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How to Build Good Relationships with Your Students

It’s no big secret; we all want to feel valued, heard, and understood. We also know that when people are engaged in more meaningful relationships – be that at home, work or socially – we do better in a number of areas of life. A 15 year research study conducted by Australian Unity found that relationships are the golden ticket for overall feelings of happiness. And students in your classroom are no different.

Professor Martin Seligman, internationally renowned psychologist and author of Authentic Happinesshas a lot to say on the topic for how the relationships we have, and the moods we experience as a result, impact on our overall success:  

It turns out that adults and children who are put into a good mood select higher goals, perform better, and persist longer on a variety of laboratory tasks.

When students feel that you respect them, want to understand what drives them and value their input in your classroom, they are more motivated to take on board the advice you provide.

This can be especially crucial for careers advisors, where students often demonstrate a lack of engagement (how many of you have had students who insist they already know everything you have to tell them?) and get demotivated by rejection (be it in university or job applications). All whilst you’re attempting to achieve a myriad of individual positive outcomes.

Data released in May 2018 indicated that 11.5% of young people in the UK are currently classified as NEET (not in education, employment or training), a 0.3% increase for the same date range for the previous year. Careers advisors are in a unique position to play a part in doing everything they can do see this number decrease and building positive relationships is key to this.

So, what are some of the strategies and activities you can familiarise yourself with to build better relationships with students? What might you already be doing in the classroom that’s helping you build positive relationships, and how can you work on this to further improve careers related outcomes? Below we’ve outlined five ideas for the careers teacher.

1 . Communicate positive career expectations for all students

This anonymous opinion piece written by a 16 year old for The Guardian sums this one up best:

I have a teacher who, from the beginning of my two-year course, has offered an after-school session every single week. I am often the only one there but she doesn’t mind. She has completely changed my life by believing in me, pushing me and caring about me. Obviously, I don’t expect every teacher to be like her, but to know someone values you enough to put time in is amazing.”

When it comes to careers guidance, advice is mixed. By the time a student engages with you they may have already been told a range of different advice, and may hold a number of false misconceptions about their career path aspirations. This could include being told they don’t have the grades, capacity or soft skills to succeed in a desired career long term. Research into teacher expectations for their students have repeatedly demonstrated that the conceptions they hold for individual students tend to become self-fulfilling prophecies. Meaning when a teacher expects a student to perform poorly, they usually do. When applying this to careers, the long term impact can be extremely detrimental.

It’s important to ensure equity across the board when it comes to careers delivery. All students are capable of achieving career success, but the pathways in doing so will be radically different. Letting students know that there are other measures for success when it comes to achieving their aspirations, that you’ll help them work out the best pathway for them and you believe they can succeed, can make a big difference in turning around their future employment outcomes.

Careers activity idea

Help build a visual representation of what career ‘success’ journeys look like. Ask a number of staff and teachers to create a ‘Career Journey Road Map’ listing all the jobs and qualifications (completed and failed) they’ve had over the course of their life so far. Display these profiles visually throughout your classroom or student study areas so they can see that there is no such thing as a straight line to career success.

2. Apply some design thinking

Design thinking is a method for the practical, creative resolution of problems using the strategies designers use during the process of designing. Many HR teams use design thinking to build more positive employee experiences and management relationships – and there’s no reason not to do the same when engaging your students in careers education.

At the start of each new cohort or semester, ask students what they already know about careers, what they want to know, what their fears or worries are, who they want to hear career stories about and from; basically get the students to help you design and develop your lesson plans based on what they want and need.

During each class apply the same tactic. For example, if you’re running a workshop on writing a CV and cover letter, ask each student to write a question or concern on a post it note and place it on a board at the front of the room. Refer back to the questions throughout your delivery to make sure you’re answering them, and encourage peer-to-peer responses and support. An exercise like this builds a strong relationship with students as they see you taking an active interest in meeting them where they’re at, and addressing the real questions they have when it comes to careers.

Careers activity idea

Design thinking has also been applied well to developing future career plans for individuals at all stages of their career journey. It’s a great exercise to try with students to get them thinking more long term and strategically about the potential of their future aspirations.

3. Make the most of careers technology

Here at Springpod, careers technology is what keeps our heart beating – so much so, we write about it on the regular. And there is tech out there that you can utilise to understand your students better and in turn, build stronger and more connected relationships with them. For instance, Springpod – a platform that connect students with employers for career exploration, industry interaction and opportunities – has a feature called Student Interests.

Through Students Interests, schools are able to see the career paths, companies and opportunities that their students are looking at, both at an individual and school-wide level. This knowledge empowers careers teachers, enabling them to personalise and tailor CEIAG sessions.. Schools can also use this information to aid them in organising careers fairs or mentoring schemes, getting in touch with the companies that are floating the boat of their student body.

There are also other online tools for teachers, like Tracker, a space where you can plan and document your careers teaching in a way that assists in tracking what works and what doesn’t with your students.

4. Engage and elevate the classroom

When planning your careers delivery, it’s easy to tick all the boxes and stick to the things you know need to be delivered. But as we know, the world of work and employment is changing rapidly and so do your students. Repetitive careers education is no way to win over your class.

The good news here is that there is so much you can do to engage and elevate your classroom delivery when it comes to careers (and if you’ve used some design thinking to find out what your students want, it should be even easier). Guest talks, industry visits, peer led workshops – these all count. Introducing effective and meaningful employer engagement when it comes to careers has repeatedly been proven to inspire students, so there’s no reason not to get planning different methods of careers engagement.

Making sure you link this back to what your students have said what they want to get out of engaging with you will really demonstrate that you’ve listened to your students, value their needs, and want to ensure they are treated with maturity when it comes to their thoughts on work. When planning these activities, don’t forget to think about equality, diversity and the cultural representation within your class and also your local community.

Careers activity idea

Keep up to date with what and where previous school graduates have gone and use this data to showcase to your current students the potential that’s out there! Try to cover as many sectors as possible, and create an alumni celebration board of success. You might also be able to arrange guest talks or ‘speed interview’ workshops with graduates who can engage with your current cohort and talk positively about their career experiences.

Springpod’s alumni solution allows you to do this on autopilot, saving money and time, where you can slickly create an engaged alumni community to support your students.

5. Don’t forget about you

Findings at the end of last year by the Health and Safety Executive found that teaching and working in schools is one of the top three most stressful professions in the UK. Teachers surveyed reported feeling work-related stress twice as often has other professions. It has also been revealed that over 3,700 teachers were on sick leave in 2017 due to work stress, increasing 5% from the year before. 

In their research, Zehm and Kottler list some of the main causes of stress for teaching professionals as difficult students, irate parents and peer-to-peer competition. As you can probably imagine, undealt feelings of stress and frustration can have a negative impact on the relationships you build with your students.

What’s important here is not if you will become frustrated, but how you deal with it. It’s important to spend some time understanding your own personal signs of stress and frustration are, and to put in place support so that it doesn’t have a roll-on effect with your students. Education Support Partnership have some great handy tips when it comes to dealing with stress as a teacher, as well as support at the end of the phone, live chat and email

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There are many ways you can build and maintain positive relationships with students in your daily interactions with them. It’s worthwhile spending some time to see which ones work for you, and how you can work with your colleagues to build a more positive portfolio of resources and activities to achieve better relationships with students.

Elaine Mead

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