I am on the “opening day” tour that I take part in every fall…working at schools with teachers during a pre-service day or week prior to students returning from summer break. My first session was August 3rd in Mississippi and the last one will be September 8th in New Jersey.

A common topic of my presentations is relationships and the connection to student achievement. Sometimes exploring teacher to teacher relationships, professional learning communities or vertical teams or peer coaching…all possibilities for teachers to support each other in providing for maximum student achievement.

I worked with the staff at the United Nations International School in Hanoi, Vietnam. One hundred twenty teachers and administrators of the Pre K-12 faculty spent two days understanding teacher collegiality and practicing peer coaching skills. The 20 teachers new to the school were invited to coach in the classroom of returning staff…a great strategy to start building teacher relationships.

At other times I’m exploring how teachers use the opening days of school to lay the ground work for positive relationships with their students.

In Middle Ground (Aug 2010), Tara Brown , the author of Different Cultures-Common Ground: 85 proven Strategies to Connect in Your Classroom examines the power of positive relationships.

“Positive relationships truly have the ability and the power to unleash untapped potential in our students. Relationships and instruction are not an either-or proposition, but are rather an incredible combination. Research tells us this combination will increase engagement, motivation, test scores, and grade point averages while decreasing absenteeism, dropout rates, and discipline issues.”

How purposeful and intentional are the relationship-building activities being conducted at your school as teachers and students return? Last year I was working with 100 high school principals and asked them to list three changes in teachers’ behaviors that would produce the greatest increase in student performance. As I looked over their shoulders I noticed almost everyone had something in their top three related to improved relationships with students: know them better, care, have kids know you care, etc. I then asked them to list the professional development topics they had explored and the issues covered in faculty meeting agendas during the past year. Interestingly relationships often had not been addressed even once.

Leesburg High School in FL had teachers tackle these questions in PLC’s prior to students’ first day:

#1 What should students see and/or hear on the first day and each day of the school year?
#2 What ways can you learn more about your students during the first day of school and each day of the year?
#3 What ways can Leesburg High School reach the goal of being student centered?
#4 How does the 9th week of school compare to the first?

Teachers’ responses were collected, collated and distributed to the staff as a toolkit and resource. A great way to increase teachers’ conscious behaviors as student arrive.

In Simply the Best:29 Things Students Say the Best Teachers Do Around Relationships, Kelly Middleton and Elizabeth Petitt report that after interviewing hundreds of students, as well as reading comments from various studies and authors, the words of students resonate with clarity a profound desire for adults to view them on a human and humane level.(pg 41)

Students say the Best Teachers:

#1 Know us personally.
#2 Let us know who they are as individuals or people.
#3 Smile at us.

A great reminder for starting the year and one to review often throughout the year!

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4 Responses to “ Relationships ”

  1. Kathi Says:

    Hi Steve,
    I am a firm believer that building, developing, and just having postive relationships is the key to all education! Whether it is teacher with teacher, teacher with administrator, teacher with student, teacher with parent, and even student with student ~ the strongest and most effective relationships are built on respect and caring and when these are evident, and in place, achievement increases for all.

    As a coach, my most important role, as I see it, is to build these relationships. I’m entering my 7th year as a coach, and I’ll admit that my first years were spent concentrating on how to build those relationships so that coaching could take place in a trusting environment. For some teachers, it was easier, and others I’m still building!

    Steve, on a side note (and you can delete this part!), I posted a comment last time on Readicide and you asked if I’d posted anything about the results we’re achieving in our building. Honestly, I don’t know where to post such results!! It was a big accomplishment for me to just figure out to respond to your blogs!! I’m happy and eager to share what we’ve done and learned, just not sure how to go about it.

  2. Stephen G. Barkley Says:

    Kathi… thanks for sharing your thoughts… here is another post on relationships that might be of interest…

    Email me at and we’ll explore you being a guest on my blog to share your reading results.

  3. Chris and John Yeates Says:

    Hi Steve,
    An activity that can be very powerful to build relationships in the classroom is called the Quilt of My Life. It appears in the PLS graduate course Behavioral, Academic, and Social Interventions for the Classroom. Each student is given a “quilt” to write on. The student includes a variety of information about himself/herself. This information is shared with the class. At the beginning of this school year, a high school German teacher used it and was overwhelmed by positive results. She was amazed at what the students shared. She also commented how the students tapped into their strengths which is something she can use to build even more powerful relationships. The Quilt of My Life is one of many ways to begin to build the “team” in the classroom. Charity Carter, the instructor in the class, found the activity very dynamic and helped build an inspirational tone in the graduate class. We had the opportunity to see the “quilts” the teachers in the class made and they were fantastic. We felt we knew the people just by looking at the quilts.

    Chris and John Yeates

  4. Stephen G. Barkley Says:

    Thanks Chris and John! Folks can find more info at

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