Building Relationships with Students

Good relationships with students are the heart of effective teaching. In a survey, teachers shared their suggestions for building great teacher–student relationships:

Treat students with respect.

  • Try to work with students instead of insisting on only one way to deal with them. Smile and be kind even when remaining firm on issues that may be negative.
  • Teenagers have thoughts, emotions, good days, bad days—just like adults (only magnified!). By tuning in to and respecting these things, I can honor them. Then we can learn music—some days in spite of and other days because of what’s going on in our lives.
  • It never works to order a student around. “Please” and “Thank you” are especially important when I’d least prefer using them with an errant student.
  • Always remember that we are dealing with people, not objects or things. Our rooms must always be a safe place where we can all try new things without the fear of failure.
  • Respect students’ tastes! Taste in music can change only if we can get students to try a bite. They never will if you put their music down.
  • Don’t try to be a buddy to your students, but do be friendly. Earn their respect. If you do, it will carry on for years.

Be encouraging.

  • Encourage and motivate students by being supportive. Don’t give compliments until they’re deserved. Give them something to work toward. Let them know that you respect and care for them and their successes and failures.
  • Encouragement is important, but falsehoods—telling them they’re good when they’re not—won’t help them improve.
  • Frequently recognize student accomplishments. Include not only musical accomplishments but also athletic or academic ones too.
  • “I can’t” is a dirty word in my classroom. We help students learn they can do anything from the inside out. Have them say “Yes, I can” to you in the hall instead of “Hello Mr. ____ or Ms.____,” and they will start to believe it in most areas of their lives.

“I tried staying positive a couple of years ago with my eighth-grade chorus, and the results were amazing! This was the best sound I’d had in 4 or 5 years. Unfortunately, I didn’t try it with one of my high school choirs that same year, and by the end of the year, the younger group was the better of the two. Try building positive experiences wherever and whenever possible.”

Read more ideas such as put students first, give students ownership, listen, get to know your students, keep up with the times, know child development, allow for differences, and more in Teacher to Teacher: A Music Educator’s Survival Guide, source of the above ideas.

—Linda C. Brown, June 22, 2011, © National Association for Music Education (