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.
....in 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.
I LOVE TEACHING!!!
*** 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:
COMPASSION-BASED LEARNING BLOG
Communities at Oshkosh North