The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative believes that when teachers and students connect one-on-one, students feel seen and understood. Research also shows that when students experience strong teacher-student connections, they are likely to feel more motivated and engaged in school, which is critical to student learning. CZI worked with educators at Gradient Learning to create Along, to help facilitate meaningful connections between teachers and students.
You know that building positive relationships with students is a good idea. But did you know just how important it is for both students and teachers? For students, the benefits are pretty staggering. An analysis of 46 studies conducted by the Review of Educational Research found that students’ academic engagement, attendance, grades, disciplinary actions, and school dropout rates all improve when positive teacher-student relationships are present. But what about teachers? Do we experience any benefits? Absolutely. From greater job satisfaction to better teaching overall, when teachers and their students build meaningful relationships, everyone benefits! We asked teachers to share moments when they knew the relationship they built with a student had made a difference, and we were blown away by the powerful responses.
We took a selfie with our short haircuts.
“There was a 2nd grader who had her hair cut very short and she was very embarrassed. She wouldn’t take her wool hat off … in May. The K teacher brought her to my room since I also had very short hair at the time. I talked to her about all the benefits of having short hair. We took a selfie with our short haircuts. I had her in 3rd grade the next year. I still have that picture hanging in my room.” —Benita S.
Her mom thanked me when she came to pick up her daughter at the end of the day.
“I had a student who was upset because she and her mom got into an argument. When I talked to her, she said her mom usually prays with her before she leaves, but this day she didn’t and so this upset the child. I called the mom and explained the situation, and she had me put her daughter on the phone. She prayed with her, and you should’ve seen the daughter’s countenance change for the rest of the day. Her mom thanked me when she came to pick up her daughter at the end of the day.” —Sandra M.
She should have just said it that way in the first place.
“I had a student in study hall who loved to talk. He’d often talk to me since many of his peers wanted to use the time to get their homework finished. One day, he was complaining about the novel he was reading in his English class. I told him how much I loved that book and he looked at me like I had three heads. I proceeded to explain to him why I thought the book was so great. He listened. Really listened. Then he said, ‘Well she should have just said it that way in the first place!’ For the rest of the unit, he’d bring his book to study hall so I could help him with it. This isn’t a dig on his English teacher, it just goes to show that when students trust you, they’re more willing to give the tough things a try.” —Angie S.
I’m a Night Elf Hunter, now do your assignment.
“OK, I am admitting my huge geekiness here, but it did help me build a positive relationship with more than one student. I play World of Warcraft. One year, I had a student I just couldn’t make a connection with. He was apathetic in class. He didn’t turn in assignments. I mentioned my gaming in class one day and he immediately accused me of lying. I told him to ask me anything related to the game. After several questions, I think he finally believed me. Better yet, he played too and was impressed. He wanted to know more, so I told him we could talk gaming as soon as he finished his assignment. He did! I used World of Warcraft a lot that year to connect with that kiddo. He’s graduated, but we still chat online about games from time to time.” —Trevor M.
*Note: Responses may have been edited for clarity and/or length.
Building positive relationships with students is vital, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.
Student well-being and teacher well-being are so closely linked. The more we put into building connections with our students, the more they will want to let us into their lives, work with us, and trust us. That doesn’t mean it’s easy, however. Having the time to talk to each of our students can feel overwhelming, and not all students feel comfortable stopping by our rooms to chat one-on-one. Additionally, not all students respond to the same questions, conversations, or types of engagement. It can feel daunting, if not impossible, to reach each of our students on a personal level.
The Along tool makes it easier to connect with all of our students.
Along is a first-of-its-kind teacher-student connection builder. You simply choose a question (or create your own) to ask your students. The questions are research-informed and designed to help students feel comfortable opening up so you can get to know them, what they care about, and how they think. You answer it first, either in text, audio, or video form. Then, you send it to your students. After reading/watching your response, they respond in whichever form they’re comfortable with and send them back to you. The only people who see your conversation are you and the individual student, so they can be as honest and open as they want. Connection and community are big ideas that can start small – a simple question, that leads to a small conversation, that builds to create actual connections, to transform the school environment.
Watch the overview below for an idea of how it might work in your classroom.