5 Tips to Build Caring and Trusting Relationships

Teaching is all about relationships. Before students can succeed academically, they need to feel seen,…

By Anna Sudderth

Teaching is all about relationships. Before students can succeed academically, they need to feel seen, supported, and cared for by the adults at school. That’s why this week, we’re diving into Caring and Trusting Relationships—one of XQ’s six core design principles for successful   environments. With intention, you can form relationships with students that empower them to be their best selves. Ready? Give me five!

Relationships may seem intuitive, but building real trust with students takes effort and concrete action. 

Why It Matters: A brief from the Education Trust highlights the importance of relationships in school: students with access to strong relationships with teachers are more academically engaged, have stronger social skills, and have better behavior outcomes. The brief identifies five research-backed strategies to build and maintain these positive relationships: 

  • Express care
  • Challenge growth
  • Provide support
  • Share power
  • Expand possibilities

Extra Credit: Schools creating new structures to encourage student voice

Get to know your students beyond the classroom by inviting them to tell stories about their lives—and sharing stories of your own!

Why It Matters: Sitting around a campfire, swapping stories into the night—it’s a classic image of human connection, and it translates to the classroom. Sharing stories invites vulnerability and honesty, and will help you bond with your students as people. Follow these tips to facilitate storytelling in your classroom:

  • Set the right conditions for students to feel comfortable sharing
  • Boost student confidence
  • Pique student interest with creative prompts

Extra Credit:The Power of This Project-Based Learning and Place-Based Learning School

Caring for your students means valuing who they are and their backgrounds. 

Why It Matters: You can build trust with your students by making space for them to bring their whole selves into the classroom. Culturally responsive teaching (CRT) embodies this approach by centering students’ experience and knowledge. CRT experts offer these suggestions for how to make your classroom more culturally responsive

  • Assess your own personal biases
  • Get to know your students
  • Adapt your teaching and curriculum to center student experience
  • Elevate the students’ native culture and language
  • Involve family and community

Extra Credit: A Teacher’s Journey Toward Culturally Relevant Teaching Practices

At Círculos—an XQ school in Santa, Ana, CA—the importance of relationships is embedded in the school’s very name. 

Why It Matters: Educators at Círculos build community relationships by facilitating regular circles with students—usually at least once per day! Circles are a powerful tool to facilitate conversation and build relationships of care and respect. As the name implies, participants sit in a circle and take turns sharing. Everyone has a chance to speak, and everyone’s voice holds equal weight. Like Círculos, consider using circles to:

  • Open a lesson
  • Process current events
  • Resolve a community conflict

Extra Credit: What Are Restorative Justice Circles, and When Can They be Utilized?

Relationships are a two-way street, and establishing trust means listening to what students have to say. 

Why It Matters: During the busy school day, it can be hard to make time to get student feedback. However, part of building relationships with students means listening and responding to their perspectives. TNTP created this survey to use as a regular, low-stakes tool to understand students’ daily classroom experience. Other ways to center student input include:

  • Opening up classroom decisions to student votes
  • Inviting students to create a set of class agreements
  • Offering office hours for one-on-one feedback

Extra Credit: When the School Belongs to the Students

Last week, the XQ team and several educators from the XQ schools and partnerships attended the Carnegie Foundation Summit on Improvement in Education. We kicked off a new partnership inviting educators to reflect and respond to this question:

Imagine a powerful learning experience that you want to create for students. What constraints or barriers do you face to making that learning experience a reality? 

We want to hear from you, too! Visit CarnegieXQ.us to share your thoughts!