Hi reader! I’m passionate about creating happy, safe environments for our students to grow and learn in! I’m Stephanie, a Master’s level teacher and lover of all things SEL. I hope these tips will help prevent or resolve any conflict you may have between students, and help you with managing classroom behavior through building relationships!
It’s easier than you think to create a positive classroom atmosphere!
I once had a professor tell me, “The easiest way to handle behavior problems in the classroom is to prevent them before they start.” Sounds great, right? But how do you actually do that? Or better yet, how do you handle behavior problems after they have already started?
Eager to make my life as easy as possible, I tried my professor’s methods. I am here to tell you… he was right. The best way to control emotional disturbances in the classroom is to create a safe environment for students.
Here are 5 tried-and-true ways I built relationships between students in my class, and you can too!
5 easy steps to create bonds between students in your classroom
1. Model the behavior you wish to see
It starts with you! If you want your kids to be kind, patient, welcoming, and positive, you have to be, too. You’re probably already practicing these things– you’re a teacher after all! But, it’ll help if you explicitly model this behavior for your students.
Students are constantly watching and listening to us, even when we think they’re not. They see how you roll your eyes when the principal comes in, or how you gossip with your colleagues at recess. They. See. Everything.
I am very guilty of doing this. Older students have called me out on it, which is why I added it to the list. Once I stopped, the mood in the room changed.
Obviously, they are going to mimic your actions. They may realize they’re doing it, and are trying to be more “grown-up.” Or, they might subconsciously be copying your behaviors. Either way, it’ll pay off in the long run if you practice what you preach.
2. Don’t pick sides when there is a conflict between students (even when you want to)
It is so easy for us to tell a student they’re wrong because they did something bad. It’s harder for us to listen to the reason why they did it in the first place.
Start with asking leading questions. These questions shouldn’t have yes or no answers but rather encourage conversation. Sometimes our young students don’t realize that they are acting out because they didn’t sleep the night before. Sometimes you learn that they are treating their classmates the way they see their parents treating each other.
It can be hard to not pick sides, but you will learn a lot more about your students by inviting them to a conversation. Be a good listener. You may have just prevented future outbursts by that student because they now feel they can trust you.
At the same time, reassure the perceived victim, letting them know that you support them and they did not deserve what was done to them.
Have both conversations privately. This will help you build lasting trust, while preventing the “he said, she said” bickering that is bound to happen.
Conflict resolution in the classroom starts with creating a safe place for students, even when they are being naughty.
3. Explain how you feel with words they’ll understand
I started doing this as a way to express my disappointment in the class’ actions one day, and it stuck! We do this a lot as adults, but sometimes we assume that students are too young to understand “grown-up” emotions.
Try this out: The next time you are feeling stressed out and the students are being unruly, use emotional language to express how you’re feeling.
“Hey, class. I wanted to share something with you. Today I am feeling a little bit of a headache. I was hoping that we could make sure we use our indoor voices. This will help my head feel better.”
You may be thinking, “Stephanie, the kids don’t care. Kids will be kids.”
Maybe not all of them care, and they may not be quiet, but they are learning through your example. If you do this consistently enough you’ll start to notice them doing the same thing.
Again, students mimic our behavior.
Pretty soon you’ll have students who are expressing their frustrations, sadness, anger and joy using similar phrasing as you modeled.
If you have a class that particularly likes you, they may do their very best to be quiet. At the very least, you always have that one student who will yell at everyone else to be quiet for you!
4. Teach students coping skills
Social-emotional learning isn’t just a trending topic in our world, it is extremely helpful when creating bonds between students. Often students will learn that they have lots of things in common with classmates they previously saw as “different.”
It is also very easy to incorporate SEL activities into your day. I use them as bell ringers, exit tickets, or transitions between subjects. My most effective tool has been guided meditation.
There are thousands of guided meditations for kids on Youtube that are only 5-10 minutes. At first, your students might not be interested (or at least mine weren’t). But, after a few mini sessions, they will enjoy having a few minutes to just relax. Some of them may even fall asleep.
It is your personal choice to wake them up after meditation. I tend to let my students sleep a little while longer, especially if I know their home life is a little bit chaotic at the moment.
Some of my former students who are now in their mid and late teens have contacted me to say thank you for introducing them to meditation. They are using it to help them through their stressful high school years.
Your classroom is a protected place to introduce your students to coping skills that they will have access to for the rest of their lives.
5. Take a “hands-off” approach to handling disruptive students (freebie included!)
Sometimes, the best time to practice what you preach is in the moments when you don’t feel it. You may be thinking, “Stephanie, how does handling disruptive students contribute to building relationships?”
Think about how many eyes are on you when you are reprimanding a student. Think about your tone of voice. What words are you using with this child? Are your words patient? Kind?
Step five is really a combination of the previous four steps. Let’s set up a scenario:
Johnny is being disruptive. You’ve calmly asked him to stop for what seems like an hour, but his behavior continues. You are growing impatient. You can feel yourself getting frustrated. Finally, you have an outburst and yell at Johnny to sit down and be quiet. You look around and see 30 sets of eyes staring at you. You realize that you shouldn’t have done that, but he wasn’t listening! What other option did you have?
Here is your other option: Johnny is being disruptive. You calmly walk up to his desk and ask him to please complete this redirection form. He knows what it is because you explained it to the class at the beginning of the year. Johnny knows that, while you disapprove of his behavior, he is not seriously in trouble– he just needs a little break. Johnny completes the form, which distracts him for a few minutes. Then, he places it on your desk and rejoins the class.
It may seem too good to be true, but we all have that teacher at our school that has their kids well-trained like this. That could be you, too!
Making your classroom a safe place for students
When students feel like they are valued, they will feel more comfortable expressing their feelings. These 5 easy steps will help create and nurture an environment where everyone feels safe and valued!
If you haven’t realized it by now, YOU are the common denominator in all of these suggestions. You will be their example of how to treat and talk to people. You are their example of how to handle hard moments.
Yes, it’s a big responsibility. But creating positive relationships between students starts with you!
If you like these ideas and are looking for more, head to my TPT store where I have a bunch of SEL activities!
Stephanie Belcher is a teacher and professional copywriter. She has taught in Michigan, California, and Florida in primarily underserved schools. She is passionate about teaching the whole student, using Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as her guide. She is currently teaching English at an alternative high school in Florida.