Creating Classroom Community-Building Relationship and Trust

I. Building Relationship and Trust

1. You and them

Get to know your students both as learners and as people. Give them a survey at the beginning of the year asking then about their summer, hobbies, and how they like to learn.  Check in about their favorite sports teams, how their basketball game was, and what is happening on their favorite reality TV show.  It makes a big difference.

2. Communal Responsibility

Create a community that is responsible for one another.  Students don’t need to put their best foot forward because of teacher expectations, but because it is the expectation of the classroom.  Students should be aware of how their behavior impacts the community, not just you the teacher.  They are making a commitment to one another.

Create classroom guidelines with the students.  If they are involved in creating the guidelines, they are more likely to feel a sense of ownership to them.  Hang them in the room, refer back to them often, and hold your students accountable 100% to the guidelines from the moment they are created. 

An activity for creating classroom guidelines:

  • Give every student two different color post-it notes. 
  • On the yellow one students write a word or a phrase- what they need to learn, on the green one- what they need to feel safe or comfortable. 
  • Put all post-it notes on the wall. 
  • Students come up and start to look at all the words, group them together, categorize etc. 
  • In small groups, students come up with 5 classroom guidelines that take into consideration the needs of the class.
  • Small groups read out their guidelines, and class comes up with a list- no more than 5. 
  • Hang guidelines on a poster with the post-it words around the outside.

3. Positive Framing

People are motivated by the positive far more than the negative. 

Make your interventions in a positive and constructive way.  It does not mean avoid interventions so that you can only make positive comments. 

“Make corrections consistently and positively.  Narrate the world you want your students to see even while you are relentlessly improving it.” (Lemov 205)

  • Live in the now- Avoid harping on what students can no longer fix while you are in the middle of a lesson.  Processing what went wrong is best done after class, not during.  Give instructions that describe what the next step is on the path to success.
  • Assume the best- Don’t attribute to ill intention what could be the result of distraction, lack of practice, or genuine misunderstanding.  Until you know an action was intentional, your public discussion of it should remain positive. 

“Just a minute, class.  I asked for chairs pushed in, and some people decided not to do it.”  This assumes selfishness, deliberate disrespect or laziness.

“Some people seem to have forgotten to push in their chairs.  Let’s go back and get it right.” Shows your faith and turst in your students. 

Try thanking your students as you ask them to do something- “Thank you for taking your seats in 3-2-1…

  • Allow plausible anonymity- give everyone a chance to try and reach your expectations.  Rather than using names try…

“Check yourself to make sure you have done exactly what I asked.”

“I am looking to see everyone quiet and ready to go”

  • Narrate the positive

Teacher 1- I need three people.  Make sure you fix it if it is you.  Now I need two. We’re almost there.  Thank you, let’s get started.

Teacher 2- I need three people.  And one more student doesn’t seem to understand the directions, so now I need four.  Some people don’t appear to be listening.  I am waiting.  If I have to give detentions I will. 

Teacher one calls his students attention to the positive behaviors thereby normalizing them.  The second teacher- everything is wrong and getting worse.

  • Talk expectations and aspirations


Rhetorical Questions- don’t ask questions that you don’t want the answer to.  Would you like to join us David?  Try instead- Thank you for joining us David.

Contingencies- Don’t say “I’ll wait” because really you won’t.  Don’t make your actions contingent on theirs.  Try, “we need you with us”.

 4. Precise Praise

Positive reinforcement is extremely important.

  • Differentiate acknowledgement and praise- students who meet expectations deserve to have it noticed and acknowledged.  “Thank you for being ready for class on time.”

Students who have done something exceptional deserve to be told that what they did was above and beyond.  “Excellent work Sarah.” 

  • Praise and acknowledge loud; fix soft- whispered or nonverbal criticism gives the students the opportunity to correct themselves and assumes that they are capable.  Make good news as public as possible.

Praising students for the effort has been shown to be more effective than praising students for their intelligence.

  • Praise must be genuine- Do not praise one student in order to criticize another.

 5. Warm/Strict

Not only is it possible to be both warm and strict, but you must be both, often at the same time.  When you are clear, consistent, firm and unrelenting and at the same time positive, enthusiastic, caring and thoughtful, you send the message to students that having high expectations is part of caring for and respecting someone. 

  • Explain to students why you’re doing what you are- and how it is designed to help them.
  • Distinguish between behavior and people.  “ Your behavior is inconsiderate,” rather than “you are inconsiderate”.
  • Demonstrate that consequences are temporary- Use a consequence so you don’t have to hold a grudge.  Once it is over, smile and make it clear to the student that they are starting with a clean slate.
  • Use warm, non-verbal behavior- Put your hand on a students shoulder and kindly tell them that you are sorry, but they will have to re-do the homework because you know he is capable of better.  Bend down and speak to them directly.

 6. Create a classroom that is joyful- bring your energy, passion, humor and fun into the learning environment.  Use art, drama, song and dance, suspense and surprise, fun and games.

 7. Emotional Constancy- Being emotionally constant earns students trust because they know you are under control.  If the point is learning, not pleasing the teacher- “I am disappointed in you” is better replaced by “The expectation of this class is that you give it your best effort.” 

Part of being an adolescent is experimenting with exaggerated emotion.  Don’t allow yourself to become inflamed and hold grudges.  Expect students to occasionally get upset and respond as calmly as possible.  They need you to be consistent. 

 8. Normalize Error- Getting it wrong and then getting it right is one of the fundamental processes for schooling.  Respond to both parts of this sequence, the wrong and the right, as completely normal.  Don’t chasten students or make excuses for wrong answers.  They are normal and don’t need much narration.  Avoid spending a lot of time on the issue.  Ask the student to try again, give a little help- a next step or a clue, to help them get there.