Building positive relationships

Sask Bulletin
October 13, 2020
By Joan Elliott, Librarian/Manager, Emma Stewart Resources Centre

Building positive relationships with students and staff is a fundamental principle of the teaching profession, one that is even more important in these challenging pandemic times. Whether you are in a face-to-face school environment or teaching virtually, those who feel supported by caring connections with educators and peers feel a sense of belonging that can lead to a successful school year.

Several new books focus on reaching the minds of students through their hearts. Neila A. Connors in her book If You Don’t F.E.E.D. the Students They S.T.A.R.V.E.: Improving Attitude and Achievement Through Positive Relationships, states the following: “If students don’t feel that the adults they are working with truly care–learning does not occur.” Her F.E.E.D. model highlights ways of fueling, engaging, and empowering students on a daily basis. Specific strategies for helping students feel welcome and valued through fostering dignity and respect, relationships, care and compassion, and wellness are outlined in the first chapter.

In Teach Your Class Off: The Real Rap Guide to Teaching, high school teacher CJ Reynolds asserts that “relationships are king” and the stories he shares about his teaching experiences reveal that he does whatever he can to connect with every student to make them feel special. He establishes trusting relationships by paying close attention to them to let them know that they are seen and heard. He also builds connections by teaching through lenses that kids care about such as pop culture and real-world learning.

Positive peer relationships are also vital for student success and for building a caring culture. In The Collaborative Classroom: Teaching Students How to Work Together Now and for the Rest of Their Lives, Trevor Muir argues that schools should place more emphasis on a collaborative approach to learning. He acknowledges that teaching meaningful group work is difficult and provides practical steps for creating a collaborative culture, teaching students to rely on themselves and others, creating effective groups and assessing collaboration.

Ensouling Our Schools: A Universally Designed Framework for Mental Health, Well-Being, and Reconciliation by Jennifer Katz and Kevin Lamoureux, is replete with strategies for building relationships and a sense of belonging. The Circle of Courage Framework by Martin Brokenleg is central to their approach.

A book focused on positive student-teacher and student-student relationships in digital and online environments is Chart a New Course: A Guide to Teaching Essential Skills for Tomorrow’s World by Rachelle Dene Poth. She notes that a virtual space must be created to promote a sense of connectedness and that relationship building and social emotional learning are key aspects of a nurturing classroom culture and for helping students be prepared for the future. Icebreakers, student-created activities, game-based learning, digital breakouts and scavenger hunts are a few of the methods she suggests for building student relationships and collaboration.

Other authors discuss the importance of positive relationships among educators. Fred Ende and Meghan Everette in Forces of Influence: How Educators Can Leverage Relationships to Improve Practice, state that good relationships are paramount in schools and they emphasize that four essential keys to relationship building are listening, trust, respect and collaboration. Numerous templates, role-plays, reflective questions and self-assessments are included.

Relational Leadership in Education: A Phenomenon of Inquiry and Practice by David L. Giles, which is based on his phenomenological research program, underscores the centrality of relationships in living, educating and leading. It is organized by themes such as relational leadership sensibilities, organizational culture, professional development, curriculum, pedagogy and assessment.

Creating caring relationships will reap rewards for all in the school community.

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