Teacher Caring and Support
Students who believe their teachers build strong, positive relationships with them and show that they care about them report feeling higher levels of connectedness to school and their peers.1 Teacher caring and support has also been associated with improved student engagement in math and reading.2
Students report feeling more connected to both their school and their peers when they feel that their teachers:
- go out of their way to help students.
- make time to talk about the things students want to talk about.
- help students to organize their work and catch up when they return from an absence.
- take a personal interest in students.1
Building strong, supportive, trusting relationships with students may be particularly critical for students who are experiencing uncertainty or trauma (for example, due to the COVID-19 pandemic or from racial injustice and marginalization).3 – 4
Teacher Caring and Support
These skills can help build caring, supportive relationships with students.
Set up regular check-ins with students.5 Check-ins can be on a monthly, weekly, or daily basis (if feasible), can be done virtually or in person, and with students one-on-one (e.g., through short phone or video calls, text messages, emails, brief survey or worksheet) or as a group (e.g., asking students to share about important events in their lives, “one positive and one challenging” thing from their day/week).6
In face-to-face and virtual settings, consider asking students to complete a “things I want my teacher to know” worksheet to collect student-specific information and build rapport. Ask students to provide their preferred name and pronouns if they are comfortable sharing.7
Help students organize their work and to catch up when they return from an absence.1 For example, establishing a tracking system for students to record progress on missed or remediated work, re-assessing deadlines, or breaking tasks into small chunks that can be done over time.
In virtual settings, use the “number three rule.” If a student hasn’t engaged by the third virtual activity of the day, consider reaching out with an individual “chat” message or phone call (to the student or parent) to check in and find out if there’s something that is preventing them from completing or accessing instructional material.8
Engage students in the process of determining consequences for breaking class rules and agreements, and provide consistent reminders (visually, verbally) so that students know what to expect.9
Engage in trainings and activities that enable you to build awareness of your own (often unintentional) biases. For example:
- Invite an observer to spend time in the class and provide feedback about whether specific students are invited to participate more frequently than others.10
- Provide students with opportunities to offer anonymous feedback on their experiences in class, and to offer their suggestions on ways to ensure students are treated with fairness.
Establish systems for ensuring that all students have opportunities to engage in class in positive ways and avoid calling on students in ways that might appear punitive or unfair. For example, use index cards or another system to keep track of who has been called on and call on each student in the class once before the cycle begins again.10
Solicit questions and requests from students on what they would like to learn about in class. For example, ask students to complete an “exit ticket” where they write down a question they have or a topic they’d like to discuss before leaving class.11 In virtual classrooms, this can be adapted by asking students to submit an “exit tweet” (280 characters or less) via email.12
Provide opportunities for students to choose reading or course materials from a number of options.13
Ask students for their feedback on any new virtual learning platforms, apps, or instructional strategies. Make adjustments to incorporate their feedback as much as possible.13
Aim to maintain a “5-to-1 ratio” of positive to negative interactions with students. Positive interactions can include providing students with frequent encouragement or positive attention (for example, eye contact and a smile), and positive reinforcement or rewards for positive behaviors.14
In virtual classrooms, consider greeting each student by name as they enter the virtual space, and/or choosing a handful of students to individually acknowledge after each session (e.g., at the end of the virtual session or with a follow up email).15
Provide behavior-specific praise that acknowledges students’ efforts and learning contexts (e.g., “You demonstrated great effort on completing all of the pre-learning work when I know that you are helping care for a younger sibling as well.”).15
Use restorative communication practices when harm to a relationship with a student occurs (e.g., due to a conflict, misunderstanding, or other negative interaction). Restorative conversations allow adults to demonstrate empathy, teach children how to resolve conflict, and give students a voice.16 Restorative communication practices include:
- Letting go of previous negative events
- Taking ownership for the problem (when applicable)
- Validating the student’s feelings
- Using collaborative problem solving to identify agreed-upon solutions
- Expressing caring by separating the deed from the doer14
- American Psychological Association. Academic Caring of Adolescents– Demonstrating Care to Support Adolescent Learning.
- Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD). How to Build Relationships Quickly.
- Building Community with Restorative Circles.
- Gay Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN). Pronoun Guide.
- Michigan’s Multi-Tiered System of Supports Technical Assistance Center. Adapting Check-In Check-Out (CICO) for Distance Learning.
- Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) Rewards. Distance Learning Resources.
- Responsive Classroom. The First 10 Days of Responsive Advisory Meetings: Purposeful and Engaging Plans in Response to COVID-19.
- Search Institute. Checklist: Building Developmental Relationships During the COVID-19 Crisis.
- Acosta J, Chinman M, Ebener P, Malone PS, Phillips A, Wilks A. Understanding the relationship between perceived school climate and bullying: A mediator analysis. Journal of school violence. 2019;18(2):200-215.
- Kearney WS, Smith PA, Maika S. Examining the impact of classroom relationships on student engagement: A multilevel analysis. Journal of School Public Relations. 2014;35(1):80-102.
- Plumb JL, Bush KA, Kersevich SE. Trauma-sensitive schools: An evidence-based approach. School Social Work Journal. 2016;40(2):37-60.
- Zhou X. Managing psychological distress in children and adolescents following the COVID-19 epidemic: A cooperative approach. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy. 2020.
- Baroody AE, Rimm-Kaufman SE, Larsen RA, Curby TW. The link between responsive classroom training and student–teacher relationship quality in the fifth grade: A study of fidelity of implementation. School psychology review. 2014;43(1):69-85.
- Prothero A. How to build relationships with students during COVID-19. Published 2020. Accessed September, 2020.
- Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network. Pronoun guide. Accessed September, 2020.
- Barnett A. 14 tips for fine-tuning your virtual reading instruction. Published 2020. Accessed September, 2020.
- Taylor JC. Seven classroom structures that support student relationships. Published 2016.
- Resilient Educator. 5 innovative elementary classroom management ideas. Accessed September, 2020.
- Nordegren C. 3 reasons to use formative assessment in your virtual instruction- And tips on how to go about it. Published 2020. Accessed September, 2020.
- Cox J. Digital exit tickets for the virtual classroom. Published 2021. Accessed January, 2021.
- Search Institute. Building developmental relationships during the COVID-19 crisis. Published 2020. Accessed September, 2020.
- Duong MT, Pullmann MD, Buntain-Ricklefs J, Lee K, Benjamin KS, Nguyen L, et al. Brief teacher training improves student behavior and student–teacher relationships in middle school. School Psychology. 2019;34(2):212.
- Michigan MTSS Technical Assistance Center. Classroom PBIS for online learning. Published 2020. Accessed September, 2020.
- Restorative Schools. Restorative schools toolkit. Accessed September, 2020.