Relationships (and a few ideas to make them better)

It is redistricting time here in HSE, and for those of you who have been through that, you know what that means – not only do we have students who will be shuffling schools, we also have some teachers who will be shifting. As a school who will be growing as a result of the redistricting, we have 4 new positions to fill in my building. At the same time, there are multiple buildings around the district who will be losing positions. All of this goes to say that there is a LOT of change going on around our district.

As a result of those changes, I have had the opportunity to sit in on interviews with a TON of super talented, motivated, and innovative teachers from all over our district. As I reflect on those interviews, one of the things that was reaffirmed is the fact that ALL teachers that I talk to seem to value relationships with their students above all else. For several years now, one of the school improvement goals at our school has been developed around the idea of the importance of strong relationships with our students.

This year our district embarked on a new process to be able to gather data from multiple stakeholders to better understand the beliefs that students, families, and teachers have about our schools. This was done through a survey called Panorama. The survey allows us to learn about a multitude of aspects of what happens at our buildings. We even got data from that survey about the perceptions that we all have about those student to teacher relationships in our building.

What was fascinating to me is that the data shows that within three percentage points, our students, teachers, and families all scored the strength of the connections between teachers and students almost at the same level. I was a bit concerned to learn though, that almost 30% of our responses on these questions were not favorable. Now, many of you know me – I love data. Out of the 851 students who were able to respond to this survey, somewhere close to 250 of those students responded unfavorably on the questions that related to teacher-student relationships.

No significant learning

So that got me thinking – as teachers, we know that relationships are important, and we work hard to create them. Even with that effort, we’re still looking at a significant portion of our student body who did not respond favorably when self-reporting their beliefs about relationships between teachers and students.

You know, when we look at a percentage, saying that our results are a little over 70% favorable sound pretty good. But c’mon, 250 kids did not give a favorable response in this category. That’s an average of about 7 kids per homeroom! Yikes!

So that has me reflecting on 2 questions:

  1. What are the things that are burning our relationships with kids?
  2. What can we do to improve those relationships?

I’m sure we all have theories on why students might not have a favorable response to questions about those relationships, but ultimately we want to think about what things we can do to build relationships. One of the other awesome things about our Panorama survey data is that you also have access to a section called the Playbook. Here you can find ideas for activities that support certain topics. One of the topics on the playbook is Teacher-Student Relationships. Here are a few examples that I think would provide huge bang for your buck in terms of building relationships:

  • Proactive Community Circles – The benefits of circling up and talking about what matters to kids is huge! When we begin looking at data from the Panorama survey, the schools who have already integrated these circles into their daily schedule have higher outcomes in the teacher-student relationships section of the survey. Want to build better relationships with your kids? Start circling up to have a conversation a few times a week!
  • Game time – What if you randomly selected a student to pick a couple of friends and come play a game with you during non-class time? It could be at lunch, during prep, or after school, but think about the opportunity that creates for you to get to know your students in a new way, and for them to get to know you!
  • Contact parents with positive information – make it a point to pick one day a week that you call the parents of a handful of students to share something positive about them. Especially target a student that you might have been struggling with. See if you notice a difference moving forward!
  • Form book clubs with students – Personally I love to read, and I love to talk about reading. What if you picked a group of students to do a book club outside of normal instructional time? Let the students select the book, and find a time once a week or every couple of weeks to get together and chat.

It’s clear to me from the data that teachers value relationships with students, but for some reason there seems to be a disconnect between what we as educators understand and what our students perceive. Maybe some added intentionality in our relationship building will help achieve stronger connections!

What are some of your favorite ways to build relationships with your students? Share some ideas in the comments below!

One thought on “Relationships (and a few ideas to make them better)

  1. Love the positive phone call idea, so simple right! Duh. We must make time for this.

    Another one can be eating lunch in cafe with the kids at the kid table. Playing WITH them at recess. Or meeting them off campus like at a park or for ice cream in small groups to not only get to know them better individually but to foster relationships with one another!


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