Establishing Firm but Fair Rapport in the Classroom

Tuesday, August 27, 2013 -- Scott Sterling

The holy grail of education is a rapport with the students that falls somewhere between “cool older cousin” and “prison guard”.

How firm you want to be is a subjective measure, and not everyone who comes to observe your classroom may agree with some of your tactics. My room looked like organized chaos many times. I can tell it wasn’t actual chaos by two measures: the number of referrals and incident reports I would write each year (the fewest in the school) and my test scores.

Here are some things to keep in mind this year that will get you closer to the Holy Grail.

Solicit regular feedback

In management, there’s a world of difference between having an open door policy and actually asking what your subordinates think about the job you’re doing. Surveys are great, and serve as vital documentation of your classroom culture, but actually connect with the students to get their reactions to how things are going on a more regular basis - even daily. For example, instead of beating them up (figuratively) about poor performance after a particularly hard unit, ask them how you could have done better to prepare them. That will build a lot of trust for the future.

Never stop surprising the kids

Within reason, surprises can be fun in the classroom. Yes, you want to establish a repeatable way of work, but shaking things up will earn some points with kids whose lives are dictated by a series of bells. On the other side, you also want to show the ability to surprise them with how creative you can be to get the job done. I talked about how I loved to text parents, for good and bad reasons, in an earlier post. I never told the kids that I had that ability. They assumed I didn’t know what texting was. When a text from me shows up on Mom’s phone during dinner, it makes an impact. That impact was quickly spread through the rumor mill to the other kids.

Keep your expectations high

This is by far my best tip for rapport because it works both ways. Higher expectations, on both performance and behavior, obviously set a firm tone. But a teacher with those kinds of expectations for every student is obviously invested in their welfare, and kids are intuitive enough to recognize and respect that. Unfortunately, there are plenty of teachers out there who might have high expectations on behavior, but not academics or even the social wellbeing of the students. Their goal is for kids to stay in their seats, not necessarily to build a relationship or to enhance their learning. That approach is detrimental to everyone involved.