Having quality conversations with students

It’s important for teachers to be able to have quality conversations with students. Showing them that you understand, value and are interested in them as people helps to protect their wellbeing. Here are our top tips for having quality conversations.

school teacher talking to student

1. Build trust

  • Conversations about sensitive matters need to take place in a safe and supportive environment. It can help build trust to ask students you need to have a private conversation with to suggest a time and a place where they will feel safe and supported.

  • Remove distractions. Turn off your phone, and find somewhere quiet, where you won’t be interrupted.

  • Communicate in an honest, authentic and open manner.

  • Respect the student’s privacy by maintaining confidentiality.

2. Listen actively

  • Give the student an opportunity to share their explanation of what happened without judging or interrupting them.

  • Be curious, and avoid jumping to conclusions.

  • Make eye contact with them, but don’t stare.

  • Listen to what they’re saying, while also trying to understand their emotions. What are their choice of words, their body language and their facial expression telling you? Has fear turned to anger? Have they folded their arms and become defensive? Are they avoiding making eye contact?

  • Reflect back to the student what you are hearing or seeing. This can help to clarify the messages you are each sending the other.

3. Be empathetic

Use statements like:

  • 'I can see why you're so (frustrated, sad, annoyed).'

  • 'How did you feel about that?’

  • ‘Yeah, I think I would have felt like that, too.’

  • ‘Why do you think (the other person) did/said that?’

4. Use skilled questioning

  • Ask one question at a time, using short questions like, ‘What else?’

  • Don’t rush the student. They may need time to think how to respond. Remaining silent and patient can support this process.

  • Try to ask, rather than tell. Use ‘what’ questions frequently and ‘why’ questions with caution.

  • Use a combination of open questions (‘Can you tell me what happened?’) and closed questions (‘When will you start on that?’). Being clear about the purpose of the conversation can help you to decide the type of question to ask.

5. Avoid trying to fix their problem

  • Your job isn’t to fix their problem. Just nod and say things like, 'Okay', 'Aha', 'Yeah'. This will let them know that you're listening positively and will encourage them to keep talking.

  • If you feel the urge to suggest a solution, to give them a lecture, or to try and solve their problem for them, try saying something like: 'That sounds tough. Do you want help to find a solution, or do you just need to get it off your chest?’ '’How did that make you feel?' 'And then what happened?'

  • Ask questions, and try to avoid telling them what they should do. If you have a suggestion, it can be helpful to say, ‘Is it okay if I make a suggestion?’

  • Help them to shift their perspective towards actions and solutions by saying, ‘What options do you have?’ ‘What are you doing that’s working?’ It can be helpful to set a plan of action together.

6. Take time to wrap-up

  • Take the time to summarise the key points discussed to clarify the purpose of the conversation.

  • Ask the student to commit to taking action that will help them to move forward. ‘What are the next steps to take?’ ‘What would you do differently in future?’

  • Thank the student for their honesty and time. Positive reinforcement is an important way to encourage them to repeat this behaviour in future.

What can I do now?

  • Here are some resources to help teach students about respectful relationships.

  • Get some tips on having difficult conversations.

  • Learn how to help students build resilience.