How to Build Rapport with Your Students
And why it might be your most important teaching skill.
Building rapport is THE most important thing you’ll ever do in a classroom.
Establishing rapport with students motivates, inspires, and leads to classroom creativity, learning and enjoyment. Job done.
Without it, no matter how good your teaching skills are, you’ll only be a mediocre teacher.
Now, I want you to imagine two teachers. They both did the same Trinity CertTESOL course, got the same grade, had the same technical and theoretical skills, and took a job at the same school.
The only difference is that Teacher A doesn’t care about building rapport (moron), whereas Teacher B does. Let’s see what happens.
Thanks for reading Barefoot TEFL Teacher! Subscribe for free to receive new posts.
Teacher A starts off his first term full of enthusiasm. During his first classes, he launches straight into the coursebook, eager to ensure that his students can cover all the material and use it well.
Although quite enthusiastic, he notices that students don’t seem interested in the topic. Asking students what they think draws blank stares most of the time. He believes he’s got a series of challenging classes, unlucky for a first-time teacher!
After a few more lessons go by, non-interest turns into mild misbehaviour. Although his classroom management is good and he has a good behaviour management system, students take every opportunity good behaviour management system, students take every opportunity they can to test him. Classes begin to turn into a battle of wills.
Halfway into the term, and it’s all-out war. All but the most obedient students don’t listen to what he says and muck around at every opportunity. While he’s trying to encourage students in one corner, misbehaviour erupts on the other side of the room. Well-prepared activities go awry every time.
The time for an observation rolls around, and Teacher A is flagged as having quite severe issues with controlling the class.
As the end of term comes around and parents’ open day happens, several parents have real issues with their students’ performance.
Teacher A is seriously considering quitting — he no longer enjoys his work, dreads every weekend and has to force himself into the classroom.
Teacher B also starts his first term very enthusiastically. Instead of rushing straight in with the sourcebook, though, he takes the whole first lesson to get to know his students. He plays ‘getting to know you’ games, remembers their names, talks to them (and they talk to each other) about what they like doing, asks why they do and don’t like learning English, and so on.
During subsequent lessons, he arrives at class early and talks to students about non-class stuff. He doesn’t just sit at the front of the class, he sits next to students (the good ones to praise them, the weaker ones to help, and the shyer ones to draw them out).
Teacher B makes some procedural errors and isn’t the best teacher, but students like him and are forgiving of his mistakes.
He mainly engages in activities that encourage student collaboration rather than competition. More importantly, he’s able to relate the topics they learn to the interests he knows they have, rather than just using the dry, boring coursebook. Students learn better and faster as a result.
Sure, there are some minor infractions, but the behaviour management system holds up, and there are no severe problems. Teacher B praises student behaviour to one or two parents after each lesson as he walks back to the teachers’ room.
An observation by his academic manager shows that he’s doing exceptionally well. When parents’ open day comes around, parents are thrilled, and there are no issues.
Teacher B decides he loves teaching and can’t wait to sign for another year.
How to Build Rapport
There are many ways to build rapport, but there’s one secret behind all of them: you have to care.
If students see that you genuinely care about them, they’ll respond.
If you try and follow any step-by-step ‘how to build rapport’ system, it’ll come across as mechanical and fake.
Some people use humour in the classroom. Some show students photos of their families and their hometowns. Some arrive at class early just for a chat.
Others do none of that yet can still show they care through their actions and words during the lesson.
If you genuinely care, trust yourself — you’ll know how to respond appropriately.
Use humour in the classroom (but sparingly, you’re not a clown!)
Let students know your background.
Pay attention to quieter, shyer students.
Use monitoring time in class to sit next to a struggling student (or shyer brighter student) to connect and help them out.
Arrive to class five minutes early and talk to your students about non-class stuff.
Encourage helpfulness during class.
Choose ‘co-operative’ activities rather than ‘competitive’ activities. Foster a spirit of collaboration.
Talk to one or two parents after class, and praise any excellent behaviour that their child has displayed.
Remember, teaching is all about the students. It’s not about you.
Building rapport builds student motivation. Focus on rapport and get out of the way to let them learn independently.
So, above all, remember to care!
See you again in two weeks.
Whenever you're ready, there are three ways I can help you:
1. Learn how to plan better, faster and stress-free with my book Lesson Planning for Language Teachers (90 ratings, 4.5⭐ on Amazon).
2. Develop calm students, a relaxed mind and a classroom full of learning with my book Essential Classroom Management (16 ratings, 4.5⭐ on Amazon).
3. Improve your teaching in five minutes daily with my Reflective Teaching Practice Journal (4 ratings, 4.5⭐ on Amazon).