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For many teachers, one of the things we enjoy most is the relationship (or rapport) that we build with our students. Of course, our rapport will generally get better over time. However, there are some things that a teacher can do to ensure that there is a positive rapport from the beginning.
What is Good Rapport?
Think about two teachers you have had – one that you had a good rapport with, and another that you didn’t. If you can’t think of two teachers, try two managers you have worked under. Why did you have a good rapport with one, and not such a good rapport with the other?
The teacher or manager you had a good rapport probably did some of the following things:
- Called you by your preferred name
- Were passionate about their work
- Were reliable
- Took time to find out what you like and don’t like
- Shared their experiences and thoughts with you
- Paid attention to your mood
- Spoke positively about you
- Looked at you when they spoke to you
- Made you feel like their peer
Conversely, the teacher or manager you had a poor rapport with probably did the opposite of these points.
Tips for Establishing Rapport
The following comments are by experienced teachers about how they establish a rapport with their students.
Which of these do you already do? Which would you like to incorporate into your teaching?
I try to be myself. I don’t reveal every aspect of my life because some things are culturally sensitive. But, as much as I can, I try to be as genuine as I can.
Knowing your students’ names is important. You can’t just shout “hey, you” during a lesson. I’m not great at learning names, so I’ve learnt some tricks like drawing a seating plan and noting something about each student.
I make sure I give attention to all of the students. Sometimes you have students who you are drawn to more because they have similar interests, but I realise that I need to give roughly equal attention to everyone.
After speaking activities, I don’t just note language errors, but I try to comment on what students have said. This way they know I was listening.
I like to make jokes from time to time. I am careful about the jokes I make though. Often I will be the butt of the joke and we’ll all laugh at my expense.
I always say hello and goodbye to the students. Even if one student is late, I find an opportunity to say hello and let them know I am happy to see them.
I often tell students about my life. This way, I feel they will be more willing to talk about themselves too.
You need to show that you want to be there. Sometimes we are tired after a long week, or it’s a Monday morning. In either case, we should show our passion for what we do.
I make a point of asking students whose names I struggle with. The more I ask them, the more familiar I get with their names.
I used to talk to my students like they were little children. Now, I try to talk to them more like adults. I simplify my English of course, but I try to ensure the tone is appropriate.
I try to make eye contact with everyone in the class at different times, but especially when I ask them something. When teaching online, I am usually looking at the screen.
I used to apologise for activities that I thought students might not like, such as tests or doing writing. Now I try to sound more positive about them and hope my positivity will rub off on the students. Sometimes it seems to.
I think I have got better at “reading the room”. I try to pay attention to how the students are feeling and change the activities we are doing accordingly.
I find out students’ interests and try to incorporate them into my lessons.
The above tips are all useful. However, there are some points to bear in mind:
- If working in a foreign culture, you may not be able to be yourself entirely. Often teachers actually develop a teaching persona, but that should still come fairly naturally and not appear as though you are trying to be someone else.
- Learning students’ names is one of the simplest and most important things to do right away.
- Finding the right tone of voice may be difficult, but it should be one that empowers the students to feel good about themselves.
- You won’t make eye contact with students all of the time and that would actually be quite threatening. Look at them when you are talking to them – at least when you initiate conversation.
- Responding naturally to what students say really helps to develop rapport.
- It is okay to make jokes, but appropriacy always needs to be considered, and the teacher is not there to be a stand-up comic.