds. As a result, students will feel a greater sense of belonging, self-efficacy, and motivation.4 Additionally, schools that implement these practices may witness improvements in teacher efficacy5 and reductions in exclusionary discipline.6

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1 Payne, A. A. (2018). Creating and sustaining a positive and communal school climate: Contemporary research, present obstacles, and future directions. National Institute of Justice report. National Institute of Justice.

2 Abdollahi, A., & Noltemeyer, A. (2018). Academic hardiness: Mediator between sense of belonging to school and academic achievement? The Journal of Educational Research111(3), 345-351.

3 Center on PBIS. (2022). Supporting and responding to student's social, emotional, and behavioral needs: evidence-based practices for educators (Version 2). Center on PBIS, University of Oregon. 4 Kiefer, S. M., Alley, K. M., & Ellerbrock, C. R. (2015). Teacher and peer support for young adolescents' motivation, engagement, and school belonging. RMLE Online: Research in Middle Level Education, 38(8).

5 Ruzek, E. A., Hafen, C. A., Allen, J. P., Gregory, A., Mikami, A. Y., & Pianta, R. C. (2016). How teacher emotional support motivates students: The mediating roles of perceived peer relatedness, autonomy support, and competence. Learning and Instruction 42, 95–103.

6 Bradshaw C. P., Mitchell M. M., Leaf P. J. (2010). Examining the effects of schoolwide positive behavioral interventions and supports on student outcomes: Results from a randomized controlled effectiveness trial in elementary schools. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 12, 133–148.


Sierra McCormick

Sierra McCormick

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