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Building a Rapport

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At the end of the article are guiding questions for the educator.

Most educators understand if they want to get the most of out of their students, there needs to be some kind of rapport between the two. It sounds very easy on the surface, but ideas are rarely easy to implement in an environment as complicated as the classroom. Recently, I saw an online discussion with education professionals who were throwing around terms such as empathy and empowerment; and these definitely have a place within the scheme of building a rapport, but if the educator solely relies on these ideological constructs, there is a higher chance of failure as the problem may be bigger than these simple elements.

As stated before, the classroom is a complex environment that becomes a whole from the sums of its parts. It is not as simple as changing one element and building a rapport; instead, little changes in certain areas can easily carry over into other areas. This aligns with the chaos theory and requires the delicate balance of several key elements to effectively engage students in building a rapport.

Key Areas of Building Student Rapport

  • Classroom Structure: One area that is often overlooked is the design and purpose of the classroom. These simple elements are building blocks to how students are going to engage with the educator.
    • Seating Arrangements: Is the classroom set up for students to interact with others including the educator? Simple strategies such as using U-shaped seating over traditional rows allows the students to be more accessible to the educator. Likewise, the educator taking the “power position” of standing up can cause students to assume the role of listener instead of participant as opposed to the educator sitting down on equal level for discussions.
    • Class Focus: What is the main focus of the class? Is the class focused on fluency, accuracy, testing, or grammar? Most likely, each class will incorporate components of all of these or more. However, it should be realized that most of the rapport will be built in the fluency portions because there is potential to exchange information and show empathy, understanding, encouragement, and all the other ingredients that build a rapport. On the other hand, the focus on accuracy, testing, grammar, etc… usually places the student in the position of receiver with little chance to interact with the educator.
    • Class Size: How big is the class? Smaller the class the easier it is to build a rapport.
    • Class Environment: The set-up of the class can affect the rapport with the students. If the classroom is too small, too hot, or any other unpleasant situation for the students, then this will influence mood, which can redirect their focus from interacting with the educator to the uncomfortable situation they are facing.
  • Classroom Management: Does the educator manage the classroom in amanner that encourages interaction and allows students to feel comfortable?
    • Safety Zone: Do students feel safe enough to express themselves without fear of ridicule or belittlement? Students will shut down and not participate if they do not feel safe. When students feel safe to express themselves without judgment from the educator or other students, interaction and building a rapport can easily happen. Educators should be mindful of their responses to student errors and how student reactions to errors can erode the safety zone. Rules should be put in place to deter students from making others feel uncomfortable for making mistakes.
    • Student Personalities: What are the personalities of the students? This is a major influence that cannot be over looked. If the class is filled with active students then building a rapport should not be difficult as long as other areas properly maintained. However, what if the class is really quiet or not very active? This is a very challenging situation, but one that can be manageable. Rarely, is the class totally void of talkative students, so find these students and interact with them. Do not try to force a connection with quiet students, but let them see interaction with other students and in time they may find the courage to interact. It may start small at first, but over time connections can develop. The key here is to understand what personalities the students possess and let things progress accordingly.
    • Educator Personality: Another key is what personality the educator brings into the classroom. An educator who is overly strict or perceived as unfair will have a problem connecting with students. On the other hand, an educator who tries to emulate the students in dress or talk may not be taken seriously. The educator’s personality needs to be a balance of respectability and approachability. When coupled with student personalities, it is not as simple as it sounds.
  • Show Passion: Students respect educators who show passion for what they are doing. This will garner admiration from the students and build a connection from the sheer fact they understand the educator cares about them.
  • Empathize: Always consider the students and their situation in any course of action. This does not mean to always give in to make them happy, but sometimes rules need to be bent to accommodate what students are going through. Empathy goes a long way when building a rapport. The educator who does not understand of the students’ situations and too adherent to the rules will find the distance grow between him and the students.

Final Thoughts

Many educators like to take an ideological approach to building a rapport with students. The belief is if they are nice and understanding the students will naturally be attracted to them. However, the classroom is a very complex environment and there are various factors that can spoil the educator-student relationship. It is never a constant and always a fluid situation that can change from class to class; therefore, building a rapport is never a simple task. Building a rapport with students follow rules similar to building business relationships, friendships, or relationships. It is never straightforward or simple. If building connections were as simple as empathy and empowerment, then there would be no need to be concerned with how to build a rapport with students.

Questions to Think About to Help Teaching

1. Is your classroom room set up to encourage interaction? If not, what changes can you make?

2. D Is the class teacher centered or student centered? If teacher centered, how can you change it to be more student centered?

3. How do you handle the different personalities of students? If you have a strategy does it help or hinder building a rapport? If you don’t have a strategy, what can you do to manage these different personalities to build a rapport?

4. Do your students see you as approachable?