Learn More

40 Hour Workweek

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

Overcoming the 3 biggest obstacles in relationship building with kids

By Angela Watson

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 is a National Board Certified educator with 11 years of teaching experience and more than a decade of experience as an instructional coach. She started this website in 2003, and now serves as Editor-in-Chief of the Truth for Teachers...
Browse Articles by Angela


  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)

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion? Feel free to contribute!