How to Fix a Broken Relationship With Students

The teacher-student relationship is invaluable. These relationships are the root of how well your students learn within your classroom. Gone are the days of students when students would come into the classroom, sit, and quietly learn. Modern educators realize that these relationships benefit not only the student but the educator also. More than anything, it is essential to teach the mind and the student’s heart. Here are some useful tips on how you can build and fix a broken relationship with students:

A Real Classroom Story

Every educator has had their moments of snapping. While I rarely ever snap, this particular episode occurred during my second year teaching and still weighs on my heart eight years later. A confident young man in my class was the class clown. He typically had a bad attitude, was often disrespectful, but showed glimpses of liking my class and me. After an incredibly rough morning, it was FINALLY lunchtime.

Sitting in a neighboring classroom with two other teachers, enjoying the quiet that comes with that25-minute lunch, my student came barreling down the hallway and was banging on the door as if his life depended on it. After continually banging on the door and being told to go back to the cafeteria, I snapped and shouted for him to stop as I opened the door. His face fell as his eyes met mine. Eye’s cast down handed me the award he received during lunch for improvement, and he just wanted to tell me about it.

Over the next few years, I moved over to the high school and saw this particular student every day. In his senior year of high school, this now young man came to me for a letter of recommendation as he ventured into college sports. While I apologized to him when he was in 7th grade, I once again apologized to him as he was getting ready to graduate. You see, this young man’s behavior resulted from a crummy home life and being bullied in a mostly white school for the color of his skin. My perspective as a young educator changed me forever.

How Important Are Teacher-Student Relationships?

The relationships you have with your students are insurmountable. These relationships matter more than anything else you can do within your classroom. A student’s actions directly result from their home environments and relationships. Young people learn how to have meaningful relationships from the people they are with every day: their teachers.

Ways Classroom Management Can Promote Positive Relationships

Classroom management doesn’t just have to be about rules and restrictions. There are tons of ways that classroom management can promote those positive relationships or even fix a broken relationship with students. The classroom should always be a safe environment for students to love and learn. Here I have listed some strategies that promote a respectful relationship between myself and my students and address challenging behavior through restoration strategies.

1. Consider NOT Sending a Student to the Principal’s Office

There are always situations where a behavior requires immediate consequences. However, when you see a student act out, talk to them first before immediately sending that child to the office. I would recommend both you and the student step outside of the classroom to preserve the student’s privacy and not embarrass one student in front of the other students in the class.

First and foremost, stay calm. I have experienced many situations where a student has acted out in front of the class either in anger or disrespect toward me. I wait a few moments to calm myself and allow the student space in these instances. After a few minutes, I will ask the student to step out into the school hallway to talk. Here is where I can help the students process their feelings as well as help them make sense of why they acted out.

Doing this helps you build a relationship with that student and allows the rest of your students to know what to expect from you.

2. Make Positive Talk Part of Your Routine

One rule I have in my classroom is that if you don’t have something nice to say, then don’t say it at all. Does this always happen? No. Do I strive for my classroom to be the source of positive conversation each day? Yes. It is a constant challenge to be positive, especially with everything going on in the world. However, ensuring that your students can expect a positive environment any day of the week is important.

3. Create an Empathy Statement (or many)

Having empathy statements help promote focus and positive communication when students are frustrated or in trouble. Primarily when an immediate situation arises that the teacher has to deal with. Having empathy statements (also called sentence frames), allows teachers to help students problem-solve while being empathetic. Some examples of statements you can use are as follows:

  1. I understand. I would feel this way too if I were in ________ place.
  2. I am so sorry you have to deal with ________.
  3. I’ve been here too. Sometimes school can be really hard.
  4. I know you feel discouraged right now, but I am glad you are not giving up.
  5. I know you have hurt feelings because of that conflict.

4. Create a Class Twitter Account

One way to build positive student relationships is to give positive shoutouts to your students via Twitter. There will always be students that say they don’t like it, but really, they know it feels good. Students will seek out ways to receive that positive feedback, especially when they don’t receive that kind of affirmation from an adult at home. Be the person that brightens up their day by giving them praise in front of everyone.

5. Communicate Expectations and Outcomes

One way you build relationships in any area of life is to communicate expectations. Communicate your expectations for student behavior, and make them aware of what they can expect from you in your response. Explaining expectations allows students to understand consequences before they are ever delivered. Further, in this part of establishing your class, you can speak about personal responsibility for failure. Allow students to know that you are there to support them and help them and that failure is not an option. I always tell my kids I won’t let them fail and fail them.

6. Don’t Forget Family Members

When you create relationships with your students, you should also create a relationship with parents. Open conversation and support from parents is an ongoing process that needs to be initiated by the teacher. Allow parents to voice concern and avoid conflict by ingraining the idea that you want to work together and that you need their help.

Build and Fix Broken Relationships With Students

Our ultimate goal is that every student feels loved and safe within your classroom. Teaching is not only the art of helping students learn a subject, but it is also to teach students how to build relationships. If you have a broken relationship with one of your students, it is possible to fix that relationship. Allow the student to see that even adults make mistakes and that you are genuinely sorry for whatever you did that hurt or offended them. When I handwrite an apology letter to a student, I have found that it makes a big impact.

My genuine hope is that my real story and advice will allow you to learn from my past mistakes and provide a more positive future for you and your students.

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