Learning By Design: Inclusive Relationships

This post is part of a 5 part series on our Learning Design Principles. To see the rest of the series click here.

Written by Jennifer Mattu, Guest Blogger.

Relationships in the classroom, student-teacher and student-student, can either make or break your school year. Positive relationships are such a key part in having a successful year with your new students. The inclusive classroom that I try to build each year values the contributions of each learner, their family, and the surrounding community. My classroom values each unique quality of every one of my students.

Student-teacher relationships are critical to a productive school year. As teachers, we play a significant role during our student’s academic career. Some tend to think that the elementary years are most crucial, but I know that teachers have a huge influence on their students and a positive relationship with students can support them at any age level. When a teacher takes the time to get to know their students beyond the classroom, create a safe and welcoming classroom environment, and be a positive role model, he/she will positively impact their students for years beyond that one.

As I enter my thirteenth year as a middle school math teacher, my number one priority has always been and still is to create a positive relationship as soon as possible with each of my students. I strive to get to know something about each of my students that reaches outside of the classroom and academics. I then try to incorporate my students’ interests into my math lessons. Going to watch dance recitals, play performances, sporting events, and musical concerts is something I also try to incorporate when I can. When students see that I’m interested in them other than in the classroom, the positive relationships are usually automatically formed.

The positive bonds that I create with my students help to create student-student relationships in my classroom. My students start to trust me in that my classroom is a warm, inviting, and a safe environment. Mistakes and errors are welcome and my students learn to talk to each other in a respectful manner. The student-student relationships are critical for this, as working collaboratively through inquiry and on challenging tasks require this. One way that I have been able to get my students to form these positive relationships with each other is through a first day activity. I pose several questions on chart paper around the room regarding what collaboration looks like and doesn’t look like, how classmates should and should not talk to each other, and favorite ways of learning and activities. This activity allows students to have some ownership of our classroom, as we post the most prevalent answers as part of our classroom rules/expectations.

As the year begins to unfold, my students choose to build relationships with their peers since we work in a collaborative setting the entire time. Trusting each other in my classroom allows them to view their classmates as equals who all have voice and opinion that is valued. This type of communication between my students really helps to build their self-esteem, especially in those students who may be lacking in that area for whatever reason.

Creating positive student-teacher and student-student relationships is without a doubt, effective. Students will work hard to be successful when they know that their teacher is interested in them outside of the classroom. Creating an environment where everyone’s opinions are equal sets the tone for a classroom where collaboration is effective and respectful and the student-student relationships are continuously very evident. Both of these types of effective classroom relationships will make for a positive and successful school year.

About the Author: Jennifer Mattu a Pittsburgh native, living the past 13 years in Sarasota County, Florida. She earned her Bachelor’s Degree in elementary education from Slippery Rock University, Master’s Degree in Reading and Math from Walden University, and Ph.D in math from Walden University. She is currently in her 13th year with the School Board of Sarasota County as a math teacher, department chair, and lead teacher at Heron Creek Middle School. Her passion is teaching children, future teachers, and current teachers! Education is the most important thing any child can have, so her goal is to continue sharing her love, passion, and knowledge for it.