When Building Relationship Fails

Building relationships in the classroom is vital for a successful school year for students and teachers. Everybody knows that!! We execute team building activities. We introduce and practice Kagan structures. We create beautiful “getting-to-know-you” activities. We spend a significant amount of time during the first week of school on these exercises to ensure a pleasant and satisfying end-of-year peace.

Yet sometimes, despite all our valiant efforts, nothing worked. The classroom is in disarray. The most egregious offense is a common occurrence – disrespect. Students talk out-of-turn, throw objects at the teacher and each other, mimic, refuse to participate….the list goes on.

Now what? Is all lost? Should you quit? ABSOLUTELY NOT!!! There is a very strategic and calculated solution to the problem: REGROUP.

Something went awry during those first days of school and it’s probably not the students’ fault. For some reason, students do not feel it’s necessary to be respectful.  You probably spent a fair amount of time getting to know your students and making sure your students knew and appreciated each other. But, how much time did you spend in ensuring your students knew YOU? We often forget it is equally important that students know who we are. They need to relate to us on a teacher/student level. Here are my suggestions to turn this situation around.

  1. Admit there is a problem – Be honest with your students. The troublemakers do not represent the feelings of the entire class community. There are quite a few students who are already committed to learning.  The reality is, it’s our job to correct the problem. Although we would like to have that brave student who speaks up condemning the abhorrent behaviors, it is not the responsibility of students to confront disrespect in the classroom; it’s ours!

2. Take time to build teacher/student relationships – Inform students of your mistake in not allowing time for them to get to know you. One activity to try serves a dual purpose: building community and trust among students while simultaneously building community and trust with you. The assignment looks like this:

  • Use a team building activity to put students into work groups.

  • Display the following prompt: WHO IS (your name)?

  • Allow student groups to write on chart paper, create a slideshow/video, or prepare a skit about who they think you are. I warn you, this can be very difficult to see and hear, but the end results are truly worth the painful experience.

  • Allow students to share their work with the entire class.

  • While students present, take note of their misconceptions.

  • When presentations are completed, gently share the reality of who you are. Acknowledge their misconceptions, but share the truth of you.

  • There are bound to be some commonalities between you and your students. Capitalize on them to further build relationship with your class.

I would like to say this activity is an original idea, but it’s not. The book, Keeping It Real and Relevant, by Ignacio Lopez, contains this activity and more. I am so impressed with the first chapter,  I ordered the book for myself.

So, whether you find yourself pulling your hair out and it’s only the second week of school, or if school has not yet begun, do not underestimate the value of ensuring students know who you are as their teacher – your likes, dislikes, family, dreams, hobbies, etc. As you share remember you are their teacher, not their friend. Your relationship may never become that of friends, and that’s OK. However, you have a significant role in their lives, and they need to know who stands before them!!


Failure Is Not An Option and Zip Code Is Irrelevant


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