This blog post was written by guest contributor Katie Smith.

“No significant learning can occur without a significant relationship.” This quote by James Comer drives everything I do in my classroom. A strong teacher student relationship will make students more successful, and the school year much more fun. Students learn best when they know they are loved by the adults in their lives. I always try to remember that sometimes what the students in my classroom need the most isn’t a math lesson or a read-aloud; it might just be the reminder that they have an adult in their life that not only cares about them but also will show up for them every day.

In my classroom, I put relationships first. I want my students to know from the very first day of school that they will be loved and supported all year, even after they leave my classroom. There are three important things I do in my classroom every year to foster a strong teacher student relationship. These strategies are easy to implement and make a difference in my classroom community every year. These strategies work for students and teachers in a classroom setting, but they can also work for those starting the school year with distance learning.

Use letters, home visits, cards, and calls home.

I absolutely loved receiving mail as a kid. Nothing made me more excited than my mom or dad telling me I had mail. Why? Because that meant someone was thinking about me! Sending letters and cards to my kiddos (via the mail or by sneaking them in their backpacks) is one way I love to build a positive teacher student relationship. I start the year by sending each student in my class a welcome letter. The goal of this letter is to get them excited about the year, along with telling them how excited I am to meet them. I think this first positive interaction is important to start on the right foot with my students. Another way to improve those relationships is positive phone calls home and home visits. You don’t have to only call a parent or make a home visit when something is wrong. Reach out in positive ways too! This not only builds those relationships with parents but also with the students. When students find out I called their parent/guardian to let them know how proud I was of them, it builds trust and rapport students won’t forget. At the beginning of the year, make a spreadsheet with each student in your class on it. Add a checkmark and a date each time you reach out via phone or letter. This is a great way to make sure you are reaching out to all students consistently, and it will also help hold yourself accountable.

Make yourself approachable and available.

So many times, new teachers are told, “Don’t smile for the first three months of school.” “Make sure your students know who is in charge.” Even though firm expectations and rules are an incredibly important part of any classroom, please, whatever you do, smile, and smile big on the first day of school – and continue smiling each day after. Students should feel comfortable in your classroom. Students should never be scared of you! One of the easiest ways to foster a strong teacher student relationship is to be approachable. Students should feel comfortable coming to you with a problem or question. Place a small mailbox on your desk for students to leave concerns or worries. Then, make time to address those concerns one-on-one with the student involved. It is also important to be available. Does a child need a little extra help? Be willing to spend a few minutes after school going over a math problem. Does a student need a friend or partner during morning choice time? Play with them. Noticing when a student needs you and showing up for them is such an easy way to foster a strong teacher student relationship.

Treat your students as individuals. Get to know them!

From the first day of school, it is important to get to know your students as individuals, not just as a class. What does each child love? What makes them “tick”? Knowing this information not only helps foster a strong relationship, but this knowledge also gives you a window into how your students see the world around them and how they might learn best. Aside from knowing your students’ general interests, know their strengths and their weaknesses. Knowing these things allows you to boost confidence and allow students to shine during a lesson or activity that includes their strengths. Plus, it allows you to provide extra support when needed.

If you want students to thrive and be successful in your classroom, the first and most important step is building a strong relationship. When students know you love and care about them, they work harder, feel more comfortable, and are willing to go above and beyond for you. Building a strong teacher-student relationship doesn’t have to be difficult. Think of small things you can do each day to get to know your students individually, always make sure you are available and approachable and spread positivity with notes and phone calls every week! I promise doing even these three simple things will make your classroom a more positive place, and they will also make relationships with your students even stronger.

Understanding the best ways to build productive and inclusive classroom environments can definitely be a challenge. Learning from professionals with extensive experience in the field is arguably the best method to adopt a framework to best serve student needs – and develop strong teacher-student relationships. One of the best places to start is through an online M.Ed K-6 or 6-12. The University of West Alabama features this degree track and a variety of education programs in addition to the convenience of learning online. Learn more about the programs today!

Katie Smith is a UWA Online alum and teacher in Birmingham, Alabama. You can follow her on Instagram.