Saturday, July 20, 2013

5 Ways to Instantly Improve Rapport With Students

A good teacher can inspire hope, ignite the imagination, and instill a love of learning.
                    -Brad Henry 

Building rapport with students is perhaps one of the most important tasks of a teacher today.  I have heard many teachers argue against this by saying statements such as:

* I don't care if they like me, I am here to teach them.

* I am not here to be their friend.
* You will do this, because I said so.
* Etc..... my experience, and I am sorry to offend, these statements are often said by teachers that are not very good at building rapport with students.  I feel that their defense mechanism is to pretend that it is not important, or possibly even wrong to do.  I disagree strongly with them.  With regards to teaching students, they are not going to listen unless they respect you.  There are other ways to gain respect, but one way is to build their rapport and trust.  Ask any student or adult what their favorite class was in school.  About 90% of the time, when asked to explain why they love that subject, they will go on about how awesome the teacher was.  This is so true!  I remember my favorite classes in K-12 and in college and it was almost always correlated with a charismatic and benevolent teacher.  Truthfully, if I would have attended a different high school and different college, I am sure that I would be doing something else right now because it is the teachers I had that shaped my path.

So how can you begin instantly building rapport?  I feel that these suggestions are relevant for someone who has difficulty building rapport all the way to someone who is excellent at it, but would like to improve.

***DISCLAIMER:  These things are not necessarily easy to do.  They are also not "false manipulations".  These are ways to show your genuine respect for students.  If you really do not like the students, quit teaching.  If you do like them, try these:

1.  Names -  Dale Carnegie said that "a person's name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language".  Names are powerful.  People like to hear their names.  People like to see their names written.  My suggestion is to learn all of your students' names as FAST AS YOU CAN and then call them by their name often.  I have actually gone so far as to review past yearbooks and refresh my mind on names of former students in case they visit.  I have had so many times in which a former student stops back to say hello, and when I call them by their name they have a smile from ear to ear and say "You remember me!".  The opposite feeling stinks!  I hate it when I don't know their name and I just use generalities.  Even students in your class at the present time often seem to express a feeling of happiness when you are able to call them by their first names.  I believe these next couple sentences are of ultimate importance!!!  Pronounce and spell their name CORRECTLY.  Trying to use a name, when improperly pronounced or spelled can actually do more damage than not saying anything.  Take the time to learn how to spell their name.  If they have a difficult to pronounce name, ask them (early on) to sound it out phonetically for you....write it down....and say it correctly often.  You will most likely be told, accompanied by a smile, that you are the only person that says their name correctly.  Please do not underestimate this.  ***Try going above and beyond.  Get your class list ahead of time, and if you have access to pictures of the students, learn their names before they are even in your class on the first day.  You will look like a SUPERSTAR.

2.  "Is anyone doing anything cool this weekend"?  - This technique has worked unbelievably well in the past.  On Friday, in the final minutes of class, ask if anyone has plans for the weekend.  After the students leave the room, write down a couple of students names and what they said they are doing.  When "Johnny" comes back on Monday and you ask "How was your visit to your cousin's house, did you end up going to the museum with them", you will have students look at you as if to say "Somebody cares enough about me to remember this is what I was doing?"  The fact of the matter is that you do care, you are often just so busy that we forget to do stuff like this.

3.  Share personal stories - In class, use examples from your life regarding trips you went on, failures you had an how you dealt with them, times that you were nervous, activities that you did when you were in school.  This is an attempt to show them you are a human and once they realize that, they will respect you much more.


4.  Announce to the class that you are someone they can come and talk to - A couple of years ago our school did a student survey in which they (on the computer) checked off any teacher that they felt they could go and talk to because they trusted them and had rapport with them.  This study was done for several reasons, but one of the main reasons was to identify whether every student had someone they could talk to.  We were sad to find out that there were a fair number that could not identify any teacher they felt they could talk to.  This is sad.  Rick Lavoie once said at a conference that every day before school he would sit in his car for a couple of minutes and envision what the worst 30 minutes in the past day may have been like for some of these students.  It is hard to look at life and realize that not everyone is you, with your same morals, support, stability, etc...  Be open to consider things from the perspective of others.  If you tell students they can come to you, and follow this up with trustworthy and charismatic behavior, students WILL COME. This is going to cause extra work for you when you have to give up a prep, stay after school, or miss lunch to talk to a student.  When you have to call social services to report abuse.  When you have to meet with the counselor to discuss some major issues with a student.  If, however, you can prevent one suicide, or even improve the life of one student, this is definitely worth it.  When you tell your kids this, they will realize you care.  Your next job is to keep proving that you do care.

5.  Clothes & Shoes - This one is strange and many people will not agree with me on this, but I have seen a very HIGH correlation to:  The crazier my shoes or clothes are, they easier it is to build rapport.  I recommend finding some rare looking shoes, a rare dress coat, or a pair of funky pants.  Obviously you want to look professional, but in my opinion some people the "looking professional" thing, WAY TO FAR.  In my opinion, and I repeat, In my opinion, dressing up really professionally with a suit and tie and shiny wristwatch is a good way to immediately tell the student "I am different than you".  I am certain that in my experiences I have seen these teachers have a more difficult time building rapport with students (although I have seen exceptions to this!).  Ultimately, I would hope that administration, coworkers, parents, students would judge your "professionalism" on how you act, not how you dress.  Just because you wear a suit and tie, does not make you a professional.  

These are my thoughts.  I have about 5 more that I could add, but I thought these were the most relevant and easy to pull off.  There are, obviously, millions of ways of building rapport with people, so if you already have a way that is very effective.....continue on.  If you think one of these could help you improve your rapport......give it try.  It doesn't hurt to give it a try.


*** My passion is ComPassion-Based Learning in which we give students autonomy & purpose, teach them content & 21st century skills and empower them to change the world.  Please check out my blog on this at:


Oliver Schinkten
Communities at Oshkosh North
Twitter:  @schink10


  1. I really appreciate your 5 ways to build rapport. I think they are great and true. And that teachers should truly take these 5 things and think about utilizing them.

    I have an issue though. It is with your intro. In think the phrases that, "I don't care if they like me and I am not here to be their friend..." are not as bad as you make them out to be. Were your parents your friend? Did they care about you? Your grandparents? I worked a job where the kids appreciated me because I cared, but I made it clear that I was not there to be their friend, AND I really did not CARE if they liked me. I didn't CARE about being liked because the job was not about me, it was about the kids. I cared if they felt cared about and safe and secure. So I believe in some of your methods, but I am not sure if I believe in why you are doing them.

  2. Daniel,
    Thank you for the feedback. You definitely bring up some very important points which helped me to reflect on this topic. I actually think that we are somewhat similar in our beliefs. I think that this is an example of where I came across wrong through written word, and did not explain myself good enough.

    You said that you "cared if they felt cared about and safe and secure". Amen. This is exactly what I care about. You ended by saying that you are not sure if you believe in why I am doing my methods, but I am not sure what this means. I am doing them with the intention of having students feel respected, cared about, safe and secure. That is it.

    I think that the miscommunication is in the way in which we are defining "friends" or "liked me". I clearly establish a high level of professionalism and boundaries in my classroom. I am not talking about being friends with the students outside of school. I would not get together with them to watch a football game or hang out. I would not be offended or hurt if they disliked me. I meant that I want to be someone they can talk to, trust, respect, and come to with questions or problems. If a student does something exceptional (earns a scholarship, scores a touchdown, gets an A in a difficult class), I hope they are proud to tell me about it the next day in school. I hope if they are having major problems in a class or in life, they feel comfortable asking for help.

    You said that you did not CARE if they liked you, but you cared if they felt cared about and safe and secure. If they felt cared about, safe, and secure because of you......they liked you. If someone doesn't like you, I do not think that you are going to be very effective getting through to them. I do care that they like me. I go out of my way to be available, caring, and a strong leader for them with hopes that they like me. If they do not, I do not lose any sleep over it and I certainly wouldn't compromise my morals or values to gain their friendship.

    I, like you, don't CARE about being liked because the job is "about me". Actually it is the opposite. I CARE about being liked (I believe respected may be the more appropriate word) because the job is ALL about the kids. I am 100% there for the kids and every one of my students would tell you that. You mention at the end of your comments that you are not sure if you "believe in why" I am using my methods to build rapport. I do these methods because I want to create a safe environment in which kids feel respected, treated equally, around someone they can go to for help, around someone that they know is trying to prepare them to be as successful as possible for their future, and that they can go to share an accomplishment because they know I will be proud of them. I would call that a "friend" in some sense. If you do not believe in this, then I have to agree to disagree.

    Also, you asked "were your parents your friend". Yes. My mom and dad are two of my best friends. My dad, in fact, was the best man in my wedding and the first person I call to share an accomplishment. Is this bad?

    I understand what you are saying and I respect it completely. I think that we are just defining some of the terminology differently. You seem to be someone that cares for each and every student, and that is awesome. They are lucky to have you!

  3. Oliver,

    I initially responded to your blog in order to help clarify for myself, but also for others that will read your blog. I want them to see your 5 tips as SUPER useful and IMPORTANT, and I don't want anyone to become alienated from reading the blog due to some terminology.

    Thanks for the response and clarification. We do believe in the same things. There was just some terminology getting in the way. I agree that the word, respect, would be a better fit than, like.

    Your response has clarified everything. I was just initial turned off by your blog by those phrases that I mentioned. That is because I have personally used some of them to help create boundaries in my relationships with kids.

    It is not bad to be friends with your family/parents. I was just trying to come up with an example of a power structure that involves love and caring that many people could relate to. As I was writing it, I knew it was not a perfect example, but it was the best I could come up with. Initially(as in ages birth to early teen-hood), parents are usually not friends with their children due to the power structure of parent/child relationship. I think it is great for children and parents to grow into friends. And, if you are one of the lucky few whose parents could walk the line of friend and parent for your whole life, then you have some extraordinary and wonderful parents. They raised you well.

    Thanks for taking the time to respond.
    Have a wonderful day,


Please engage in the discussion. I would love to hear what you have to say!