Think about your favorite teacher from elementary school. What made them so special? Maybe they were the first person who helped math “make sense” to you, or maybe they let you borrow books from their classroom library. The wisdom and mentorship that teachers provide can be life changing, especially for younger students.

Educators often focus on improving parent engagement, but student engagement is just as essential. The more self-motivated a student is as they learn to read, the better prepared they’ll be to reach their potential. One of the best ways to encourage this is by building meaningful teacher-student relationships.

Want to learn why teacher-student relationships are so important and how to facilitate them in your school? Learn about the challenges facing teacher-student interaction, how positive relationships can improve your school environment, and five tips for promoting student engagement.

Challenges Facing Positive Teacher-Student Relationships

One of the greatest issues facing teacher-student relationships is that many children aren’t going to class. Chronic absenteeism, or missing at least 15 days per school year, is increasingly common among students and comes with worrisome results. In early grades, chronic absenteeism can predict high school dropout rates later on. And if a child isn’t in class, building relationships with these students can seem nearly impossible.

Additionally, students who have had poor experiences with adults in the past can have a hard time trusting teachers. This could apply to students whose previous teacher treated them unfairly as well as children from abusive or neglectful homes. In many cases, you might not know everything about a child’s background. If you’re having a hard time reaching a student, keep in mind that the problem might be a traumatic past, not you.

Children from low-income or at-risk backgrounds are most likely to have poor relationships with their teachers. The reasons for this are varied. It could be because teachers are more likely to view these students with personal biases. Or in some cases, these children might not have access to the transportation or academic support they need to succeed. Whatever the cause, educators should be mindful of these children when determining how to engage their students.

Sometimes, behavioural or learning disorders can make it hard for teachers and students to understand each other. Children with autism spectrum disorder, for example, might have communication styles that confuse their peers. Learning disorders like dyslexia or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), too, can limit a child’s attention span and frustrate their teachers. Any plans you make for how to connect with your students should include accommodations for these and other conditions.

How Positive Teacher-Student Relationships Lead to Academic Achievement

Building rapport with your students and establishing yourself as their mentor is an excellent way to combat chronic absenteeism. Students are more motivated to attend classes if they know their teacher cares about them and will help them succeed. And by improving school engagement, these relationships can also improve academic achievement.

Even in elementary school, unexcused absences are linked to dropping grades, particularly in math. By motivating students to work hard and miss fewer lessons, teacher-student relationships can keep struggling students from falling behind and close the achievement gap in education. It’s one of the longest-lasting ways a teacher can impact student achievement and career success.

Personal connection with your students can also raise their intrinsic motivation to learn. When students feel interested in their work for the sake of mastering it, they develop a love of learning that will benefit them for their entire lives. Plus, they’re also more likely to have positive attitudes towards their teachers, classes, and lessons. When students focus less on grades and more on mastery, they’re on their way toward a successful school career.

Lastly, these relationships can even tie into your social-emotional learning (SEL) curriculum. Positive teacher-student connections can help children develop self-regulation skills, particularly autonomy and self-determination. As students learn how to evaluate and manage their behaviour, they’ll be able to reach their personal and academic goals. And over time, this can reduce failing grades and the need for redirection.

Other Ways Building Relationships Leads to Student Success

Beyond academic success, getting to know your students can improve classroom behavior management. At-risk students whose teachers work with them as a mentor are more likely to develop socially appropriate behavior. When struggling students are treated as bad or unintelligent by their teachers, they’re unlikely to change. But when teachers make an effort to care about and help them, these students are more than capable of growth.

Effective communication between teachers and students can also strengthen your school atmosphere. Because these relationships are so closely tied to self-motivation, they can lead to an engaged classroom. Your classroom can transform into an ideal learning environment where students are not only prepared but excited to learn. Plus, when students engage themselves in the lesson, they’re less likely to need discipline during class.

A teacher’s impact on their students can last long after the end of the school year. After a student has a meaningful connection with their teacher, they’re more likely to form similar relationships in the future. Because these relationships can give students the guidance and support they need to succeed, it is essential to nurture them in school. This is especially helpful for older elementary children, as strong teacher-student relationships can help ease the transition into middle school.

Building positive relationships with students can help teachers, too. 25-40% of new teachers are likely to leave the education field within five years. But positive relationships with students can reduce this number and show teachers how their career changes lives. If you’re looking for a greater sense of fulfilment in your career, try interacting with your students and helping them with their individual struggles.

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