Teachers get into the profession of teaching because they care about young people and want to help them be successful in life, and ultimately to make the world a better place.

We all know that relationships are at the core of our work, and that this critical aspect of education and the classroom makes our job of educating children more effective and fulfilling for everyone. Yes, building relationships with students takes time, a commodity that is in limited supply in the classroom.

Given this fact, how can we efficiently, effectively, and purposefully build relationships with students in the classroom?

When it comes to English learners, the difficulty may be confounded if we do not speak the native languages of our students, or if their cultural background differs significantly from our own. There are several strategies that can be used specifically with culturally and linguistically diverse student groups.

The following list of activities and ideas can be used in virtually any context, but may need to be adapted slightly depending on the grade level and make up of your classroom. Adaptations to more meaningfully build relationships with English learners are included.

Greet Students

Greeting students as they enter the classroom each day is a great way to build a relationship with each of your students.

By giving them a greeting each day, you set a tone for learning and send a message that each student is important, worthy of respect, and is preparing to enter the classroom as a learner. Some teachers give a handshake or a high five, while others, and some students, just prefer a simple "good morning," "hello" or "good afternoon."

With culturally and linguistically diverse students, consider learning a greeting in their native language. A quick search online can help you learn how to say "hello" or "good morning" in most any language.

Using a culturally and linguistically relevant greeting sends the message to your English learners that you respect them and their language and culture, and that we are all language learners. It also demonstrates the value of learning and knowing more than one language.

Modeling for Students

Perhaps, just as in instruction, we should begin with modeling for students what building and developing relationships looks and sounds like. In order to build a relationship, we need to get to know each other on a deeper level.

Most teachers already have a variety of activities they use at the beginning of the school year to share their expectations for the class and help the students know a little bit more about their lives. Continue this process throughout the year, especially as there are connections to the curriculum.

Share your life experiences, interests, hobbies, etc. as a way to help students get to know you on a more personal level. Strong relationships begin with authenticity; if your students learn more about you in an authentic way, and you share an interest in getting to know them, they will be more likely to open up to you and share information about themselves.

For students who are at beginning proficiency levels in English, use pictures or other visuals to support your discussion, as you share information about yourself. Through the use of comprehensible input strategies, all students can get to know you in engaging and interesting ways.

Take the Time: Interviews and Short Conferences

As you share information about yourself with your students, elicit information about them as well, and take the time to listen to your students. Some teachers conduct short interviews with their students, where they ask them a few basic questions about their lives and interests.

At the secondary level, where teachers may have well over 100 students, this can be a challenging or seemingly impossible task. However, there are a few ways that teachers can indeed accomplish this.

Begin by conducting one or two interviews per class section each day. The interviews can be completed while students are working on independent or collaborative activities.

Be sure to keep the interviews to five minutes or less. Even with these short interviews, it will take a few weeks to get to each student.

The conversations should be light, with a purpose of getting to know your students; where they live and who they live with, their interests, hobbies, and future aspirations. As an alternative, use content conferencing time, such as when you are checking a student’s work or discussing a particular assignment one on one, and ask a few questions as a way to get to know students on a more personal level.

While interviewing culturally and linguistically diverse students, focus on the same questions you ask every student. While it is absolutely fine and appropriate to ask students about their cultural norms or where their families are from, this should not be the sole focus of the conversation.

These students should be seen as a member of the classroom community just as any other student, and focusing only on the differences they show from other students may defeat the purpose of building deeper relationships and only serve to isolate the student.

Small Groups and Collaboration Opportunities

Collaboration time for students is a great time to listen in to conversations and what they are saying and sharing. There are usually a wide variety of opportunities for students to have discussions in a classroom.

Any time a teacher asks a question to solicit a response from students, there is an opportunity for students to turn to a partner and discuss or answer the question. If the question is more open ended, the students will be able to engage in a short conversation, and this time provides an excellent opportunity for the teacher to listen in to the students.

During these times, it is common for students to share information about themselves, or share their personal perspectives around the topic being discussed. Teachers can design questions that include a solicitation of opinion or perspective.

Be sure during these opportunities to walk around and listen in to students. It can be helpful to take a notebook to record any interesting comments or noteworthy connections students are making for reference during whole-class discussions or for later reference.

Consider how you are grouping your students, especially when taking into account your students’ language proficiency levels. It is helpful to group students in ways that maximize language learning opportunities while they are learning content.

While there is no one single correct way to group students, consider the goals of the lesson: will students benefit from having a native speaker, or a student with a higher proficiency level in order to hear more advanced language structures? Should students be seated in native language groups to be able to clarify the key concepts in their native language? Should students be seated in similar language proficiency level groups in order to provide specific instruction to the students?

These and other considerations should be taken into account. Groups can and should be flexible, and depending on the particular objectives of the lesson, you may want to group students in a variety of ways.

Planning Instruction

An excellent way to build stronger relationships with students is to plan instruction in a way that is interesting to them, meets their needs, and links to their background knowledge and experiences.

When students are able to connect content and learning to what they already know and experiences they have had, it helps build neurological connections and enhances both learning and retention. The information, connections, and experiences that students share can also help to build relationships with them.

Take note of what students share and connect to that information when possible or appropriate. Keep in mind that the background experiences of you culturally and linguistically diverse students may differ significantly from your own life experiences.

Games and Activities

Games and activities engage students in learning. When people are engaged and having fun together, it helps to build relationships as people appreciate each other’s company and enjoy their time together. Games that help students learn, practice content knowledge and skills, and demonstrate their learning make class time fun.

One example of an activity that helps to build relationships is the “Find someone who…” activity. In this activity, the teacher calls out a specific characteristic, and students walk around the room and find someone who has a match.

Once they have found the person, the teacher provides a prompt of activity that the pair of students will engage in together, such as answering a specific question, solving a problem, or discussing a particular topic. For example, the teacher may instruct the students to find someone who:

·Has a similar number of siblings (within one)

·Has the same or an adjacent birth month

·Has been to another state

·Has visited another country

·Is wearing the same or similar color garment

·Has more than two aunts and uncles

The teacher can also participate in this activity, and that way the students can learn more about the teacher. Note that these sample questions can be altered and any criteria can be used to have students pair up or meet in small groups.

Use Assigned Duty Time

Take advantage of assigned duties outside of the classroom such as lunch, recess, bus or hall duty. While these duties may seem tedious and take us away from valuable time to prepare materials or activities, they also provide us with a window into students’ interests and behavior outside the classroom.

These situations provide wonderful opportunities to chat with students about their interests, observe social dynamics, and get a feel for students’ moods and attitudes in a non-academic setting. The more you interact with students in a variety of settings, the stronger the teacher-student relationship will become.

Attend Events and Visit the Community

Whenever possible, attend events that your students participate in. By attending sporting events, community events, theatrical performances, cultural events, etc. Seeing students in other contexts, besides the classroom, helps to build positive relationships with students as you each see each other outside of the teacher-student relationship.

In addition, make a point to visit important or significant locations in the community that your students live in. You can make connections as appropriate between the places students are familiar with and the content you are teaching.

Take Notice and Engage

One other powerful way to build a positive relationship with each of your students is perhaps the most simple; take notice of your students and engage with them. Notice when you see students in the hallway or in the community, and say hello.

Take note of when they seem especially happy, sad, excited, or anxious, and have a conversation with them. Notice when students are absent, and, when they return, let them know that you noticed they were gone and that they were missed.

Sometimes a simple conversation goes a long way in letting students know that you care and they you see them as a worthy human being.