Building Positive Classroom Relationships to Engage Students: Video Introduction

Every school year presents a new opportunity for teachers to establish positive relationships with each student on their rosters.  Supportive relationships between teachers and students promote both visible and psychological engagement (Quin, 2017).  When teacher-student relationships are positive, they favorably affect academic achievement (Hattie, 2015).

Teachers want a positive, engaging classroom where students feel valued and successful, but how do we create that?  The following video resources may help you do so.

videovingThe first video, Caring and Control Create a Safe, Positive Classroom, may be found in part 1 of the IRIS Classroom Management Module.  In the video, veteran teacher, Lori Sinclair, invites instructional coach, Jim Knight, into her third-grade classroom to observe and advise her on classroom management.

The video highlights three practices meant to improve teacher-student relationships and increase student engagement:  holding daily classroom meetings, working with students to develop class rules, and increasing the ratio of positive to negative interactions with students. When implemented with fidelity, engaging with students through morning meetings (Lori’s daily check-in with her students) improves teacher-student relationships (Baroody, Rimm-Kaufman, Larsen, & Curby, 2014).  Lori’s practice of co-creating behavioral expectations and explicitly teaching them, along with classroom rules and routines, for an extended period at the beginning of the year enhances overall class climate (Epstein, Atkins, Cullinan, Kutash, & Weaver, 2008).  Finally, Lori’s highly positive ratio of interaction (at least five positive to each negative interaction with students) is a “feasible and impactful intervention strategy that holds promise for … [teachers] who are struggling or have a particularly difficult class” (Cook et al., 2017, p. 74).  This powerful strategy has been effective even when used in isolation of other strategies and by less confident teachers.

Another resource for creating a positive, engaging classroom is from the video series Classrooms in Focus.  In this video, Classrooms in Focus – Student Engagement, Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS, 2017) highlights the classroom of Clarence Minor.  Of particular note is how Clarence arranges his classroom to promote strong teacher-student and peer relationships and to facilitate group work. Throughout the video, Clarence circulates around the perimeter of the room, providing quiet feedback to students as they work on their white boards. For instruction, he moves to the center of the room where all students can easily see and hear him.  Proximity is one factor used to increase positive teacher-student interchanges (Lampi, Fenty, & Beaunae, 2005).

Another strategy he uses is the “lifting up” motion for students to show support for their peers. This encouraged the responding student to continue, even in his uncertainty. Strong peer support and relationships can improve student engagement, and supportive peers can even reduce the negative effects of poor teacher-student interactions and vice versa (Vollett, Kindermann, & Skinner, 2017).

These videos also provide rich examples of other practices known to influence student achievement as illustrated in Table 1.

Table 1

Best Practices Observed in Videos

Strategy/Practice Examples from the Videos Evidence/Research
  • Lori uses a video to reflect on her classroom practices with Jim Knight.
*Effect size of .88 (Hattie, 2015)
Formative Assessment
  • Lori
    • Asks her students to rate themselves on how well they understand suffixes
    • Uses exit slips
  • Clarence uses white boards to assess each student as he or she completes the morning message.
*Effect size of .68 (Hattie, 2015)
  • Lori says:
    • “Mina is showing me a ready learning position.”
    • “Zella just added one of our Skittles words!”
    • “Yes, that’s one of the rules, right?”
  • Clarence says:
    • “That’s a nice conversation on math over at Fibonacci.”
    • “This is so organized, but you want to make sure you’re keeping up with things” while recommending a student add labels to her work.
*Effect size of .68 (Hattie, 2015)
  • Clarence and his class use hand gestures to “draw” a parallelogram in the air.
  • Clarence and his class repeat chants to remember the process for long division.
The use of movement for the purpose of teaching math improves learning (Beaudoin & Johnston, 2011).

The patterns and rhythms of chants make them easier to remember and recall (Ciecierski & Bintz, 2012).

Cooperative/Small-Group Work
  • Clarence teaches and uses student discourse routines in small groups.


Discourse provides exposure to new perspectives and use of language; allows students to reorganize their thinking and speaking (Gillies, 2007).

*An effect size is a quantitative measure of the strength of an intervention. Hattie (2015) considers effect sizes less than .2 as small, .4 as average, and greater than .6 as large.

These practices demonstrate ways in which teachers can improve their practice before, during, and after instruction. While planning, teachers make decisions to include multi-sensory and cooperative/small-group activities. During and after instruction, teachers provide feedback to students and give formative assessments to determine the effectiveness of their instruction.  Finally, micro-teaching is a powerful tool that allows teachers to reflect upon their practice after instruction. In this instance, micro-teaching occurs when Lori plans a lesson, makes a video of the lesson, and shares it with Jim Knight, an instructional coach. Jim Knight provides feedback, which Lori uses to improve her instructional practice. Videos enable teachers to see things they may have missed while teaching; in other words, videos give teachers “a second pair of eyes” to question and clarify.

Building strong classroom relationships sets the stage for a successful school year, and makes it easier for most students to connect with both teachers and peers. Teachers can cultivate and strengthen these relationships using the techniques outlined above. Positive relationships throughout the classroom lead to strong student engagement and better academic results.

Additional Resources

For more information on evidence-based practices for teachers, the IRIS Resource Locator provides a wealth of resources. The center is housed at both Vanderbilt University in Tennessee and Claremont Graduate University in California. Funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), the center focuses on developing teaching resources for professional developers. The website is easy to navigate and organized by topic and resource type (modules, case studies, videos, etc.).


Alexandria City Public Schools. (Producer).  (2017). Classrooms in focus – student engagement. Available from

Baroody, A. E., Rimm-Kaufman, S. E., Larsen, R. A., & Curby, T. W. (2014). The link between responsive classroom training and student-teacher relationship quality in the fifth grade: A study of fidelity of implementation.  School Psychology Review, 43(1), 69-85.

Beaudoin, C. R., & Johnston, P. (2011). The impact of purposeful movement in algebra instruction. Education, 132(1), 82-96.

Ciecierski, L., & Bintz, W. P. (2012). Using chants and cadences to promote literacy across the curriculum. Middle School Journal, 44(2), 22-29.

Cook, C. R., Grady, E. A., Long, A. C., Renshaw, T., Codding, R. S., Fiat, A., & Larson, M. (2017).  Evaluating the impact of increasing general education teachers’ ratio of positive-to-negative interactions on students’ classroom behavior. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 19(2), 67-77.

Epstein, M., Atkins, M., Cullinan, D., Kutash, K., & Weaver, R. (2008). Reducing behavior problems in the elementary school classroom: A practice guide (NCEE #2008-012).  Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences. Retrieved from

Gillies, R. M. (2007).  Strategies to promote student discourse. In R. M. Gillies (Ed.),  Cooperative learning: Integrating theory and practice (pp. 91-120). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications Ltd.  doi:10.4135/9781483329598.n4

Hattie, J. (2015). The applicability of visible learning to higher education.  Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology, 1(1), 79-91. doi:10.1037/stl0000021

Lampi, A. R., Fenty, N. S., & Beaunae, C. (2005). Making the three Ps easier: Praise, proximity, and precorrection. Beyond Behavior 15(1), 8-12.

Quin, D. (2017).  Longitudinal and contextual associations between teacher-student relationships and student engagement: A systematic review. Review of Educational Research, 87(2), 345-387.  doi:10.2102/0034654316669434

The IRIS Center. (2012). Classroom management (Part 1): Learning the components of a comprehensive behavior management plan. Retrieved from

Vollet, J. W., Kindermann, T. A., & Skinner, E. A. (2017). In peer matters, teachers matter: Peer group influences on students’ engagement depend on teacher involvement. Journal of Educational Psychology, 109(5), 635-652.


Specially Designed Instruction: Realizing the Potential of Co-Teaching

The principle of least restrictive environment (LRE) requires schools to provide instruction in the general education classroom for students with disabilities unless the “nature and severity” of the student’s disability prevents it (Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act [IDEA], 2004). Additionally, the IDEA mandates access to the general education curriculum with instruction from qualified teachers. To meet the LRE and access requirements, many schools choose co-teaching as a service delivery model. Access to a co-taught classroom alone, however, does not satisfy the legal requirements. Access must also result in improved academic outcomes for students with disabilities.

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