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How can a new teacher build a rapport with students that balances friendliness with professional distance?

May 11, 2017 9:45am

  • Behavior / Class Culture


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    • May 27, 2017 10:09am

      How can a new teacher build a rapport with students that balances friendliness with professional distance?

      This sounds simple, but remember what you appreciated about your favorite teacher. Usually it was someone who respected you as a learner, who greeting and treated you as an individual, and who allowed you choice based on your interests.

      Sometimes new teachers wonder if that is enough. Yes.

      Here are three strategies provide the personal touch without crossing the professional boundary so vital for successful teaching. Greeting students as they arrive and depart, using class time efficiently, allowing time for structure talking among the students, listening and using what is learned to design future lessons and giving students choice about what they read and write all can work well to get new teachers off to a good start on the road to a successful and satisfying career as a professional educator. The question is "How do I do all that?" Some ideas to consider are here.

      (1) Plan regular class time so that students have structured time to talk to one another and to share their thoughts in a safe environment. This means using guiding questions, stepping back and letting them talk, and at the same time, circulating among the students, listening, but not butting in, to their conversations.

      Use a soft tone timer to terminate the talking and then incorporate their thoughts into the lesson for the day.

      Managing this can be as simple as stopping the talking when the timer rings, reset it for two minutes and invite students to write a summary their observations or write their questions. New teachers may find setting a timer for this works and circulating, peaking over shoulders to see how most are progressing, and if the students need a few more seconds, allowing the extra time. Return to the front of the room, and saying something as simple as "Please complete the sentence you're writing and then all eyes on me." worked for me in middle, high school and college settings.

      (2) Greet students at the door every day. This means planning ahead, not only during prep period, but during the previous period. Again, set a timer to ring five minutes before the period ends, and use that time to collect materials, summarize for the day, review homework assignment, have students pack up and then depart in a orderly way as teacher stands at the door saying goodbye. This means you will be there when the next class arrives…unless, like many new teachers, you are a floater with classes meeting in different rooms. In that case, it’s even more important to end the period in an organized way so you can get to your next room without hustling. :-)

      (3) Allow choice based on interests. To learn their interests means listening, asking for input, and reading between the lines. If you’re standing at the doorway as students enter, and you have a fairly open-ended journal prompt on the board or projected for students to write about the first five minutes of class time, you’ll be amazed at how much you can learn about their interests.

      While journals need not be graded, they should be read at least once a week. Some teachers collect and read five-six journals each day while students are doing self-selected reading. What one learns from reading those journals informs subsequent lesson planning. One teacher divides the class by alphabet based on student's last names. Monday - A-E, Tues F-J, etc.

      Depending on the journal prompt, you may ask students to exchange and respond to classmates writing, or if the prompt relates to the lesson of the day, writers may be invited to read their writing aloud.

      Students can receive a check, plus or minus based on the number and quality of those journal entries. If time permits, teacher can write a brief comment, but does not need to comment on every journal every time they are collected and read.

      Try some of these, adapting these strategies to your new school setting and you’ll establish just the right balance to join the list of favorite teachers like the ones you recall.

      • May 29, 2017 9:42am


        While doing graduate work in England, I found that "Open School" technique was effective in managing educational goals to the benefit of everyone involved from school administration to children. Adapting this "open" idea to New York requirements resulted in the article Dear Teachers. The great bugaboo in school management is the varying methods and philosophies of the Boards of Education, administrators and teachers. Dear Teachers proposes classroom efficiency without altering educational philosophy.

        Dear Teachers

        You are the hard working, responsible and ethical support for the nation's children and their parents. It is because of you that children read, write, and gain knowledge. You are underpaid and you work at night for no pay. I'm going to try to help you in your classrooms by revealing a small change that worked for me after my graduate studies in Manchester, England. I have no intention of changing your philosophy or style.
        The English were very strict about school discipline until cities were bombed in World War II. To protect the children, they moved school into the open spaces of the country. Thus, “Open School.” The British can be literal at times. While fearing that the scores of the children would “plummet,” the scores rose higher. Why?
        I saw methods that I couldn't use here because my school and yours remain rooted in the belief that children are a problem unless strictly controlled by seating arrangements and quiet. So, I made a small change that saved me and served my kids.
        Here it is in brief:   The first day of school I told the class that we have an hour to do math.   They groaned.

        I then stated that IF we could finish in 45 minutes, that we then had 15 minutes to spare for ourselves.

        This 15 minutes was to be used as free time reward for completing the required math.   Now we have English to do.

        IF we finish in less than an hour, I guess that gives us more time for ourselves as  reward.   We made a list of the stuff we could do—legally--which happens to be an English lesson on note taking.   The kids chose reward activity ( that they wanted to do and I approved.) Two rules: 1. you can't do anything dangerous—duh, and 2. you can't make noise that bothers other classes and such (hallways for instance.)Each subject was similar in form.   I had no disciplinary troubles after a few days (and, peace in the classroom.)   I found Kids hushing other kids who were off task. What about the kids who couldn't or didn't finish early?

        They spent their 15 (or so) minutes with me doing their lesson.   They hated it, but they did their work because they wanted to join the others in reward time.


        1. "The school is built and I am paid to make you smarter and better.   In the math class, you will be smarter at the end than you are right now.   You will also be better at the end of class than you are right now.

        2. How smarter? You will learn skills that make you smart.   How better?   You will be a nicer, more capable person in 45 minutes than you are right now--at least that is my plan for you to be happier and make more money as a grown-up. BONUS: The “smart kids” who learned quickly could (for extra credit) help the others during the lesson. Now I have several "teachers" as individual helpers to be even more efficient. The class is easier for everyone (me too) and we finish early for reward for the class and maybe time for me to plan or complete other teacher tasks that usually keep me past dismissal.
        I have no intention of changing your teaching philosophy or style. There are lots of successful styles! The small change offered here is meant to reduce wasted time, increase class attentiveness and get adult behavior from our children; while you use the same class structure that works for you. It also reduces stress for the teacher, shortens time spent in discipline, and provides cooperative students working for adult goals that we all expect. Bonus: I was shocked to find that the students disciplined themselves so they could complete their tasks (the way we all hoped they would.)

        • Jun 14, 2017 7:02pm

          It's easy, especially for teachers new to the field to want to be accepted so much so that friendliness can override professionalism. Building rapport with a student is important and can develop an understanding between teacher and student that we are not best friends, but I am interested in your life. Balancing friendliness with professional distance means that you greet them at the door, are interested in what they have to say, you could even attend a band or choir concert to show your support, but we will be serious and focused in the classroom. We will use our time efficiently to get through the lesson, but during that lesson we will have a fun and open group discussion or activity that shows how professionalism and friendliness can be combined and work in harmony beautifully. It will take practice for new teachers and I know this because I am about to be one. I know I will have to listen to my own strategies and advice from others and not be afraid to use my "teacher voice" when necessary.

          • Jun 19, 2017 7:56am

            Finding a balance between friendliness and professionalism can be a challenge. I have not begun teaching yet, however I had to learn to find this balance during my time in the military. It is almost impossible to work with a group of people and not develop some kind of relationship with them. I had to learn how to find the balance between making sure that the sailors serving under me knew I cared about them and what was going on in their lives, but also at the end of the day that if I told them we had to do something and I had to be done a certain way they would do it without question. I have no delusions that kids will be this obedient, but the theory remains. We must ensure that kids know we care and are interested in helping them in the storms they must weather, but always remember that we are not their best friend. So great them with a smile ask them how their day is going or remember something personal about them (birthday, competition, trip, etc.). Just find some way to connect to them. They will remember that you have common ground with them. To maintain professionalism I would always avoid calling them by their first names. I would always call them by their Rank and last name or just Mr. or Ms. And their last name. It is a good way to remain professional, because none of their friends are calling them that, but if you start using the nicknames their friends use that can become a slippery slope. I know it feels oddly formal but formal and professional is what we are going for. This is what worked for me, in the end we must all find our own way to best reach the children in our care.

            • Jun 19, 2017 7:53pm

              From my experience in the Montessori classroom, it's fairly simple to build rapport. You have to respect the student.
              You can show this respect through using a cool, calm voice when speaking to students. This type of voice transfers to the students and passes the calm on. It also let's them know that no matter how mad you are, you will still speak to them as if they were adults. Kids constantly want to be treated like adults so this small step will go quite a ways in building the rapport you desire.
              It's similar to the way the town's folk generally respected Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. You have to be the same person every day. Finch was respected by those in town who didn't even like him because he refused to be two-faced. Basically, if you show students one day a person that cares and then the next day you are a rage monster, they will not trust you. You must earn their trust through consistency.

              • Jun 20, 2017 11:46am

                As a first year teacher, I imagine that finding a balance between professionalism and friendliness can be difficult. I feel the path to discovering this boundary is something that we can truly only learn with experience. When I think about how to build rapport with my students at the beginning of a school year, my immediate thoughts are to just greet students as they come in, be stern in your expectations and consequences, show empathy. Probably the two most important things you can do is show your students respect and to make them feel like they belong in your classroom.

                • Jun 20, 2017 3:48pm

                  Building a positive rapport with students is very important. But, while doing so keeping it a respectable level in which the students trust you enough to come to you.

                  Side Note: You don't want your class to feel like a dictatorship.

                  On the first day welcome the students at the door, this shows that you are approachable and are coming from a positive environment. Setting expectations soon and making sure they are properly enforced from the beginning, helps set a clear foundation to build a rapport on.

                  Keeping your professional relationship with your students is easy when you have open communication. Keeping a open line of communication builds a sense of trust and consistency.

                  When a teacher asks for students opinion or gives them a choice, it shows the student we care. Overall, it is important to stay positive, and consistent throughout the year to build a positive rapport while being friendly and professional.

                  • Jun 21, 2017 9:50am

                    It is important to be friendly, but not so much that it crosses the line of professionalism. Like so many have said, greeting students at the door is one way to be both friendly and professional. I also think it is good for students to know a little about their teacher, because it can help them relate to us. However, we don't want to share too many details, or else risk crossing the professionalism line. This could look like sharing about one activity you did over the weekend, and having the students do the same.

                    Another thing to remember is to always show respect to your students, even when they don't reciprocate. This communicates a level of professionalism to your students, and goes along with being consistent. Students feel more comfortable in a consistent environment, and in turn, will look more favorably on their teacher.

                    • Jun 21, 2017 1:32pm

                      Building rapport can be done by finding that balance between between assertive and caring. Assertive doesn't always mean being mean to your students, but it does mean being firm and consistent. Let that students know when their behavior is not acceptable, but approach it in such a way that shows you're not just nagging, and you do care. As new teachers, being the "cool teacher" or the student's "best friend" may be what one has in mind, but that is the best way to lose respect and order in the classroom, in my opinion. Students may start to think that they can do whatever and whenever, when they're in your class, and that can stem from you not maintaining that balance of professionalism and friendliness. As a teacher, you have to think about your tone when speaking with your students, and you also have to be careful how you say things as well. Students feed off of these interactions, and it is up to you, how you want to convey the messages that are being given. Eye contact and respect are always important when engaging with your students! While doing all of this, one must also make sure that they're making their students feel safe, secure, and comfortable, but not so comfortable that the student or even the teacher ends up crossing those lines. Another thing to also remember is that you can relate to your students with real life examples, without delving into your personal life.

                      • Jun 21, 2017 1:53pm

                        Building rapport with students can be difficult for a new teacher especially one who is not too much older than the students. I think the best way to accomplish this is to respect the students and gain their respect. This can be easy to do as long as you keep it professional by only letting them know aspects of your life that are not personal, by getting to know them using questionnaires, get-to-know-you activities for bell ringers, apps, etc. Don't ask them personal information face-to-face as that could insinuate things that are not there, be sure to address personal information aspects to the whole class instead of one individual student. You can also attend sporting events, participate in school activities; however, never deal with the students in non-educational places other than a brief hello, how are you. You keep it professional but friendly, just as you would a co-worker in a big corporation.

                        • Jun 22, 2017 4:45pm

                          How can a new teacher build a rapport with students that balances friendliness with professional distance?

                          Like Zach, I have military experience to bring to the table. Unlike him, though, I come from the enlisted side; relatively the student side. As the teacher you are going to have the initial respect of most of your students when you encounter them. They may not fully respect you, but they will at least respect your position enough to realize that you are the one they are supposed to listen to. From here, the teacher can make or break their authority over the classroom. I had leaders who I hated. They were viewed as ineffective, uncaring, and authoritative. I also had leaders that fostered a culture of respect that led to them being lauded when they were not around. One boss could get me to happily come in to do extra work on a Saturday.

                          What was the difference? Firstly, was work-ethic. The good leader did not do the same work we did, but their actions very clearly indicating that they were putting a concentrated effort into our success. The same is true for the classroom. Students do not want to feel like they are being ordered by some authority, they have to experience that enough with their parents. Rather, we should do our best to present an environment where we are putting the effort we should into class and the students can recognize this. Show up prepared for class with things that actively engage the students. Reward them for excellence.

                          Another important factor is the idea of mutual respect. A few people have mentioned this, but it is very important. I remember an instance once with a supervisor. "Perusich, when you have time, would you please do (insert task here." I remember replying, "Why are you asking me and saying please? I don't have a choice." His reply stuck with me. "I am showing you courtesy. You do not have a choice, but you are still a person and deserve to be treated as such." I miss that supervisor. This is the approach we should take to our students.

                          Both these examples, to me, show how one can build a professional, friendly, rapport, that does not even begin to become inappropriate. Personally, I feel like teachers are often guilty of crossing this line. A student should never even begin to think you are their friend. It is our job to nip this in the bud if it begins to occur.

                          • Jun 22, 2017 6:03pm

                            How can a new teacher build a rapport with students that balances friendliness with professional distance?

                            I believe as a new teacher, there are several factors in building rapport with students and remain professional and friendly. However, the one thing that stands out above all is, how approachable will I be? I want to be an effective teacher, so I must ask this question of myself. I want students to be able to feel comfortable enough to come to me for help in class. I also feel in doing this, a teacher must be consistent in what they say or do. Teachers and students must show each other respect, as well. I believe that teachers must care for their students and must respond to them as individuals. I think it is important for teachers to show they care about learning and that their students learn the materials. Teachers should display what they want to receive from their students and have an understanding that others may not have the same point of view.

                            • Jun 22, 2017 7:49pm

                              In one of my classrooms while I was in elementary school, I had a teacher who went around the room and learned the name of each child and one interesting fact about themselves. She went around the circle and once she learned the next student's name and their interesting fact, she had to name everyone else's that she had already learned. Later in the day, SHE took a "test" that had her match all of our names to our interesting facts. It was a great way for us as students to know our teacher was trying her hardest to learn not only our names, but things that we thought were interesting about ourselves. I think this would work especially well in elementary school, because you only have a small number of children per day, but if you're feeling brave, it could definitely be applied to middle and high school classrooms!

                              • Jun 22, 2017 9:35pm

                                I think it's really important to show your students that you respect them both as students and as people. One way to do this is to set the expectation that students value themselves and their goals enough to resolve to be better than they were yesterday. By calling students to this challenge, you set the expectation that the work they do in your class matters beyond the scope of the classroom. Setting this expectation also allows for the teacher to remind students of when they act out or fail to comply with other rules and guidelines. I also think it's important to show students that you care about their passions beyond the classroom by attending extracurriculars they participate in. It shows that you have a vested interest in their lives beyond what goes on in your class. I also think making your teaching relevant to what your students care about is another way to show students that you genuinely care about them and their interests. Respecting your students and taking an interest in who they are as people is the key to building rapport without breaching professional boundaries. When you respect and support your students, rapport and community should follow without you having to divulge about your personal life.

                                • Jun 23, 2017 1:44pm

                                  Being sincerely interested in students lives builds rapport. I was always told the quickest way to become a likable person was to allow people to talk about themselves. In steps this would look like:

                                  1. Ask students about their interests in hobbies. What do they enjoy away from school? Ask them about their families. Then remember one thing about each student. You could put this as a note in your class roster.

                                  2. Refer back to what you talked about later. If the student said they had a black lab named Lacy, asked them how Lacy Is doing. Ask detailed questions. Is Lacy getting any bigger? Have you taught her to shake hands yet?

                                  This shows the student that you care. Even if you had to take notes on the topic, they don't necessarily do that. I employed this strategy when I worked as financial advisor. In each clients notes section I would put some interesting things they enjoy talking about, then refer back to them in semi-annual or annual reviews. Client's were always amazed I remembered these things (I didn't, but I kept good notes!).