A Simple Way To Build Rapport With Challenging Students

Smart Classroom Management: A Simple Way To Build Rapport With Challenging StudentsThere is a strategy that builds strong, behavior-influencing rapport with virtually any student.

Guarded, angry, painfully shy, behaviorally difficult . . .

It works with even the most challenging students.

It doesn’t take much time or forethought to put into practice.

But it can melt away fear, frustration, isolation, opposition, and even silliness.

And get to the heart of the student.

So they can make a safe, comfortable connection with you first before spreading their wings to make healthy connections with others.

Along the way, your bond can become so secure and trusting that it can change their entire outlook. It can be the one thing, the missing piece, that eases them into the happy culture of your classroom.

So what is it?

It’s to take an interest in them.

Now, it’s important to point out that this isn’t simply a strategy about making conversation or asking them about their day or how they’re doing.

It isn’t about friendly smiles and hellos—although those are important—and it isn’t about wanting something from them. It isn’t even about the outcome or the benefits of your relationship.

It’s about your genuine desire to get to know them, nothing more.

So how do you do that? How do you want to get to know someone, especially if they show no interest in getting to know you or when they may not appear, at the time, very likable?

You choose to.

You remind yourself that every student has a story. Every one of them is at the start of a hero’s journey. They’re all interesting once they open up, just a crack, and know that someone is actually listening.

But you must have no ulterior motive, no hidden agenda, no strings attached. Because if you do, if you think of it as a strategy to get something from them, they’ll know it.

It’s something you can’t hide.

They’ll smell it on you from a mile away and dismiss you with a downward glance or a metaphorical wave of the hand. They may even shut down further.

This doesn’t mean that you need to invest a lot of time with them individually or at the expense of the rest of your class. In fact, it’s better if you progress in small, slow increments.

A moment here, a moment there. A few minutes at lunch, after school, or during recess. Even a brief second during class.

As for what to say, let your curiosity guide you.

“I noticed that you wear that bracelet every day. Where did you get it?”

“I read in your essay that you like elephants. How come?”

“Who is that friend I see you sitting with at lunch.”

You don’t want to get too personal, just gently personal, the kind of things that people like sharing about themselves, that warrant more than a one-word response.

Speak to them not from the perspective of a teacher to a student, but as a fellow human being.

Be direct and refrain from using praise or flattery to try to get them to open up. This is a common tactic that communicates loud and clear that you do, in fact, have an ulterior motive.

Don’t worry about how they respond at first. Behave as if whatever they say is perfectly okay and acceptable. Then move on. Don’t wait around as if you’re expecting something more.

In time, you’ll discover common interests and be drawn into wanting to learn more and more about them. Inevitably, they’ll also become curious about you.

It’s human nature—the law of reciprocity in action.

Even though you’ll never be friends in the strictest sense, you’ll soon carry on with each other conversationally like you do a trusted confidant.

Before long, you’ll notice them engaging with their classmates, slowly at first but eventually in the same way they do with you. You see, you’re the bridge.

You’re the bridge to being a true part of your class.

I’ve used this strategy hundreds of times over the years and it’s proved remarkably effective. Yes, it’s simple. It’s obvious. It’s hardly revolutionary.

But here’s the thing: Not many teachers do it. Very few interact with any student without a secret underlying motive.

Those who do, however, either because they’re curious by nature or realize just how powerful and rewarding it is, are able to do what so many say is impossible.

They’re able to make these students, who are often ignored, routinely tested, analyzed, and labeled, just tolerated, or shoved into the margins of the educational machine, valued and contributing members of your class and school.

But it starts with a choice.

So take an interest, be curious, make your approach today with no strings attached.

And you and they will be changed forever.

PS – The results of last week’s poll showed that most readers wanted A Classroom Management Plan for Elementary Teachers as my next e-guide.

Thanks for taking part! I began work on it this week and plan on having the guide ready by May 1st.


If you haven’t done so already, please join us. It’s free! Click here and begin receiving classroom management articles like this one in your email box every week.

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28 Responses to A Simple Way To Build Rapport With Challenging Students

  1. Laurie Preston February 10, 2018 at 8:50 am #

    Dear Michael,
    This was the perfect suggestion at the exact time I needed it! I have two students that irritate everybody in the room. It takes everything I have to stay in “referee” mode and remind myself it’s their choice of behavior and consequences. One of them still will not own his actions. Someone else made him do it…every… time…but this is a good plan. You keep me centered and sane and for that, I thank you!

    • Sanda Stafie February 10, 2018 at 2:06 pm #

      Thank you for the article it’s very insightful. I appreciate all your examples and advice.
      For the future I would be really interested in some tips for substitute teachers. I find it really hard to do class management when you are in a class for only one day.
      Thank you very much again.

      • Michael Linsin February 10, 2018 at 3:14 pm #

        Hi Sanda,

        I’m glad you like the article. Substitute teaching is on the list of future e-guides. However, last week I ran a poll with readers, both here on the website and on Facebook, and that particular topic didn’t do well, coming in fifth place out of five. That doesn’t mean it won’t happen, just not anytime soon.

        • Amy Howe February 11, 2018 at 11:01 am #

          I would love to share you specific thoughts on sub’s with my son. He is a sub in our district and I have passed along many of your articles to him. He has put them to good use and is a highly requested sub!
          Thank you for all you do for children and teachers!

          • Michael Linsin February 13, 2018 at 5:11 pm #

            It’s my pleasure, Amy. Thank you!

    • Michael Linsin February 10, 2018 at 2:54 pm #

      You’re welcome, Laurie!

  2. Moira G Farrelly February 10, 2018 at 8:55 am #

    You are a valuable resource for many in the field of education. You make me feel safe. I love the fact that you are a mentor. Have a great weekend. Moira

    • Michael Linsin February 10, 2018 at 2:56 pm #

      Thanks Moira! I’m happy to do it and humbled you feel that way.

    • Chris February 11, 2018 at 1:26 am #

      I second Moira!

      This past week was outstanding for me because of what I’ve learned from you. I had noticed behavior slipping in my classes (I’m a specialist) and went to your archives to take a good, hard look at myself. I was able to stay calm and objective instead of getting depressed at my failure, because I knew you’d addressed the topics I needed and would have solid advice. I put it to work and corrected myself, and in just one week the atmosphere and behavior has greatly improved, even in my more difficult classes and students (whom I affectionately think of as “the skeptics”–and they’re only 4-6 years old)! The students enjoyed themselves more, and I enjoyed their happiness as well as not repeatedly having to remind them of certain rules, getting frequently interrupted, and sometimes ignored. What a relief….

      I’ve expressed this several times in the past after notable successes, and I’ll say it again: Smart Classroom Management really works! Thank you so much for your consistently excellent work on this site every week!

  3. Benjamin Isichei February 10, 2018 at 9:56 am #

    Thank you for this great secret. While I was going trough I cast my mind to a case while I was teaching with a student and up till when I left the school she kept avoiding me. And all that happened was when we got into discussion on Christianity she said she wanted to know how God speaks to people and I tried using myself as an example which could not really reconcile and that was all. When she could not not make out any sense in all I was trying to say she began to avoid me.

    • Michael Linsin February 10, 2018 at 2:57 pm #

      It’s my pleasure, Benjamin.

  4. Bobbi Blanzy February 10, 2018 at 10:17 am #

    Michael, when might you be offering your classroom management video course again?

    • Michael Linsin February 10, 2018 at 3:08 pm #

      Hi Bobby,

      Although I received a lot of great feedback about the course, I personally wasn’t happy with it. I worked hard on it for many months, but don’t feel like the finished product matched my personal standards or the quality of my other resources. As of now, I don’t have plans to release it again. I am, however, assessing how I can create a similar course or e-guide using the same much-needed topic.

  5. Malene Spencer February 10, 2018 at 11:30 am #


    I find your articles very valuable. I have worked as a daycare teacher and more recently a middle school para professional. In both roles, I’ve struggled with classroom management, difficult students, making genuine connections with students, and keeping myself and them organized, consistent and motivated through routine task and day to day activities. Yet in still I’m currently earning a Masters in early childhood degree and set to student teach fall 2018. I want to be prepared to handle asdfghjkl the horrific things I’ve experienced and that I’ve seen other teachers go through. I want to have a fun, nurturing, and engaging classroom. I want my students to listen to me and not run over me. I want to know how to handle tantrums, what a typical day should lolol like, and how to keep momentum for a whole school year. I’d like to read the articles concerning these topics as well has how to handle things you don’t know that students expect you to know academically. Thank you for your time.



    • Michael Linsin February 10, 2018 at 3:10 pm #

      Thanks for your suggestions, Malene. I think it’s great that you’re being proactive and learning as much as you can before having your own classroom. That will put you far ahead of the curve. Keep reading, and way to go!

  6. Constance Brown February 10, 2018 at 7:07 pm #

    I really feel for the person who asked for a column on being a substitute teacher. I imagine most would agree that it’s very, very difficult. Those of us who teach regularly can imagine how hard if not impossible it would be to teach our classes without having any relationship with our students!

  7. Carmen February 10, 2018 at 8:05 pm #

    Thank you for such interesting and encouraging articles. I am truly looking forward to plans for elementary teachers; specifically kindergarten! I’ve tried many of these strategies/techniques and nothing has worked on the highly disrespectful, chair-throwing, spitting in your face, and bullying 5 year old. It’s difficult trying to keep the other 29 students safe and engaged, yet I refuse to give up. Looking forward to more ideas.

    Staying positive,

  8. Julius Kamwandi February 11, 2018 at 12:03 am #

    This is such an amazing article. Thank you for your hard work always. Can’t wait to implementing this.

  9. Mel Lyn February 11, 2018 at 4:58 am #

    Thank you for this article, Michael. You gave very valuable insight on a huge classroom hurdle. Do you have any recommendations for how I can build rapport with students as their sub for the day?

  10. Karen February 11, 2018 at 4:03 pm #

    You have reminded me that the act of showing kindness is the best way to build rapport. It’s not an instant fix for all students, however, trust is earned over time when it is sincere. I refuse to give up!!!!

  11. Hedy Kolb February 11, 2018 at 7:27 pm #

    This is almost no-fail, as simple as it seems. Even the toughest kids can be disarmed by a teacher’s sincere interest them.

    Thank you for continuing to share your ideas. I find something new and helpful every time I read your articles and your books.

    • Michael Linsin February 13, 2018 at 5:13 pm #

      You’re welcome, Hedy. It’s truly a labor of love for me. I’m glad you find the info helpful.

  12. Zach February 12, 2018 at 11:18 pm #

    Hi Michael,

    Thank you again for such a great article. I do have a question on where do I draw the line between building rapport and being the authority/teacher. I find sometimes when I try to build a rapport with them, they often get “too comfortable” and begin to not respect me. That’s where I have always needed to put a guard up, and having that “don’t smile until December” mentality. How do I build rapport with my students, but yet not have them cross the line?


  13. Donna February 16, 2018 at 5:05 am #

    Hello, this article had perfect timing; our school is about to start a mentor/mentee event. Your points are so valuable for sincerity! May I have your permission to share your article, crediting you and your website, to encourage teachers how to go about building that relationship?! Thank you!

    • Michael Linsin February 16, 2018 at 8:51 am #

      Of course, Donna! No problem.

  14. Cindy Miller-Speight February 16, 2018 at 10:54 pm #

    Please do talk about subbing- I am not sure what Poll it was or why the subject of subbing was a low topic but the way I look at it is almost every teacher will have a sub in their classroom. Teachers need to know leaving a brief one page of notes is not going to help guarantee success for the sub. Leaving a sub lesson plans, seating charts, list of students who can provide assistance and those who need extra help is just the beginning of what should be left for the sub.

    Please reconsider discussing what can be done to prepare for a sub and how to prepare their students for a substitute.


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