2 Easy Ways To Build Rapport With Your Students

Building rapport with students can be a remarkably effective way to improve classroom management. But there is some confusion over what rapport is and how one goes about building it.

Rapport is nothing more than a connection you make with your students based on their positive feelings for you. When they like you and trust you, and when you in turn like and believe in them, you’ll form a bond that makes classroom management a lot easier.

It’s as simple as that.

But rapport isn’t something you can force upon your students. Teachers who try to engage individual students directly… “Hey, what’s your favorite video game?” …often find the interaction brief and awkward and the results less than influential.

To build genuine rapport, you have to draw students to you. You have to use your personality, your humor, and your charisma to get students to want to be around you and take an interest in who you are.

It’s this natural appeal that allows you to effortlessly make personal connections with students and influence their behavior choices—often without ever having to say a word.

The idea of using one’s everyday personality to draw students in and build rapport makes sense to most teachers, but many struggle with how to put it into practice. What exactly does it look like?

I’ve gotten this question a lot over the years, and the truth is we all have different personalities. We all have our own unique talents, traits, sense of humor, and joie de vivre.

The simple answer is to just be likeable and rapport building will take care of itself. However, I know how helpful it can be to hear specific examples. So in that spirit, here are two easy-peasy ways you can build rapport today—and see results almost immediately.

1. Smile until they smile.

I love this strategy and find it works even when I’ve never met the students before. You can use it anytime you’re passing out materials, checking student work, taking attendance, or anytime you have occasion to make eye contact with individual students.

Let’s say for example you’re taking attendance. As you say each student’s name, you would take a moment to look up and smile at the student. You would then continue making eye contact and smiling until the student smiles back at you. And that’s it.

What it does is allow you to make an instant positive and personal connection with each student. It communicates a thousand wonderful things in just a couple of seconds. And when you’re finished, each student will see you in a different light.

You may notice other students begin to giggle as you do this. That’s okay. It’s all good. Sometimes I make funny faces instead of smiling or I’ll exaggerate a frown until they do the same. It’s really fun. And lest you think your students are too old or too cool, I’ve used this strategy with sixth-graders to great effect and wouldn’t hesitate to use it with older students.

2. Tell a story about your childhood.

If you’re a regular reader of this website, or if you’ve read the book Dream Class, then you know the power of storytelling. Nothing… nothing, nothing, nothing is more effective. Done a certain way, it can put your students in the palm of your hand. It does, however, take some practice.

Telling a story about your childhood is a good place to start. It places you in an environment they’re unfamiliar picturing you in, but one in which they can closely identify with. You become, then, not so different than them—making connections easier.

I’ve found stories about adventures or comedic hard luck to be most effective. But really anything with a twist or a surprise works. Acting out the story is also especially effective. But it’s important you have fun with it; stories about your dog Snowflake dying are verboten.

Why storytelling works so well is in some ways still a mystery to me. There is no doubt that your students will love it and love you because of it. If you become a good storyteller, it will completely change your teaching and will dramatically affect the influence you have with your students.

Tearing Down Walls

It’s important to note that one of the keys to building rapport is what you don’t do. Many teachers have a hard time building rapport because they respond emotionally to misbehavior. They show frustration, they scold, they lecture, and in so doing they erect a giant wall between themselves and their students.

Building rapport is about tearing down walls, some of which are put up by your students before you even meet them.

There is a lot to this topic, and we’ll touch on more in the weeks to come, but one thing is for certain: Building rapport has the potential to impact every important area of your teaching—classroom management, difficult students, motivation, independence, academic progress—and then some.

How’s that for a smile and a five-minute story?

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27 Responses to 2 Easy Ways To Build Rapport With Your Students

  1. Victoria Miles January 14, 2012 at 5:26 pm #

    Good evening Michael,

    I enjoyed this post. You have shared two simple yet effective ways of building rapport with students.

    I love the smile tip. My third year into teaching, a seventh grade student named Erika used to say everything followed by a little giggle. Her giggle was so cute it always made me smile. I quickly learned how fun it is to laugh with students. I never reverted back to being “serious” all the time.

    I’m now teaching high school, and older students like to connect with teachers every bit as much as younger ones. As my students work on warm up problems, I go around and check homework. During this time, I like to greet each student with a smile and use their name. A few weeks ago a student remarked, “Miss, you always smile at us, even when you have to correct our behavior.”

    I love making signs for my classroom. Here is a picture of my most recent sign. Sunflowers are my favorite flower. I love the Scripture reference. So I included them both on the sign, and designed the words in the shape of a smile!

    https://picasaweb.google.com/Vlm0728/ClassroomSlogans?authkey=Gv1sRgCNjI2L_Vsafxbw#slideshow/5697645797778784418

    • Michael Linsin January 14, 2012 at 7:18 pm #

      Hi Victoria,

      Thanks for sharing. Love the sign!

      :)Michael

  2. Barb January 16, 2012 at 11:43 pm #

    I am teaching middle school for the first time this year and have made many management mistakes. After reading some of your articles I am now enforcing the consequences. What should I focus on next?

    • Michael Linsin January 17, 2012 at 8:01 am #

      Hi Barb,

      I would focus on routines and procedures, and then building rapport.

      Michael

  3. michaelmary January 17, 2012 at 4:43 am #

    love this post so much! I really have hard time with my students esp. the attention-seeker but I have confusion here because sometimes they abused it. How can I deal with this? I’m really a teacher who love to build rapport with my students but I guess something wrong. I’m looking forward for more strategies about this topic.
    Thank you!

    • Michael Linsin January 17, 2012 at 7:59 am #

      You’re welcome Michaelmary! Also, next week’s article addresses your question.

      Michael

  4. camz January 28, 2013 at 3:50 am #

    very interesting and helpful information..thanks

    • Michael Linsin January 28, 2013 at 7:53 am #

      You’re welcome, Canz!

      Michael

  5. matching breathing patterns April 23, 2013 at 2:03 am #

    Nice blog here! Also your site loads up fast!
    What web host are you using? Can I get your
    affiliate link to your host? I wish my web site loaded up as fast as yours lol

    • Michael Linsin April 23, 2013 at 7:13 am #

      Hello,

      Email me if you like.

      Michael

  6. Rachel March 25, 2015 at 6:17 am #

    I just want to say thank you. As a pre-service teacher (in Australia) about to go out on my first prac. I am a ball of nerves and so imitated by grade 3’s of all things. This article really help calm one of the many nerves I have walking into the classroom for the first time.

    Thank you again

    Rachel

    • Michael Linsin March 25, 2015 at 4:23 pm #

      You’re welcome, Rachel! You’ll do great!

      Michael

  7. Fernando January 21, 2016 at 7:07 am #

    HI, thanks for sharing your experience. I have worked in Colombia, Spain, England and the United States, something I have learnt is that kids are kids everywhere, they all are starving for attention, love and discipline. However I must accept that middle school kids in southern US are quite difficult, I have no problem with most of them, they do their activities but negativity and displicency on three or four students end up affecting my classroom management. How can you cope with students making racist comments based on your ethnicity? How to address students who take your accent as an excuse for not understanding the instructions?. How to redirect students on their tasks when they think it is unimportant and it does not affect their grades because they can “fail” foreign language? how to deal with them when such behavior is reinforced at home?

    • Michael Linsin January 21, 2016 at 7:42 am #

      Hi Fernando,

      Those are big questions that take more than the time and space we have here. I’ll be sure and add them to the list of future articles.

      Michael

  8. Linda February 15, 2016 at 10:37 pm #

    I work in the inner-city and it’s very difficult to make them smile at times they see a lot of sadness around them on a daily basis. Although, if you do you have stories of childhood that they can relate too, they will open up and talk.
    Also I find that acknowledging their presents, letting them know how awesome, it is to see them every day and how important they are makes the largest impression on them and they begin to learn.

  9. Ayesha Atif February 21, 2016 at 11:43 am #

    Thanks for sharing this it is really helpful.I am a maths teacher and i have a couple of naughty students in my year 7, so can you help me out how can i handle them how can i tell stories in math class.please i really need help with my year 7 students.It will be a great help for me.Thanks.

    • Michael Linsin February 21, 2016 at 2:47 pm #

      Hi Ayesha,

      When you get a chance, please spend time in our archive, where we have over 350 articles about every topic imaginable. I recommend beginning in the Difficult Student category and going from there.

      Michael

  10. Ayesha Atif February 23, 2016 at 7:17 am #

    Thanku so much for the feed back for sure i will spend time on archive and will try to implement the information.Thanx a lot

  11. Jesse July 10, 2016 at 7:54 pm #

    Hi Michael,

    What is the name of the book where you wrote this about classroom management?

    Thank you

    • Michael Linsin July 11, 2016 at 7:26 am #

      Hi Jesse,

      I’ve written about building rapport in all of my books. It’s most extensive, however, in Dream Class and The Happy Teacher Habits.

      Michael

  12. Carmen Mejia July 12, 2016 at 7:53 pm #

    Hi Michael,
    I am an English teacher from Ecuador, South America. I teach English as a Foreign Language, and I am studying a Master’s program. I have to write a paper in one of my classes, and I found your post very very useful for my paper. How can I cite it? How can I find more info on TEACHER-STUDENT RAPPORT? I appreciate your answer.
    Carmen

    • Michael Linsin July 13, 2016 at 7:29 am #

      Hi Carmen,

      There is a category in our archive called Rapport & Influence, where you can find more similar articles. As for how to cite the work, you can use quotes or reference the author and title of the article, but that is a question for your professor.

      Michael

      • Carmen Mejia July 13, 2016 at 4:45 pm #

        thank a lot! I really like your work!

        • Michael Linsin July 14, 2016 at 8:12 am #

          You’re welcome, Carmen.

          Michael