It was 2008, my first year teaching kindergarten, and building rapport with students was not at the top of my to do list. I was excited, nervous, and mostly just lost! It wasn’t my first year of teaching. I had been in the classroom for four years; however, I taught Pre-Kindergarten and at a private preschool. This was public school. To top it off, I had not been through a traditional teaching program at university. I was self-taught and had a degree in social work before getting my alternative certification. I learned in the trenches and was thrown to the wolves yet again to teach 28 bright and smiling five-year-olds.
However, I knew I would draw on my past experience. I was always known as the disciplined teacher. I ran a tight ship. My students knew what to expect, knew what I expected, and knew I would not lower that bar. That was great! However, some advice I got from a veteran kindergarten teacher in this monumental first year is what became my mantra and standard for every year after. “You can set expectations and stick to your guns. There can even be procedures and rules for everything. You can conduct your lessons like the maestro of a symphony. However, you cannot teach a child that doesn’t like you!”
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What is Rapport?
According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, rapport is “a friendly, harmonious relationship; especially: a relationship characterized by agreement, mutual understanding, or empathy that makes communication possible or easy.” In simpler terms, rapport is getting along with others and making an attempt to get to know them in order to understand them on a deeper level. Rapport is one of the most important things you need to establish as a teacher with your coworkers and, more importantly, with your students. There are many reasons why building rapport is important; here is a list of the top five reasons.
When you build a good relationship with your students, they are more willing to do work for you. Sometimes we all are guilty of perpetuating the ideal that we are the teachers and they are the students; therefore, they should just listen. Maybe that ideal isn’t completely off base, but maybe it is. How many adults do you know who would be willing work for someone who did not work to create “harmonious relationships”? How many adults do you know who would happily skip to work if their supervisor didn’t care about “mutual understanding” and just expected them to know everything, sometimes without them being given proper training or time to learn?
My guess is not too many. Just as adults struggle with supervisors who are not creating good rapport with their employees, students struggle to work with teachers who do not attempt to create good rapport with them. When the classroom has easy-to-follow guidelines and controlled, yet open, communication with an approachable teacher, the rapport is strong. You don’t care about impressing your cranky boss who woke up on the wrong side of the bed every morning, and students don’t want to work for a teacher who is all business and no relationship. Build rapport and watch motivation take your class to great destinations.
Rapport not only helps students become motivated and stay motivated, but it also helps with the quality of their work. As stated above, you don’t give 100% to someone who doesn’t care about you. So, why would students? Students will give you quality work when they feel like they want to impress you. When they are motivated to keep your rapport, your relationship strong. Just as you will always be there to help them, they will always be there to ask strong questions so they can produce the best quality work for you.
Comfort is Key:
There are so many reasons you want to have good rapport with students, and comfort has to be on the top of the list. I can’t even count how many reasons why you want students to feel comfortable around you! In the classroom, if a student is comfortable, then they are more willing to ask and answer questions, but there is a benefit beyond the classroom. When you have good rapport with students and they are comfortable around you, they will be more likely to open up to you about different pressures they may be facing or trying times at home.
While this is not always the best part of teaching, it is good to know when things are wrong, just as it is good to know when things are great. Remember, we see these students more often than their parents do, and that means we have a responsibility to help keep them safe. Having solid rapport with students makes the classroom more comfortable, and it opens the doors of communication in case a student ever needs you.
Trust is a Must:
Much like comfort, trust is vital to a good relationship with your students. When your students trust that you know what you are doing, they are more motivated, and they are more comfortable around you. Trust also opens the doors I was talking about above: the doors you hope you never have to open but usually will have to in your teaching career, even if it’s just once. Trust is not one-sided though. Just as your students need to trust you, you want to be able to trust them to behave when you have a sub or to act a certain way at an assembly or in the classroom in general. Trust is always earned. It is never given, and we need to remember this when we are building rapport.
I know this sounds a little strange, and I don’t mean it in a weird way at all, but love is a big part of a classroom. I love all my students in some way. Oh, how I love watching them learn. Watching them grow is fascinating. I love watching them have those amazing “ah-ha” moments. When they come back and tell me how much they miss my class but are doing great in the next grade, my heart is warmed. I love it when they remember the good times we had. I love it when they love to learn.
We all love teaching, and therefore, we all love our students. That love doesn’t go away when they walk out the door. Teachers’ hearts are made bigger because of all the love they choose to give out to each and every one of the students that passes through their doors. In return, if you build good rapport, you get that love back.
Rapport is a vital part of the classroom, and your classroom will be a better place if you decide to build strong rapport with your students. When you build strong rapport with your students, you are respecting them, and in turn they will respect you. You are being approachable and kind but firm when needed. This opens you up to communicating with them about issues they may have, even if those issues are with you. You are being caring and receptive to concerns or even the stories they are dying to tell you. When you are building strong rapport, you are perpetuating a positive attitude in your classroom. As I said, there are so many reasons why building rapport matters. Just for you, I’m going to give you a bonus one.
Building the Future:
We are shaping future business owners, teachers, and maybe even a president of the United States of America. When we show students what good rapport looks like, they will carry that on with them. Then, they continue to make the world a more “harmonious” place and become the strong leaders of tomorrow.
Looking for other great back to school articles? Check out my most popular post on how I tamed the pencil nightmares that plague teachers every year! Check out some great resources for your back-to-school curriculum on my TpT store!
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Until next time and HAPPY TEACHING!
As a veteran elementary teacher, Farrah has traveled the country sharing the methods, strategies, and resources she has personally used in her kindergarten through 5th grade classrooms. She served as an Executive Board Member and National Trainer for Whole Brain Teaching from 2008-2016. In her time with Whole Brain Teaching, she shared her experience with thousands of educators across the world. Because there is so much more to her classroom than Whole Brain Teaching, she left the organization in 2016 so she could share the rest of the story (as Paul Harvey would say).