Using Reflection to Build Strong Teacher-Student Relationships

Throughout the school year, we as teachers focus on building relationships between teachers and students. These teacher-student relationships create an in-class dynamic that supports the social and academic development of students, and often makes the work in the classroom, especially for classroom management, easier. 

But as we close out a school year, it’s good to take some time to reflect a bit on what worked or didn’t work in the classroom and the foundation of the relationships between teachers and students can help this process. 

An assessment or reflection of the year can be informal but it’s always informative! Check out this teacher freebie with 10 prompts you can use with your students as you wrap up the school year. It’s also helpful to use such options throughout the school year. The data gathered can help to review and to revise the routines of the classroom during the year and it can help prep for next year too. Here is the full product full of 45 reflection prompts.

Different ways to reflect during the school year

Using reflection prompts can reveal a lot about your students and their needs. Another way to frame such an activity is using the saying “What I wish my teacher knew” as a prompt. Having done this with my own students here are 7 things that students wish their teachers knew. Let this feedback help to guide your teaching practice today and into the future so you can build strong teacher-student relationships.

End of the Year Reflection Writing Prompts Student Activity
  • They want to be understood: Students want their teachers to understand their unique circumstances and challenges. They want to be heard and appreciated for who they are and not just seen as another student in the classroom. Part of ensuring students can share when they understand concepts or lessons in class is to make sure teachers understand students too. When you know the challenges your students face in and beyond the classroom, you can be a better teacher for each student. 
  • They need support: Students want their teachers to provide them with the support they need to succeed. This could include academic support, emotional support, or guidance on how to navigate the challenges they face. A reminder that teachers are not counselors so part of this aspect of support is figuring out when and who to reach out to beyond the classroom!
  • They appreciate feedback: Students want their teachers to give them feedback that is honest, constructive, and helps them improve. They also appreciate specific feedback that lets them know exactly what they did well and what they can work on. The sandwich approach to feedback is always a good idea. This means you provide a positive comment, something that needs improvement, and a way for students to move forward positively.

    There’s also a need for balance with feedback since some teachers and students will simply get into a routine where independence and self-directed learning becomes more difficult. We want to make sure students have feedback but not so much that they simply rely on the teacher’s point of view for the work they’re doing.
  • They value a positive classroom environment: Students want their teachers to create a positive classroom environment that is inclusive, respectful, and welcoming. They want to feel safe and supported in the classroom and not judged or singled out.

    If you have your own classroom, you can create an additional layer of welcome by making use of the walls to showcase student work and/or positive messages that guide your teaching practice. When you don’t have your own classroom this can be a bit more difficult but it’s not impossible. You might check in with the other teacher(s) who use the room to see how you might add a bit to the room to reflect the class(es) and students you teach. If you travel with a cart then consider what elements can easily be moved to create a great space such as a small system that lets you play music.

Shop these must-haves to make your classroom more welcoming for both you and your students:

  • They want to be challenged: Students want their teachers to challenge them and push them to reach their full potential. They don’t want to be bored or feel like they’re not learning anything new. Students often stretch academically for those teachers who have expectations for all students about the kinds of work and behaviors that are acceptable. 
  • They want teachers to be approachable: Students want their teachers to be approachable and willing to listen to their concerns. Did you ever get that advice in your teacher training to “not smile until week X”? This was supposed to communicate to students that you were stern and serious and you were a teacher they shouldn’t mess with. However, this thinking is outdated and I doubt it ever worked in the first place! 

    Teacher-student relationships should be one where students feel like they can ask questions and get help when they need it. They also want to know that their teachers are human. That it’s okay not to have all of the answers and to demonstrate how to make a mistake and recover.
  • They want teachers to be passionate: Students want their teachers to be passionate about what they’re teaching. So nerd out! They may roll their eyes but time and again they’ll likely remember the lesson more when a teacher shows their own interest in a particular topic. 

    Students want to be inspired and motivated to learn. And more than this, they want to see that what they’re learning is relevant to their lives. Consider how you can make more ‘real-life’ connections such as experiential learning opportunities like field trips, or if you’re not able to leave the classroom then virtual field trips could work. Check out this post for more about virtual field trips.

Final Thoughts on Teachers and Students

As educators, our role extends beyond teaching subjects; we are also responsible for guiding and supporting our students. Therefore, establishing meaningful teacher-student relationships becomes paramount. It is crucial to recognize that students are unlikely to engage fully in learning science, math, art, English, or any other subject if they do not feel acknowledged, valued, and respected by their teacher. Building and nurturing strong teacher-student relationships is an ongoing process that unfolds throughout the academic year.


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