Good rapport between instructor and students is arguably the most important factor in good classroom dynamics. You begin the process of building rapport and collegiality on the first day of class, and continue cultivating the environment throughout the semester.
Use ice breaking activities on the first day, preferably in small groups, to help set up an open, supportive environment.
In small classes (fewer than 10 students), students can share their names, home towns, academic majors, and/or a question they would like the course to answer.
In larger classes instructors might ask the same questions, using a show of hands to generate responses (e.g., "How many of you are from western Nebraska? How many from a state other than Nebraska?")
You'll get the best results when you offer personal information about yourself to get the discussion rolling. You might, for example, talk about your personal and professional background or your initial experiences with the discipline.
Learn about your students' interests and activities. Ask about their successes.
Model respect of different points of view.
Establish the expectation that everyone will listen carefully to others' questions and statements.
Use verbal cues
The language you use to interact verbally with your students strongly influences—for good or for ill— classroom rapport. Here are a few examples of open questions and comments that help build rapport and encourage students to remain actively involved in classroom activities:
- Can you think of a situation in which this notion might/might not apply?
- That's an interesting idea. Tell me more.
- I don't know either, but that's a very interesting question.
- Can anyone help us unravel ourselves here?
- I'm not sure I understand. Were you saying that the survey questions were too personal?
- Can you give me an example?
- Feels to me like we've kind of strayed from the point. Have we?
- Let's not forget the basic problem we're trying to solve.
- What's the first step?
Use nonverbal cues
Students react strongly to various nonverbal cues that create positive rapport in a class:
- Show enthusiasm when listening to student responses by smiling expectantly and nodding as the student talks. Be sure to actually listen!
- Keep eye contact with the student who is talking, and allow them to speak without interruption.
- Walk toward the person who is talking, even if there is only space to take a few steps in any direction.
- Walk around the room throughout a discussion so students will view people in different parts of the room.
- Look relaxed by leaning against the wall, sitting on a desk or pulling up a desk or chair and joining the class.
- Arrange students' chairs in a circle or in a configuration in which they can see each other talking.
- Stand near students who have not contributed to the discussion. Proximity may draw them into the conversation.