Rapport is the creation of trust and understanding in the classroom. When students see you as a leader who has their best interest at heart and makes an effort to foster an understanding relationship with them, they are more likely to participate in class, be less like cause disruptive behavior, and improve student engagement.
But – with teachers being so burdened with already taxing schedules and bulging classes, how can they establish and nurture rapport with every student? Here are ten ways for teachers to create rapport inside their classrooms.
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1. Do more than learn student names
If you ever search for “how to build rapport” on the Internet, the first answer you will probably get will be: “Remember your students’ names!” That’s all good and well, but use the opportunity to achieve more than just memorize names.
Tip 1 – Seating Chart
When first starting class, draw a seating chart with your students’ names. Not only will it help you remember their names faster, but they will also see you as an authority figure because you are making decisions early. Use their names often during class and on the seating chart, find out and write extra information about them.
Tip 2 – A Question a Day
Before every lesson, as students come into class. I make a point of it to ask every student something about themselves. What they are busy with these days? Any special events that week? What’s their hobby? What they got up to last weekend, what their plans are for the next.” Whenever I find out something interesting, I make a note of it on the seating chart.
Tip 3 – Observe and Comment Positively
Use observations and knowledge you have obtained about students to make positive comments.
For example: “So Sarah, how did that game go last week? Steven, I see you got a haircut.”
Taking an interest and following up with students makes them feel you care and other students will also be more likely to open up if they see that you are making an effort.
2. Share things about them
From having these conversations and getting to know your students. Try to share things about them with the rest of the class. Share stories that place them as the hero. You know how it feels when someone talks positively about you. And it’s even better when they share experiences that put you in a positive light with your peers.
When I was young, there was a worry about attacks in classrooms in South Africa. Our teacher had a talk with us about safety since parents in the community were worried. He said, if a stranger threw something in the classroom, I want you to dive behind your desks, just like Eric does on the cricket field when running in between the wickets.
You know, I still remember that comment to this day!
So, share stories about your students, ones that build them up, and definitely not ones that embarrass them.
3. Humor with Care
A class that students enjoy will create much better rapport than one that’s stale, with 0% humor. But humor must be carefully managed, especially when teaching students of another culture.
You can make silly jokes, share funny stories and tease students a bit – but only to a degree. Use teasing sparingly and only with students that you’ve already built a sense of familiarity and rapport with. Showing students your humor and making jokes will allow them to relax, enjoy the class and get to know you better.
Never use Sarcasm
NEVER EVER use sarcasm against students – or other people for that matter. This is especially true when teaching students in another culture and in a 2nd language where even an innocent expression can have a different meaning or be misinterpreted. Sarcasm may be a common trait in some cultures, but in general, it reeks of a sense of superiority, egotism, and arrogance.
Never be the Class Clown
Never be the class clown. You are there to teach and not to provide entertainment. Don’t sell your reputation for a few laughs. I would take a serious, non-smiling teacher any day of the week over a teacher that does it purely to be liked.
So, tell the occasional joke to liven the mood, let your students be part of the experience, and they will feel a sense of familiarity with you, but trying to be a clown will let students lose respect for you and our profession.
Let me repeat – Rapport can only come with mutual trust and respect.
That brings me to trust. I constantly remind my students that my class is a criticism-free environment. I don’t mind them making mistakes, because that’s how they learn and how I can help them. In my class, we are always respectful to our teachers and peers.
Laugh at yourself when you make mistakes. Sometimes, I make obvious mistakes when teaching. Like a common spelling, comprehension, or grammar error. At first, no one will call you out because they don’t have the confidence to correct their teacher. Although, if you have strong characters they might. But if they don’t, “realize” your mistake and tell them to let you know if/when you make a mistake. That way they will see you as a human being, and that it’s okay to be imperfect. Making mistakes is part of learning.
That will also teach them that independent thinking is important in the classroom, as it is outside.
5. Teacher’s Body Language
Speaking of trust. Students cannot trust a teacher with weak body language. This is something you actively need to work on if you want to build greater rapport with your students.
Stand up straight when speaking – Relax your shoulders and maintain solid eye contact. When speaking, scan the room from left to right, keeping eye contact with individual students for a couple of seconds before moving to the next.
Only someone with confidence in themselves as an individual would do this, inspiring confidence in you from your learners.
Also, be mindful of your position in relation to them. I avoid standing over my students, and I crouch down or pull a chair closer when I am speaking one-on-one or to a small group. Do not be afraid to move around the class and get close to your students. It shows confidence and students are more likely to engage with a teacher that they know is unafraid, and in control of their class.
Add variety to your vocal tonality and cadence. It adds richness to your communication.
Constant speed, speed up, slow down, add pauses, a little louder, a slight whisper.
By not speaking in a monotonous tone, students will be hanging on your every…. Word.
Sometimes, I use a higher pitch with shyer, more distant learners, so they feel safe.
And to convey more authority, I deepen my voice.
Remember, these tips alone won’t drastically improve your rapport with students – But the consideration of these ideas will help you consciously work on improving your engagement in social interactions.
Rapport can only grow through mutual trust. Students are less likely to trust an adult with weak body language.
7. Be Fair, Firm and Fun
Be Fair, Firm and Fun – Make the effort to understand your students. What are their backgrounds and what are they going through? How can you, as a teacher, consider these things and relate their learning and your classroom approach to them?
To improve rapport with students, they need to know that you are trying to understand them, to empathize with their situations. That can be to their background or the relevant age of the learners.
If you are teaching kindergarten, imagine what they are going through. Everything is new; they are learning about the world and they need a safe environment. They also need rules, boundaries, and structure to understand and anticipate what their day will be like.
They cannot sit still for too long so create activities that engage and help them show their personalities. They cannot explain themselves well, so you need art projects for them to show – then praise them for it.
Your elementary and middle school students are trying to find their place in their group of peers. Where do they fit in socially? You want to give them space to show who they are, without alienating shy students from their classmates. Allow them to share their lives from a group perspective.
Teens know which groups they fit into; now you want to give them a voice to share their personalities. Adults need to share their lives, hopes, and dreams for the future.
Nobody asks adults how they feel or to share their opinions, but we all need that human contact; that teacher that focuses on topics, content, and activities that allow us to share who we are.
Once you make the effort to understand your students, they will reciprocate by making an effort in your class.
8. The Yes-ladder
In business, salesmen don’t start with the big pitch immediately. They build up to it with smaller asks until you are ready to buy. They call this the Yes-ladder.
We can apply the same principle in class. When students enter class, they might not be in an emotional state to immediately answer questions or be receptive to sharing anything about themselves.
So, we’ve got to slowly get them into it.
Yes 1: Greet
Greet students as soon as they enter, either say “Hello class!” Or greet them individually as they enter the classroom and expect / friendly demand a reply.
Yes 2: Ellicit a simple response
Then, ask them how they are doing. You’ll usually get an “I’m fine,” or more likely, “I’m tired”.
Yes 3: Get a 2nd response
Now ask them to share a bit more, “What was your previous class?” Or, “What did you have for lunch?” A one-word answer.
You don’t have to do this with every student. I see them as a whole entity at this point, where they feed off the group energy.
Yes 4: Engage the class fully
Now lay the groundwork for them – “Hi, everyone, what will you do for fun this coming weekend?”
I write the question on the board, and I give an example answer and instruct them to ask their friend the question.
Once they are done, get them to share their friend’s answer.
After this, students are warmed up and will more readily participate during the lesson.
Because they are comfortable sharing things in class, subconsciously they will feel a better sense of rapport with you, like there must be a special reason why they feel so free in YOUR classes.
9. Surprise them
Students often don’t feel heard like they are just another number. At home, they might not get enough attention and then act out at school in different ways to get it.
You can break that trend by making them feel special.
Notice anything different about them, if you see them outside of class, take a minute to have a chat with them.
If you notice something wrong with a student, ask them to see you for a minute after class or give them a great, big compliment on something they did well.
It’s such a special feeling to see a student’s face light up.
A big part of building rapport is showing that you are more than just a teacher to them. Make an effort to engage them outside of the classroom. Go attend a sports match or play.
I remember feeling so proud when a teacher came to check up on us at one of the chess tournaments we had over weekends. Nobody outside of the chess team even knew what we were doing. That support really made us feel respected and cared about.
See how you can do something special, and make your students feel important.
10. Be honest
Building rapport means that we are being friendly to our students and trying to get them to share more about themselves. But never prioritize being liked as a friend over being their teacher.
A common mistake I often see is when a teacher tries to be liked more than anything. But thereby losing respect, and failing as an educator.
Be honest with your students. If their performance isn’t good enough, tell them. Give them guidelines on how to improve and what you want them to do.
If the class misbehaves, tell them off. You are not their friend. You have standards.
Rapport can only happen when there is mutual respect, so expect it from your students.
Building rapport is one of the most important things you can do for your students as a teacher.
If you have problems with quieting a noisy class, then watch this video next.