Simple Ways To Foster Relationships

Deanna LoughBlog, Connect Better, Engage Better, Lead Better, Manage Better


  • Surveying students and the 2×10 strategy are two ways to strengthen relationships with your students.
  • Initiating meaningful conversations with others to foster classroom community.

When I first interviewed for teaching positions, I was never asked a single question about how I build classroom community.  I was asked about my philosophy around classroom management (firm, consistent, and fair), and how often I have my students write in response to text (every day).  Honestly, if I was asked, I’m not sure what I would’ve said because I don’t know that I ever made building a classroom community a priority. 

Looking back, the reason I struggled with this is that I just didn’t know how to build authentic relationships with students.  How was I supposed to do this when I struggled in my everyday life building relationships with peers?  I’m introverted, and I feel uncomfortable and awkward engaging in small talk. So how do I initiate meaningful conversations with others?

My hope when I started this activity was that my students would see and hear my vulnerability and willingness to be open. I hoped that, in turn, they would be less fearful to be themselves. Click To Tweet

Foster Relationships: Deciding Where to Start 

What motivated me? I started a journey to make my classroom an equitable space. With this journey, I realized that there’s so much about my students I don’t know.

I wondered: if I got to know students better, how might this change the dynamic in my classroom? How could it help each student feel like my classroom is a space in which they could thrive?

Of anything a teacher can do to be successful, building relationships with students is the most crucial. But how do you do this when you aren’t sure where to start? Or what if you are the type of person who doesn’t connect well with others? People like me want to engage a meaningful conversation with others without sounding or feeling awkward.  So what do you do?  There are two strategies I’ve tried which helped to build relationships: surveying my students and the 2×10 strategy.

Foster Relationships: Surveying Students

I usually embed some sort of getting-to-know-you activity at the beginning of the year in the form of stations. This helps students ease into the year and reduce some of the nervousness and anxiety related to returning to school. However, surface-level activities are not enough to build relationships and foster community.

I saw a tweet from Erin Olson (@eolsonteacher) in which she explained how she used a quick survey to learn more about her students. After seeing that, I decided that I should follow her lead.

Olson stated that she asked students to respond to the following prompts:

  • If I’m angry, please…
  • If you’re proud of me, I hope you…
  • I hope this class is a place where…
  • I hope we don’t…
  • When I’m not in school, my responsibilities include…
  • I respect teachers who…

Olson also shared that “their responses provided valuable insight.” 

I adapted these questions and asked one question per day at the beginning of class. I did this in place of a warm-up.  Each student answered on an index card, and I collected the index cards after giving them a few minutes to respond.  Before asking the students to respond, I first explained in a very vulnerable way, how I would finish each statement. 

Considering the Survey Results

My hope when I started this activity was that my students would see and hear my vulnerability and willingness to be open. I hoped that, in turn, they would be less fearful to be themselves.  

The answers were valuable. The most important realization I had was when I asked the question, “If you’re proud of me, I hope you…”.  The first year I tried these questions, students overwhelmingly told me that they hope I do nothing, or give recognition in a quiet, private manner.  Being an introvert, one would think I would’ve already understood this. However, when I’m excited about something, my tendency is to make a big deal about it. 

Not everyone wants attention called to them, and this survey helped to remind me that the first step in building authentic relationships is to respect all stakeholders.  Had it not been for this survey, I may have embarrassed my students, causing unintentional harm. This would have prevented me from getting to know them, and them, me.

Feeling successful with the survey really opened me up to trying a strategy when I struggled with one of my students.

Fostering Relationships: 2×10 Strategy

I learned about the 2×10 strategy when I was struggling with a student I didn’t know how to reach. The student was showing up late to class, and when asked why, he indicated that he was just late—no particular reason. He didn’t really engage with the work in the class and seemed pretty defiant when it came to basic requests.

I understood I didn’t have a rapport with him, and I really wanted to try something, anything, that would help improve my relationship with him. I heard about the 2×10 strategy on a podcast and decided to Google it.  One of the first search results took me to Angela Watson’s Cornerstone For Teachers blog.  Angela Watson describes this strategy as miraculous, and it really is. 

The gist of the strategy is that you spend 2 minutes, for 10 days, talking to a student (with whom you struggle) about anything—except school work.  Every period, for about 2 minutes, I would talk to this student about anything that seemed natural. Usually our conversations were about sports since he was a student athlete. 

2×10 Success

After about a week, I noticed other things. His best friend was in the class and he liked to sit next to her and talk. The conversations mostly became about making sure he was on the right track with his work.  He responded well when asked to look over his work to improve it.  He started arriving to class on time more frequently or with a pass from where he was coming (which gave me an opportunity to talk to the staff member who saw him last, and we helped to get him to class on time).

The 2×10 strategy changed my relationship with this student in less than two weeks. It didn’t require that I do anything that would make the student or me feel awkward.

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Fostering Relationships: Final Takeaway 

After having time to implement both strategies, this introvert became more at ease with talking with students and fostering authentic discussion. Relationship building can be difficult to manage, and honestly, we all struggle with how to reach students from time to time.

Understanding a few reliable strategies can lessen the stress teachers feel in trying to engage and improve relationships with students. It can also help us build the relationships that are crucial to creating a true classroom community!

About Deanna Lough

Deanna is a wife, mom, puppy mom, and English teacher, who has taught both middle and high school. She is a former Instructional Coach and current equity advocate. When she’s not teaching, Deanna can be found recording the Speaking Educationally podcast, enjoying the outdoors, and crafting.