Building Rapport

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Building rapport is THE most important thing you’ll ever do in a classroom.

Establishing rapport with students motivates, inspires, and leads to creativity, learning and enjoyment in the classroom. Job done.

Without it, no matter how good your teaching skills, you’ll only be a mediocre teacher.

Now, I want you to imagine two teachers. They both did the same Trinity CertTESOL course, both got the same grade, their technical and theoretical skills are the same, and they both 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.

Teacher A

Teacher A starts off his first term full of enthusiasm. During his first classes, he launches straight into the coursebook, eager to make sure that his students cover all the material and are able to use it well.

Although quite enthusiastic, he notices that students don’t really seem that interested in the topic. Asking students what they think just draws blank stares most of the time. He thinks that he’s got a series of tough 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 they can to test him. Classes begin to turn into a battle of wills.

Half way 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 serious 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 thinking about quitting – he no longer enjoys his work, he dreads every weekend and has to force himself into the classroom.

Teacher B

Teacher B also starts of his first term very enthusiastically. Instead of rushing straight in with the coursebook though, he takes the whole first lesson to get to know his students. He plays ‘getting to know you’ games, he remembers their names, he talks to them (and they talk to each other) about what they like doing, he asks why they do and don’t like learning English, and so on.

During subsequent lessons, he arrives to 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 engages mostly in activities that encourage collaboration between students, 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 serious 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 all really happy and there are no issues.

Teacher B decides that he loves teaching, and can’t wait to sign for another year.

How to Build Rapport

There are a ton of ways to build rapport, but there’s just one secret behind all of them: you have to care.

If students can 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 exactly that – mechanical and fake.

Some people use humour in the classroom. Some show students photos of their families, their home towns. Some arrive to class early just for a chat.

Others do none of that, yet are still able to show they care through their actions and words during the lesson.

If you genuinely care, trust yourself – you’ll know how to respond appropriately.

Tips That Can Help You Building Rapport

  • 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 / or 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 especially good behaviour that their child has displayed.

Remember, teaching is all about the students. It’s not about you.

Building rapport gives them motivation, which gets them to learn, which gets them results. Focus on rapport and motivation and you can pretty much get out of the way and let them get on with it by themselves.

So, above all, remember to care!

Trust me, you’ll enjoy teaching so much more.