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Classroom Management, Teaching Tips & Tricks, Uncategorized   |   Oct 12, 2014

Overcoming the 3 biggest obstacles in relationship building with kids

By Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

So the 2×10 “miraculous” behavior management strategyreally resonated with a lot of teachers. It’s a simple method for making the nebulous goal of relationship building much more concrete and achievable—simply spend 2 minutes a day for 10 consecutive days talking with a challenging student about anything she or he would like.

Though many people indicated this is just best practice and something they’ve already been doing on a regular basis, the vast majority of commenters admitted they struggle to build a rapport with their most challenging kids. I can relate to that struggle—it’s not always easy to get students to open up and trust you. It also takes a lot of time to build a strong rapport, and time is probably a teacher’s most precious and limited commodity.

98% of the questions I got about this strategy in the blog comments, on Facebook, and via email were related to one of the 3 issues below. I thought I’d address them here because I know they’re common issues that many of us are grappling with.

1) The student doesn’t like me or want to talk to me.

This was a concern especially with middle and high school teachers..but it’s not a deal breaker. If a student thinks it’s a punishment to have a 2 minute conversation with you on anything they want to talk about, don’t take that as a sign that this won’t work and you should leave them alone. After all, it’s not like you can avoid the kid—you’re the teacher! You will have to interact throughout the day, and if you don’t pursue relationship building, chances are good that the majority of your interactions will be impersonal/academic or negative…which means the chasm between the two of you will only grow wider.

Kids typically enjoy talking to people that they like and respect. So, focus on being that type of teacher in general and don’t worry at first about winning over this particular student. Initiate and join more informal conversations with other students that are friendlier toward you. When challenging students see their peers participating willingly and realize that talking with kids is just naturally what you do because you genuinely care, they’ll be more likely to open up.

It’s okay if the students is suspicious of your motives for chatting, or is distrustful of authority figures in general. A full 2 minute conversation might not be possible at first. Don’t give up. Try for one short, non-work-related, positive interaction a day, and build on that until you’re having a full-fledged conversation on a regular basis. Making the effort to get to know a student and showing that you care is never a waste, even when you don’t see results right away.

2) I don’t have time to talk individually with kids.

You may not be able to create a structured, dedicated time for talking individually to students…and that can actually be a good thing. The 2×10 strategy doesn’t mean pulling the child away from a task to corner him at your desk, then setting a timer and forcing the kid to bond with you for exactly 120 seconds. Relationship building works best when it happens naturally and authentically! You don’t have to stop everything you and the child are doing to talk: just look for and seize opportunities during the school day.

Stand in the doorway when students enter the room and ask them how they’re doing—not as as a rhetorical greeting, but as a sincere question which you genuinely want to talk about. Chat as you’re walking students to lunch, or waiting for busses to be called at dismissal. Talk briefly while kids are cleaning up and transitioning into the next activity. When you’re starting or ending small group instruction, take a moment to talk casually. When you’re assisting a child one-on-one (even just to look over their work and see if they’re understanding the concept), say, “By the way, ___” and extend the conversation into a topic of interest to the child.

Another—and much bolder–approach is to use your instructional time for relationship building and do so unapologetically. When students are disruptive, we have no qualms about stopping the lesson to address what happened, help students problem solve, issue consequences, and so on. We dislike doing it, but we know it’s necessary in order for the lesson to proceed smoothly afterward. Think about it—how many minutes a day are you spending on those off-task behavior discussions? Why not spend 2 pro-active minutes preventing the problems from occurring by building a rapport with challenging kids? Get the rest of the class involved in a warm-up activity or other independent assignment and start a quiet individual conversation. If you don’t have to stop your lesson 10 times afterwards to deal with misbehavior, you’ll actually accomplish a lot more.

3) I don’t know what to ask or how to start the conversation.

My best advice here is to avoid overthinking it. 2×10 should not be a big production where the child knows you are Implementing a Very Serious Relationship Building Strategy as a Behavioral Intervention. You’re just talking to the kid casually.

Observe the child and look for insights into his or her personality. Pay attention to what the child talks about with friends and the topics she writes about for assignments (even student-created sentences for spelling words can reveal something about the child’s life and interests.) What sports teams, hobbies, and music does he mention? What can you tell about the child’s personality and interests from the photos on her notebook or the after-school activities she joins?

Try to make authentic connections between the child’s interests and your own. It only takes one common interest to start building a relationship. If you can’t find one, don’t force or fake the connection—kids (like all people) absolutely hate inauthenticity. Instead, seek to learn more. Say, “I noticed you like ___. I really don’t know anything about that, but I’m curious about it because I know you enjoy it so much.”

Also notice what the child does NOT enjoy and try to relate on that level, too. We all like finding someone else who just doesn’t get it when everyone else is raving about a music video we thought was dumb or a sports team we hate. If you can genuinely be the “odd man out” with a student, a surprisingly strong bond might be formed.

Remember that you don’t have to lead with a question, so it’s okay if you don’t know what to ask. Shy, distrustful, and non-talkative students will probably give you one word answers to your questions, anyway. Instead, share a little of your life and personality. Talk about your plans for the weekend, a great book you’re reading, or a movie you’d like to see. Let the student see you not only as the person in charge, but as a person. After all, no one relates to an authority; we relate to people. Give kids a chance to learn about you and find their own ways to relate to and connect with you. When they realize you sincerely care about them, they WILL open up!

How do you overcome these obstacles to building relationships with students? Have you found any approaches that help you make more time for relationships, or connect with kids with whom it’s difficult to talk with initially?

Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

Angela created the first version of this site in 2003, when she was a classroom teacher herself. With 11 years of teaching experience and more than a decade of experience as an instructional coach, Angela oversees and contributes regularly to...
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  1. The “I noticed” routine was taught by the Love and Logic folks starting years and years ago (like 25+).

    You have to pick something to comment on which can NOT be refuted – if you say “I noticed you look very nice today.” that is an argue-able comment (“oh – this old shirt has a rip in it!”), but if you say “I noticed you are carrying three books.” the targeted student cannot really argue with you. Three books are three books.

    Your sentence should not express judgement only an observation.

    Thanks for taking this gem of an idea and publicizing it. I think it really works!


  2. This is a great read and reminder. I noticed several years ago that students that performed better than expected were typically those that I had bonded with. I decided then that I needed to work harder to develop those bonds with all of my students. In hindsight, my discipline has dramatically improved. I thought it was just that my experience has a teacher had helped, and in a way, it did. But ultimately, it was because I started carrying more/trying to get to know my students more and it does matter…even to middle schoolers, even to those that would rather not care!

  3. I’m a School Psychologist and I LOVE this technique. Relationship-building is one of the most important aspects to working with children, yet it is often difficult for teachers to find time in their busy days to make these kinds of connections to their students. This technique requires just a few minutes and can easily be incorporated into classroom routines.

    I have a couple of other ideas to share for conversation topics that have worked well in my practice. With a little additional questioning (asking ‘Why?’ and a little probing for details), I have gotten more information about my students’ home and emotional lives.

    * What kind of superpower do you wish you had?
    * What kind of animal would you be if you could choose?
    * What has been the worst thing that has happened to you in middle school?
    * What has been the best thing that has happened to you in middle school?
    * If you had a million dollars, what would be the first, second and third thing you would buy?
    * What is your earliest memory?
    * How did your parents come up with your name?
    * What would be the one thing your mom (dad/grandmother/etc) should be asking you?
    * What’s your favorite or most precious possession?
    * Tell me about a dream you’ve had recently.
    * Who is your favorite relative that doesn’t live with you?
    * What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever done?
    * What’s the most embarrassing thing that you’ve ever done?
    * Describe what would be a perfect day.
    * Think about the last time you felt really angry. What had happened? (substitute sad, happy, or confused)
    * Who would you sit next to in class if you wanted to have a fun day at school?
    * Who would you sit next to in class if you wanted to have help with an assignment?
    * If you were asked to tutor or help someone else at school, what would you feel is something you do well?
    * What part of the school day do you dread (or hate the most)?
    * What part of the school day do you love the most?
    * Has anyone ever been a really bad friend to you?
    * Is there someone in your class (in your grade, or in the school) who gets teased a lot?
    * What do you wish your family would do more often? (or less often)

    1. If you keep in mind what the child knows and enjoys, you can find lots more questions. You could start out with “what’s your most favorite dinosaur?”, which naturally leads to talking about how cool t-rex is, and how scary it would be if the child was a t-rex, and how you hope he wouldn’t eat YOU, and that maybe you could feed him 1,000 chicken nuggets so he wouldn’t eat you, and wonder if he could open the sauce packets with those teeny tiny arms or would he need help. Then, naturally, you would run around playing dinosaurs and, boom! Relationship built.

      The key there is that you’ve chosen a topic of interest and on which the child has knowledge. The child should be able to freely contribute throughout in order for it to count as a conversation.

  4. I am a School Counselor and I love the concept. I am putting together resources for other school counselors. May I share this with them?

  5. I’m looking forward to trying this with a particular student, but how do I handle poor choices the child makes while building the relationship? Obviously, I can’t let physically dangerous behaviors go, but what about disruptive behaviors? I’m very hopeful about using 2 X 10, but I’m realistic and I know things won’t change in a day.

    1. You’d still want to address poor choices the child makes through conversations and whatever supports you have in place. The 2×10 is designed to make sure that you’re not ONLY having those types of conversations, and that you’re also talking about things of interest to the child. 🙂

  6. I teach English to grades 9-12 in an alternative school for students at risk for not graduating. We spend the first 10 mins of class free writing in Writer’s Notebooks with the option to share each day. I write and share, too. This has helped with some of my most attention seeking students to provide them an appropriate outlet. It also gives me a topic on which to build for impromptu conversation with students. Sharing is strictly voluntary, so there are some who never share, but I do read their entries and leave positive comments on sticky notes. I can also mine those entries for topics for private 2 min. conversation starters. Thanks for the great idea. I’ll work on these kids from yet another angle.

  7. I immediately thought of the Love and Logic pearl of wisdom that starts with “I noticed”. When we sneak in a comment that begins with I noticed, it plants a seed and initiates a new chain of thoughts in a student’s brain. Students know at that moment that we do notice them as people with lives outside of the classroom, and that one comment may even prompt the initiation of a conversation with their teacher. I am an interventionist aide at a middle school, so I am in a unique position to easily take a minute to chat with students that move into our district mid-year because I am administering benchmark testing for RtI. I have been able to bond with students as a result of these conversations. Middle school is a tumultuous time of change, physically, emotionally, and socially for young adolescents. Being the new kid is even tougher, and many transient students feel lost in the shuffle or move so frequently they have shut down and given up on making a connection that is real. If forging a bond with our most disruptive and/or unmotivated students feels miraculous to us, imagine what it feels like to the student!

  8. Thanks for your thoughts on this idea with older students.
    With easy access to technology, I have my students fill out a Google Form weekly/daily to help with communication and relationship building as well. Simple questions:

    Best part of yesterday/last weekend?
    Worst part of yesterday/last weekend?
    Share a funny joke, meme, or gif – school appropriate, please? optional
    Anything else you want to share.
    How are you feeling right now? list of adjectives they can check off
    Do you feel a need to talk to the school counselor?

    I pull it up to look at while Ss do independent work and then can work things into a conversation that they have mentioned. I quickly email the counselor if anyone says they need to see her.
    I learn so much about my students this way.

  9. Hi! Really like the idea and I am taking it on board. I have about 5 disruptive children, 3 of them at a lower level than the other 2; I am working around one at a time with the 2×10 strategy because the children need help and need to hover around. Still needing help with these 5 because they stop any learning going on; my biggest fear is that we break for a week mid Feb and I might lose them.

    On the 3 easier ones, I have an autistic child who refuses to listen to instructions, hides under the table and talks uncontrollably; the other two are picking on other children to make them overreact, which they manage well. Also, they do very little work… They don’t sit near each other by the way.

    On the 2 more difficult ones, I have one from a neglected family background and the other one who is adopted. Both are extremely disruptive, never listen and continuously making remarks, becoming aggravated, shouting at the other children, being nasty… I am lost for ideas. Both are able, bit lower than expected for their age. Only responding to the TA who knows them for longer than me and has them on a leash (or she’ll shout at them).

    Ideas would be mostly appreciated.

  10. Sometimes you have to start with something small, like noticing a haircut or new shoes or pointing out a great score on a test. Build up to a conversation.

  11. If you have tried to go 10 consecutive days and the student and/or teacher is absent, how many times do you try to get 10 days in a row before moving on to another intervention?

    1. I wouldn’t try to get a perfect 10 days in a row–just keep picking back up when you’re both there, and maybe extend it a little longer (so aim for 15 days total instead of 10 in a row.) There’s no magic number or formula with relationship building, so there’s nothing for an absence to mess up. 🙂 The repeated efforts you’re making over time will pay off.

  12. Love these ideas! Any suggestions for making connections with that one student on a virtual/hybrid platform during distance learning? I have tried one-on-one Google Meets/video chats, but the student usually just shrugs their shoulders instead of answering.

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