5 Ways to Build Transformative Relationships with Students

Gregory Little is a graduate of Ursinus College. He was a TFA corps member and social studies teacher. He is now Dean of Students at YES Prep Fifth Ward. Below is his list of the top 5 ways to build transformative relationships with students.
1. Greet students by name and with a smile
I used to say “good morning” to every student, but one told me that it seemed disingenuous if I didn’t use her name. Using the student’s name makes it personal and you show that you care about that individual– not just the group.There’s also that adage that teachers shouldn’t smile until October, but a smile can brighten a kid’s day. You don’t know if he is just having a tough time and needs that little lift.2. Ask students about themselves and remember what they tell you
Ask how students are. At first, they’ll respond with the basics, but over time, they’ll see that you’re genuinely interested and they’ll begin to tell you more important information. Be sure to remember what they tell you. Then you can ask: “Is your grandma feeling better?” or “How did your brother do at state?” These questions go a long way to showing you care about them as a person.

3. Spend quality time with students inside and outside of school
I’m at lunch every day for the entire period. I walk up and down connecting with kids and asking about their families. I also go to their sports games. Just recently one student has been trying to find his passion. One of the things he was interested in was photography, which has been a hobby that I’ve been trying to pursue, so we’re going to go shoot on a Saturday. I try to attend their sports games and events that highlight their interest, meeting them on their turf (outside and inside of school). It’s another way to show that you care about them as a person.

4. Leverage relationships with families and peers
I sit next to the students’ parents at games. And when I go on home visits, I try to connect with other siblings in the house. I want parents to know that they can count on me. Then if the kid is having a rough day and won’t connect with me, I’ll be able to leverage the relationship I have with his/her family.

There is one family in particular where I taught their daughter (for multiple years) and their son. This family has been with YES Prep Fifth Ward since it was founded and has become one of our strongest advocates in their community. They come to most of our sporting events (even if their students is not playing) to cheer on our teams. The dad even gave one of our teams a pep talk during our district championship game (we won and his daughter doesn’t play on this team). I was having difficulty connecting with the younger brother in my class, and was able to leverage my relationship with the entire family to build that connection up!

5. Follow through on commitments
I had a student that was mad about a mark and crying. I said, “I recognize you’re really upset right now. Let’s commit to talking a little bit later,” and, in a half hour, I’ll go check in with him. If you say you’re going to do something, be sure to do it. This builds trust. If you can’t follow through for some reason, be honest with them and say “I lost track of this, can I get it to you tomorrow?” It all boils down to treating them like you’d want to be treated.

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