The relationships students form with each other and with their teachers at school are critical to their ongoing development. They will have an important impact on students’ capacity to learn and to socialise, and on their overall wellbeing. While addressing negative behaviours is important, a positive psychology approach encourages stronger relationships, to build meaningful connections and improve student wellbeing.
In positive psychology, ‘relationships’ refers to the good relationships people build with others. Individual and changing over time, relationships can be difficult to define. Signs of positive relationships include:
By helping students to identify the key relationships in their lives, you will be enabling them to strengthen these connections and build new ones. You can do this by teaching students about friendships, bullying and respectful relationships.
Students interact all the time. Even when they aren’t working together, students impact each other in terms of how they behave and make each other feel. Research shows the following:
1. Model positive relationships
Encourage positive relationships by modelling behaviours you want to see in the classroom. This can include showing empathy, kindness and respect towards students and other staff, even if it isn’t returned. Demonstrating pro-social behaviours, such as greeting students by name, acknowledging their efforts and interests, and engaging all students in conversation, can also help them identify what positive relationships look like.
2. Invest in your students
Taking the time to get to know your students and adapting lessons to their interests and needs will go a long way in helping them build positive relationships. By checking in with students when they need support, pushing them to achieve their potential and being generous with positive feedback, you role model a positive relationship, which will help them understand what a respectful and positive relationship looks like.
3. Focus on difficult relationships
If a student presents challenging behaviours, explain to them privately and respectfully why you’re speaking to them. Remain patient and speak about problem behaviours, rather than blaming the student. A two-way conversation in this situation will help the student feel heard, and lay the groundwork for a stronger, more positive, relationship. Learn more about ReachOut Schools’ tips for having a challenging conversation.
4. Create opportunities for new relationships to form
Fostering opportunities for new relationships will help students develop new friendships. Breaking students out of familiar friendship groups and pairings provides them with the chance to work with different people. This gives them the opportunity to explore different viewpoints and to practise respectful communication.
5. Embed teamwork into class tasks
Where possible, encourage teamwork with tasks. When students work in groups, they have the opportunity to practise and demonstrate their teamwork and communication skills. You will also be able to provide feedback and guidance to assist students in strengthening these attributes.