At some point in our lives, we’ve all practiced some counterproductive learning habits.
Plenty of educators have a specific classroom management strategy they swear by. Both they and their learners benefit from it because it works for learning. But how can there possibly be a “one size fits all” method to improve your teaching?
Can one single strategy work across all levels and styles of learning and instruction?
Yes, it can. The most effective way to improve your teaching is to focus on building relationships.
Dominique Smith discusses this concept in the article The Classroom Management Strategy That Works Every Time. Teachers and students are inherently curious about each other when a new year or semester begins. As such, each considers what the other will be like to spend so much time with for the upcoming term of learning.
It’s the prime opportunity to begin building the kinds of relationships that are constructive, honest, and unified in their learning goals.
“As I think of classroom management and the strategies that go into making a positive classroom community, my first thought is relationships,” Smith declares. “Relationships are key to building classroom norms and classroom expectations–maybe your most powerful tool as a teacher.”
Improve Your Teaching With Connection
So how does a teacher go about adopting this particular classroom management strategy in a way that’s beneficial for all? Ultimately, the quest to improve your teaching begins with getting to know your students.
Here is Smith’s advice:
“Make every effort to get to know your students–especially on their ‘turf’ and in non-academic ways. What are they interested in? What do they love?”
This kind of relationship building takes a lot of work and diligence. Obviously it’s completely unrealistic to expect to befriend students right out of the gates, and teachers know this.
As such, Smith also shares a mantra that has encouraged growth as an educator and helped many a struggling student: A child doesn’t learn from a teacher they don’t like.
However, this is more about modelling openness and about establishing trust than it is about striving to be the “cool teacher” every student wants. This can be done by:
- Relating lessons to learners interests
- Encouraging them to respond to challenges using critical independent thinking
- Abstaining from judgement in all situations
- Not being afraid to make mistakes
- Showing them you’re learning also
This kind of classroom management strategy develops a comfortable learning environment where learners feel safe and supported. As a teacher striving to build rewarding relationships with your students, you’ve got a very short period in their lives in which to inspire and motivate them. By showing them you are all connected and all learning and progressing together, you naturally lead them toward displaying the greatness within themselves.
Ultimately, the quest to improve your teaching begins with getting to know your students.
The End is Not in Sight
Terry Heick from TeachThought reminds us that no teacher can truly tell where their influence stops, especially when school is done:
"The ultimate metric for your teaching is the quality of the lives of the children after your journey and their journey diverge–which is, of course, borderline immeasurable."
Remember that building good relationships includes those with your learners, but also colleagues and administrators. Of course, we aren't talking about following and friending everybody on social media. There are solid professional approaches to building such connections that can benefit you both, but let's think broader.
To break it down into pieces, in what ways can improving relationships improve your teaching?
- Relationships are a basic human necessity for maintaining physical and mental health and wellness.
- Strong emotional support leads to increased engagement in the classroom.
- Striving to build solid relationships exercises valuable speaking and listening skills.
- Strong relationships can dramatically boost classroom, school, or workplace morale.
- Relationship building can bring shy students out of their shells and help them explore their full potential.
- It allows teachers to see learning from their students' perspectives by learning about what inspires them and also what challenges them. In turn, this can lead to designs for learning that increase engagement and improve outcomes.
- Improving relationships gives a boost to our communication and team-working skills.
- Relationship building encourages an increased sense of value for all.
All in all, the best way to consistently improve your teaching is to focus on establishing the best relationships possible. Improve your relationships and you'll improve your teaching, guaranteed.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in 2018 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.
Originally published Nov 11, 2018, updated September 23, 2021