Establishing Positive Relationships with Students

In “The Art and Science of Teaching,” Marzano mentions an eight step action plan that should be established in classrooms by teachers in order to manufacture positive relationships with students.  In my young career of being a teacher and being around education, I have already soaked up many of these ideas.  For me, the most important in establishing a positive relationship of Marzano’s steps is:

  • Know Something About Each Student: I would even take it further and say know something about each of your coworkers as well.  Yes, I realize this blog post is about the students, but establishing a positive climate in a classroom means that everyone who is associated with the teacher feels comfortable.  This goes for janitors, cafeteria workers, teaching assistants, security personnel, administrative assistants, etc – get to know a little bit about each of these people, say hello, use their name to address them, and you will be amazed how much this will change your environment.  Obviously, doing the same for students as well is important too.

Developing a Climate of Care and Concern with Students from Different Cultural Backgrounds

Currently, I work at a private school in China that is comprised of a 100% Chinese student body.  Nearly all of the foreign staff working at our school had never been to China before accepting employment here.  So, this is something that we place a high priority on.  In addition to valuing students’ home language and allowing them to use Mandarin to converse in class, teachers often create assignments that allow students to leverage their culture in order to learn about something more comfortably.  Marzano’s “The Art and Science of Teaching” stresses the value in bringing student interests into the content.  One example of this that I have used previously was as a longterm substitute for a Health and Physical Education class last year.

The unit was Nutrition and the assignment was for students to evaluate the nutritional content of their food choices for a week.  I had learned to teach this lesson by first showing them the classic example that nearly all of us have seen with empty cans/bottles and plastic bags full of how much sugar is in a Coca-Cola, Red Bull, Gatorade, Iced Coffee, etc.  When I started to prepare this activity, I realized that these drinks were not what my students traditionally grabbed first when walking into a convenience store.  So, I had to do a little research of my own to discover what the most popular drinks for adolescents in China were and altered this based on the culture.  At the time, it seemed like a lot of work to do for such a simple lesson, but I have since talked to teachers who tried to do this lesson in China with drinks that we are more familiar with back in the U.S. and the feedback they got was not as engaging as what I received when I used examples that my students were drinking on a daily basis.

Even something as small as this goes a long way in connecting with students culturally.  Additionally, it is fun to learn different things about students’ cultures and talk to them before and after class about traditional ways of doing things in their home country.  As a teacher, a lot can be learned from your students just by asking a few questions regarding their ways of doing things.

Creating a Climate of Care and Concern to Support Student Learning

It is great to be nice to students.  No seriously, it is great to be nice to students, but not too nice.  We have all heard the media-crazed stories of disgusting situations that unfortunately happen between students and teachers.  While they are important to take note of, we are not going to talk about them here.  To refer back to Marzano’s “The Art and Science of Teaching” again, he referenced some research conducted by Harris and Rosenthal in 1985.  This research dabbled in the importance of teacher interactions with students.  What I learned from my interactions with Marzano’s interpretation of Harris and Rosenthal’s meta-analysis is this:

Touching (as a way of developing a comfortable environment in the classroom) is not necessary to drastically increase the teacher-student relationship.  Sure, its there as a tactic and a simple pat on the back or high-five can be used occasionally, but do not expect it to change the climate of a classroom.

While beneficial, eye contact and praise does not have a hugely significant impact on the teacher-student relationship.  This is surprising to me actually.  I will still place quite a bit of importance on this in my classroom while realizing that it might not have the benefit that I once thought.

I should spend the majority of my time focusing on interacting with my students for the entirety of class while smiling and making gestures and frequently encouraging each of them somehow.  If I focus on those last few things, the research proves that I will have an overall gain in quality of relationship with my students.

Maintaining a Climate of Care and Concern by Confronting Bullying

Another topic of concern that is very important in fostering the growth of a positive environment in the classroom is the issue of bullying.  Bullying can take many forms, but it is important to use these (and many other) tactics when bullying is present in the classroom:

  • Confront the situation by talking to the class about it before, during, and after bullying incidents happen.  As the leader and mentor of students, it is vital to never let a bully negatively impact one of their peer’s emotional well-being in the classroom.  By talking to the bully, the bullied child, and bystanders, everyone who was involved knows that you care for them as their teacher.
  • Use concrete facts and rules to address the bullying situation by being familiar with the school’s policies on how to deal with bullies.  This is not a time to make up your own rules and procedures for how to deal with a bully.  If all teachers have the same reaction and use the same protocol in this situation, students will realize that it cannot happen in any environment in the school. (Bullying: Guidelines…, n.d. & Voors, n.d.)

During my time in China, I have witnessed a very good example of a teacher handling bullying.  Earlier I mentioned that we allow students to use their home language of Mandarin to speak in class.  However, this is not always a good thing.  It is very easy for students to get carried away and start to talk negatively to others when they perceive that their non-Mandarin speaking foreign teachers do not understand what is going on.  However, as we all know, body language is an asset in these situations.  A teacher suspected that one of their students was regularly getting bullied in class, so they were able to intervene a Mandarin speaking teaching assistant who identified the bullies and brought each of them in for a conversation with their principal.  School policies were followed and soon all of the students knew that the behavior of the bullies was unacceptable.  Thankfully this teacher was able to put a stop to the problem rather quickly.  In an environment where language and culture are different from your own as a teacher, handling bullying can be even that much more difficult, so it is important to always be on guard and know what to be looking out for.


Bullying: Guidelines for Teachers. (n.d.). Retrieved February 12, 2017, from

Harris, M. J., & Rosenthal, R. (1985). Mediation of interpersonal expectancy effects: 31 meta-analyses. Psychological Bulletin, 97(3), 363–386.

Marzano, R. J. (2007). The Art and Science of Teaching: A Comprehensive Framework for Effective Instruction. Retrieved February 12, 2017, from

Voors, W. (n.d.). Teacher Feature… How to Deal With Bullying in Your Classroom. Retrieved February 12, 2017, from