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The importance of having strong, positive relationships with our students is unsurprising and universally accepted. Naturally, our work is more fulfilling when we spend our days with students about whom we care—and who care about us in return. Yet, the significance and utility of strong student relationships goes beyond simply feeling connected to and comfortable with our students.

In fact, the relationships we build with our students position us to influence them in multiple ways and allow them to make our work more impactful. Here are five accessible areas of influence strong student relationships create.

“Nudge muscle”: Some of the most potent opportunities to influence our students’ thinking, behavior, and decisions are found outside of formal requests or directives. Sometimes students may need a nudge, rather than a push. Not unlike a mother bird whose offspring is ready to fly but reluctant to leave the nest, a gentle nudge may be all that is needed. When we have nurtured strong, caring relationships with students, they become tuned in to what we have to say and what it means for them. Our influence might take the form of a little nudge to help students take the next step or make a timely decision. A quiet suggestion, a nuanced observation, or a seemingly offhand question can have an outsized influence when students trust us and care about what we say and think.

Expectation impact: Expectations can have a powerful influence on students’ aspirations, efforts, and commitments, but only when they are anchored in caring and encouraging relationships. Unfortunately, in the absence of a relationship, expectations can be ignored or even become points of resistance. Our expectations reflect the confidence we have in the potential of our students; when students know that we care and have faith in them, our expectations can have a potent impact.

Advice access: For a variety of reasons, students are often wary of the advice they receive from adults. However, when students know that we truly want the best for them and when we have developed a trusting relationship, we can gain access to the ability to give advice that is actually heard. The impact of our advice may not always be obvious or immediate, but the absence of visible action or reaction does not mean that we have not been heard or that our advice will not be heeded. In fact, advice given in these circumstances can often have a lifelong impact, subtle or not.

Modeling traction: Much of what we want to teach our students cannot be found in the curriculum and may never appear on a formal assessment. These lessons come in the form of modeling. What we say, what we do not say, how we act, how we react, what we embrace, and what we reject are carefully observed by students, especially when students feel connected to and cared for by us. We can be surprised when students use our words, adopt our thinking, or aspire to be like us, but we should not be. They are, after all, just responding to our modeling.

Misstep tolerance: Teaching is also a learning profession; in other words, the role of a teacher is also to be a learner. Learning new techniques and approaches keeps our practice fresh and helps us to respond to the changing needs of our students. Yet, learning and practicing new skills can be risky. Attempting something new can mean that we will occasionally make mistakes. However, when we have developed strong, supportive, trusting relationships with our students, mistakes can be quickly forgiven and forgotten, and missteps can be corrected without shame and embarrassment.

Forming solid relationships with students can take time and, at times, be challenging. However, relationships can make the difference between wondering if we are “getting through” and actually seeing our influence take root and blossom in the lives of our students.

Thought for the Week

In response to the uncertainty and disruption in which we find ourselves, researchers and experts say that the number one skill for survival and success in today’s environment is adaptability.

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