Needs Focused Teaching

5 quick ways to show students you care


It’s impossible to build a warm, positive relationship with anyone unless you express a level of care and appreciation towards them. So, if you want to get students on-side, if you want to build bonds with them and enjoy all the benefits that brings, they need to know you like them.

For some teachers this notion is worrying, so let me be clear on this: I’m not suggesting you try to be their ‘friend’. Do that and, at best, you can end up looking unprofessional. At worst, you can quickly get a reputation as a pathetic walkover and will struggle with any group from then on. No, I’m not saying you should be their friend, but you should always try to be friendly. There is a big difference. 

Here are 5 quick Ways to Show Students You Care: 

  1. Personal greetings

Whether you’re meeting your students outside your classroom prior to the lesson, passing them in the corridor at breaktime, or monitoring them in the bus queue after school, be sure to greet them by name. I’ll give you a way of learning names quickly (in case it’s early in the term when you’re reading this, and you haven’t got to know your students yet) because this simple act of greeting them by name cements connections with your students better and faster than almost any other method. And let’s face it, anything we can do to develop those connections and build trust is going to make teaching and learning easier and better.

If you watch any charismatic, popular person when they interact with others, you’ll notice they make the person they’re talking to feel like the most important person in the world. And usually all they’re doing is giving them their total undivided attention and making sure to use their name. Their name will be the first thing they ask for, it will be the last thing they say as they leave, and it will be included in almost every question they ask. “Hi Jonny, how are you doing today?”; “So, Jonny, have you had a good weekend? Who won the football?”; I’m late now Jonny, so I’ll see you tomorrow.” Clearly it’s possible to overdo this but as a general rule, when you greet your students by name you let them know you care about them, are interested in them and respect them.

You can take this a step further with the inclusion of a handshake, high five or a fist-bump or two. This is a quick route to even deeper connections with your students and offers no end of creative opportunities for personalised greetings with a fun flavour.

  1. The ‘Good Stuff’ book

This is based on an idea I was given on a training course years ago when I worked as an outdoor instructor. Thirty years later I still have the ‘good stuff ’ sheet which was given to me at the end of the course. It’s very impactful.

Essentially you keep a book in which only heart-warming, inspiring comments are written about individual students. Every time you notice something positive – a kind deed, special effort, display of good character etc – you make a note of it in the ‘Good Stuff ’ book. Pages can be photocopied each week and stuck up on the wall, sent home in the class newsletter or simply left on your desk for students to flip through. And while it’s important to mention all your students from time to time, they don’t have to see their own name in the book for this to have a positive effect; the very fact that you’re obviously paying attention to their efforts is enough to convey your caring nature.

  1. Give them extra time

Break times and lunch times are a fantastic relationship-building opportunity. A friend and teaching colleague of mine made a point of never spending his free time in school in the staffroom. Instead he spent break times and lunch times in his room with his door always open. Students came in to play chess and board games, or just to chat. He rarely, if ever, had a problem with classroom management. His reputation as caring and being ‘there’ for the students had spread throughout the whole school and he was known by all to be kind and approachable. He was greatly respected for that – even by the toughest students in the school.

  1. Teach them new skills

We can show caring for a student by empowering them with skills to overcome their difficulties. I often use the example of a student who seldom, if ever, hands in homework. Does berating them make them correct their behaviour and do the required work? Could it be that the lack of effort is intensified by a lack of skills rather than pure belligerence? Spending some time teaching this student some time management skills will show a deeper level of caring than a detention ever could, and may even help them get their homework in on time.

Students who frequently break rules and seem unwilling to follow rules need support and education as much as they do discipline. Constant and repeated punishment for transgressions does not address the underlying issue – it doesn’t show them how to do it correctly. Training them as mediators and ‘buddies’ to other students, on the other hand, can help them see their own problems in a different light and can lead to startling behaviour change. In addition, it often leads to a deep connection to the member of staff who takes the time and effort to reach out to help them.
  1. Just be – ‘nice’

Finally, remember that you don’t need fancy strategies and quirky techniques to show someone you care about them. The level of respect and consideration you have for another person is demonstrated in every interaction you have with them. Walking down the corridor with them for a few moments and asking them how things are going; holding a door open and giving them a friendly smile; whispering, “You’re doing really well’’ when they’re working independently; going to watch them play football/hockey at the weekend – these are all things we would do without so much as a second thought for someone we care about. And that’s the way it needs to be with these students if you want to see rapid, positive changes.

Positive teacher-student relationships are absolutely crucial. According to Ofsted outstanding teachers demonstrate a ‘deep knowledge and understanding of their subject’. There’s no doubting you need passion and knowledge if you’re going to inspire young minds, but in my opinion a deep knowledge and understanding of the children themselves is just as, if not more, important.

The teacher who can connect and build bonds with young people will always have fewer problems with student behaviour. I’ve watched teachers who are good at this work in temporary classrooms in Portakabins with next to no resources, with no support from senior management, no school-wide systems and no behaviour management policy in place. Despite these issues (which many teachers would find intolerable) they are able to thrive. They can do so in any setting with any child simply because they make relationships a priority. The bottom line is that children will behave better for a teacher they like, trust and get on well with. It’s not rocket science, is it? 

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