[Picture- courtsey of Jonathan Farrington ]
I have observed classes where the students happily interact with their teacher and peers; where they immediately get on task and eagerly contribute to the lesson using the target language. Fortunately, most of the classes I have observed incorporate elements that facilitate learning. However, I have also observed classes where there is almost no interaction with the students and where students peek on their watches. What is missing in these particular lessons is “rapport”. And if rapport is missing, unfortunately, very little learning takes place. Therefore, establishing rapport is the starting point for a positive learning environment.
What is rapport?
“Rapport is the establishment of common ground, of a comfort zone where two or more people can mentally join together. When you have rapport, each of you brings something to the interaction – attentiveness, warmth, a sense of humor, for example – and each brings something back: empathy, sympathy, maybe a couple of great jokes. Rapport is the lubricant that allows social exchanges to flow smoothly” ( Boothman, 2005).
What does good rapport indicate?
Let’s now imagine a class where the students enjoy listening to their teacher as much as the teacher enjoys conducting the lesson. Is this only because the topic is fun, or does this also have to do with the teacher who has the ability to develop and maintain rapport? I would go for the latter. Teachers who have good rapport are listened to. More importantly, they create environments where lots of interaction and learning take place.
“Good rapport signals mutual understanding, trust, and a willingness to engage while a lack of rapport indicates a teacher’s estrangement from his audience” Holleman (2009).
Successful teachers are the ones who can build on their students’ present knowledge or ability. It doesn’t really matter how knowledgeable a teacher is about the topic/language or how qualified he or she is, unless the teacher has the ability to build rapport.
So how long does it take to establish rapport?
A month, a week, or does it even take less than that? Research indicates that we decide whether we like someone or not within the first three seconds (Flora, 2004), which is just where we start planting the seed of rapport.
Students make assumptions about their teacher and how the lessons will be on the first day of class. Marzano (1992) indicates that in order to facilitate learning, we need to build a positive atmosphere and a positive attitude toward learning. Then, as teachers, we are responsible for establishing a positive learning environment on that very first day of school.
What to do to build and maintain rapport?
Some have great inborn interpersonal skills while some don’t. If we don’t have it, does it mean that it cannot be learned? Surely not! Although it may be difficult to build and maintain rapport for some of us, building rapport can be learned just as with any other skill (Spiegel as cited in Witler & Martin,2004).
Below are some of the main elements of effective teaching that can help establishing rapport.
- On the very first day make sure that you do some ice-breakers to get to know about each other. The first day is the time we start building a bond with the students; therefore, it is important to show that we care about them and that we want to know each student both as a learner and as an individual.Get to know about the students as much as possible, and try to make use of these in your lessons (i.e. to honor your students use some of the information about your students in the materials you distribute)
- Learn their names. Calling students by their names is a great way to start establishing rapport. Therefore, try to memorize their names on the first day. You are lucky if you have a class of no more than 15 students. But what if we have more than that? I use Adjective Name Game which is an excellent game to remember names. Or make a seating plan and refer to it when you want to call upon someone.
- Plan your lessons well; that is, carefully considering the lesson objectives in accordance with your students learning styles, their level of interest to the topic/lesson, level of knowledge/ability, and their needs,
- Be congruent with school’s philosophy and curriculum,
- Be consistent
- Vary your teaching style, techniques, activities according to the students’ needs, learning styles as well as to the motivation they have towards the subject.
- Time to time add some element of surprise
- Read and flex (modify your lesson according to the their mood or circumstance)
Other than these, we also need to be careful with the following elements that are contagious, which I think are equally important as the aforementioned elements.
Enter the classroom with confidence and enthusiasm so that the students can trust you and feel the positive feeling you have to teaching and to your students.
Show interest and support to the students. Students feel more comfortable when their teachers when they are approachable and welcome questions.
Believe in what you do. We could get positive results if we believe in what we are doing. If you think a text is boring or too difficult your students, even if you don’t tell them what you think, you would somehow reflect this to them, which in turn would inflence the whole classroom atmosphere negatively. Instead, adapt the material in a way you think your students would benefit from it.
Words are very important; therefore, we should be careful about the choice of words we use. The video below is an excellent example of how words can have an effect on people:
To get positive results, use positive verbal and non-verbal language. In order to give the right message, avoid negative wordings like; “Don’t be late to my class”. Instead, say “Make sure that you come to class in time”. Always possess a positive body language (gesture, posture) because we convey a lot through our body language, subsequently influencing others. For example, when listening to our students, we should avoid crossing our arms that signals disinterest. Instead, we could lean forward by showing interest in what they students are saying. Also, make sure your tone of voice and your body language say the same thing. Saying that you will read an interesting text, but indicating a negative emotion through your body language will only cause confusion. Let’s say you are giving one-to-one feedback to your student and you are telling him/her that they have improved a lot in their writing (even though they have shown little improvement); but at the same time rubbing your nose, can indicate doubt and that you are not telling him/her the truth. Of course,every learner wants to hear something nice about themselves. Instead of making general statements like; “You have done a good job!”, highlight areas you really think have improved and show them where they need to further study on.
Listen to your students. Even on the first day, listen to them. After some ‘getting to know you’ sort of activities, we have to move on with the lesson since we have to achieve our weekly syllabus. Nonetheless, students may keep asking questions about the passing policy of the program. If we just carry on with our lesson plan we have, the rapport will be broken and be difficult to build again. On the contrary, by listening and responding to their questions, they will feel cared about; thus, will feel in control. As a result we could have happy students that would look forward to the next class.
Furthermore, we also have to have “that” smile on our face- the one signaling our enthusiasm and our genuine interest to our students. Smiling always help! If you smile at your students, you will see that they will smile back at you. A smile is relaxing… it is soothing…it is comforting… What else? Smile can also lead to superpowers…to a better well-being. Isn’t our ultimate goal to have some kind of some positive effect on people? If your answer is yes, then smile! Just smile!
See how a simple smile can positively influence the life of people
*You can also have a look at my previous blog post on what activities we could do on the very first day of school.