Building Positive Relationships With Students

Each new school year brings excitement and hope for a great year. It also brings much hustle and bustle for teachers as they dedicate significant time to planning for success. Before open house, teachers’ “to-do” lists seem ever-growing: develop or review classroom procedures and routines, organize physical structures, plan lessons, and more.  One of the most important items on that list is creating a plan for building relationships with the students.

A Strong Case for Building Relationships

By creating positive bonds with students, teachers create learning-supportive environments, where students can engage in meaningful ways both academically and socially (Hamre & Pianta, 2001). Nurturing relationships impact students’ academic performance, their motivation, self-esteem, and social outcomes (Dika & Singh, 2002; Orth, Robins, & Widaman, 2012; Wentzel, 2003).

Indeed, positive relationships with teachers have been found to affect students’ academic performance across age levels and socio-economic statuses (Midgley, Feldlaufer, & Eccles, 1989; Murray & Malmgren, 2005).  In one study, students significantly improved their grade point average after just five months of an intervention targeting improved quality of teacher-student relationship (Murray & Malmgren, 2005). Improving relationships with teachers also improved student competencies in math skills (Midgley et al., 1989).

Students who have had positive relationships with their teachers learn to develop better relationships with peers and have improved self-esteem and self-concept (Hamre & Pianta, 2001). Strong relationships can reduce dropout rates by nearly half for high school students and significantly impact peer acceptance of students (Dika & Singh, 2002; Hughes, Cavell, & Willson, 2001). Further, the impact of these relationships carries into future educational and even occupational experiences (Dika & Singh, 2002; Orth et al., 2012).

Strategies for Building Relationships

Building relationships takes time, but more important, it takes active planning. Positive teacher-student relationships are characterized by closeness, warmth, and positivity (Hamre & Pianta, 2001). Teachers can build such relationships by effectively utilizing student surveys, providing behavior-specific positive feedback, and using the two-by-ten strategy (McKibben, 2014). The best part about these strategies is that for minimal amount of the precious resource of time, teachers can make meaningful strides in their relationships with students.

Student Surveys

Student surveys allow teachers to quickly get to know their students and serve as a meaningful tool for future use. Surveys provide valuable insights into student preferences and give students a voice. In addition, surveys are easy to obtain, administer, score, and interpret.

In this example of a brief One Pager survey from The I’m Determined Project, students self-report their strengths, interests, preferences, and needs (Virginia Department Of Education, 2017). Another type of student survey is a reinforcement survey, which gives choices for student preferences and reinforcers. Teachers can use the information gleaned to have discussions with students and consider their needs when planning lessons and activities. Surveys can serve as a morning work option for students during the beginning of the school year or as part of open house activities.

Behavior-Specific Feedback

            In building relationships with students, teachers are strongly encouraged to use the 5:1 ratio of positive interactions to corrections (Cook et al., 2017). In a previous Link Lines article, Teacher Practices That Support Positive Academic and Behavioral Outcomes for Students Gould (2015) highlighted feedback as one of the effective teacher practices.

To be effective, positive acknowledgment must be immediate, specific, sincere, varied, and student-referenced (Gould, 2015). For example, “Steven, great job being in your seat and starting your morning work right as the bell rang. You showed us how to be responsible.”  Acknowledgment should focus on effort and not compare a student to others.

The 5:1 ratio may appear daunting, but teachers can achieve it, not only through verbal statements, but also through gestures such as a thumbs-up sign or a simple head nod. Teachers should find self-management strategies to ensure ongoing provision of positive feedback to the whole class as well as to individual students.  A simple visual of 5:1 posted in the classroom, in lesson plans, or displayed on the teacher’s desk may be a helpful prompt for teachers to increase the number of positive interactions.


For students who require additional support, McKibben (2014) recommends using a two-by-ten strategy as a way to form a foundation for a sustainable positive relationship and to create an ally (McKibben, 2014). This strategy entails the teacher spending two uninterrupted minutes per day, for 10 consecutive days, talking with a selected student about nonacademic and nonbehavioral matters.  During these brief conversations, the teacher can identify personal connections while discussing the student’s interests.

Whether you are a new teacher or a returning teacher, using quick and simple strategies like two-by-ten, providing positive feedback, and completing student surveys (and using them for lesson planning) can help build positive relationships with your students. Purposeful planning for opportunities to build positive relationships with students is a vital aspect of laying a strong foundation for a secure and positive classroom environment.  Students try harder when they perceive a caring and supportive relationship with their teachers (Wentzel, 2003).  This school year we can help students try their best by building strong relationships. 

Additional Resources

The following resource provides more information on how to effectively use praise in the classroom with examples of praise statements and self-monitoring ideas for teachers.


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.

Dika, S. L., & Singh, K. (2002). Applications of social capital in educational literature: A critical synthesis. Review of Educational Research, 72(1), 31-60.

Gable, R. A. (1991). Forced-choice reinforcement survey. From Cartwright, C. A., & Cartwright, P. (1970). Determining the motivational systems of individual children. Teaching Exceptional Children, 2(3), 143-149.

Gould, E. (2015). Teacher practices that support positive academic and behavioral outcomes for students. The College of William and Mary T/TAC Link Lines. Retrieved from

Hamre, B. K., & Pianta, R. C. (2001). Early teacher-child relationships and the trajectory of children’s school outcomes through eighth grade. Child Development, 72(2), 625-638.

Hughes, J. N., Cavell, T. A., & Willson, V. (2001). Further support for the developmental significance of the quality of the teacher-student relationship. Journal of School Psychology, 39(4), 289-301.

McKibben, S. (2014). The two-minute relationship builder. Education Update56(7). Retrieved from

Midgley, C., Feldlaufer, H., & Eccles, J. S. (1989). Student/teacher relations and attitudes toward mathematics before and after the transition to junior high school. Child  Development, 60, 981-992.

Murray, C., & Malmgren, K. (2005). Implementing a teacher-student relationship program in a high-poverty urban school: Effects on social, emotional, and academic adjustment and lessons learned. Journal of School Psychology, 43(2), 137-152.

Orth, U., Robins, R. W., & Widaman, K. F. (2012). Life-span development of self-esteem and its effects on important life outcomes. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,102(6), 1271-1288.

Virginia Department of Education. (2017). One pager. I’m Determined Project. Retrieved from

Wentzel, K. R. (2003). Sociometric status and adjustment in middle school: A longitudinal study. The Journal of Early Adolescence, 23(1), 5-28.


Maximizing Instructional Time through Structured Conversations

Every school year teachers ask themselves, “How can I create a class where students collaborate with one another as well as with me?” The answer to this question is cooperative learning.

Cooperative learning is a successful teaching strategy in which small teams of students with differing ability levels use a variety of learning activities to improve their understanding of a subject. Each member of a team is responsible for learning what is taught and also for helping teammates learn, thus creating an atmosphere of achievement (Balkcom,1992) and interdependence. The comprehension process is accelerated when structures are in place that promote this level of dialogue (Bucalos & Lingo, 2005).

Many educators have heard of or may even be using varying forms of cooperative learning to promote student engagement. Cooperative learning incorporates many forms of student engagement; one of these is structured conversations. When teachers do most of the talking and when most interactions occur between a few students and the teacher, the students who are not involved in the conversation have tacit permission to disengage. And because they are not engaged, they become bored and often off task.  Students who are not encouraged to communicate frequently will not learn to communicate well. On the other hand, when students take part in paired or group discussions, they are involved and engaged in their own learning (Nash, 2009), and learning increases.

Students require explicit instruction to learn to participate meaningfully in structured conversation. When deciding to implement structured conversation into the class routine, the teacher should plan to provide explicit instruction on conversational techniques for the first two weeks of the school year (or longer), followed by refresher mini-lessons throughout the academic school year. Further, the teacher must provide the students with consistent positive verbal reinforcement throughout their learning day to reinforce effective structured conversation techniques. Structured conversations provide students with an opportunity to process information and develop communication skills (Nash, 2009).

Cooperative Structures That Support Structured Conversations

The cooperative learning structures listed below are examples of evidence-based structures that have been shown to positively influence student learning and engagement in an inclusive classroom.

Numbered Heads Together (Kagan & Kagan, 2009a)

Numbered Heads Together maximizes team cooperation and peer tutoring. Teams of four number off, one through four. Each teammate has an assigned number. The teacher poses a higher-order thinking question to the class. The teams stand up and work together to answer the question and ensure that all members can adequately explain the team’s answer. Once the team has agreed that all members can explain their thinking, the team sits down. When all the teams are seated, the teacher randomly calls out a number, and the student assigned to that number explains his or her team’s answer. Students can respond using response cards, individual chalkboards, or orally. Numbered Heads Together increases individual and team accountability along with teamwork.

RallyRobin (Kagan & Kagan, 2009b)

RallyRobin involves partner responses within a team of four. The team is asked to turn to a team member to partner in order to provide a response to teacher-directed problems or questions. The teacher poses a problem for which there are several correct responses or solutions, and provides think time.  Students take turns with their partners to state responses or solutions. This structure may be implemented in different variations; however, the goal is to teach students how to engage in structured conversation.

Timed Pair Activity (Nash, 2009)

In Timed Pair Activity, the teacher gives the students a list of topics and asks them to pick a topic to discuss. The students are paired and given a set length of time to discuss the topic. This is an opportunity for the teacher to observe the conversation and to circulate around the room listening to all of the student pairs.

Teaching students to participate in structured conversation can help the teacher to regain lost instructional time and assist the students in facilitating their own learning while teaching them how to invest in their academic future.  Students who are taught to participate in structured conversations will be able to generalize this skill to every aspect of their lives.

Additional Resources

  • The College of William and Mary Training and Technical Assistance Center newsletter article Cooperative Learning Techniques for Active Student Engagement (Davis-Perry, 2014) provides additional methods to enhance active learning for all students.talkingaboutteaching
  • Caring and Control Create a Safe, Positive Classroom
    Retrieved from the IRIS Resource Locator
    Description: This is a video of a third-grade teacher who taught and implemented structures with in her classroom to assist with classroom management and learning.  Jim Knight conducted an observation of the teacher’s classroom and they meet to discuss what he observed and to provide feedback. For more information regarding this video, please refer to Susan Jones’ article in this Link Lines edition, Video Introduction: Building Positive Classroom Relationships to Engage Students.
  • The College of William and Mary Training and Technical Assistance Center newsletter article Cooperative Learning in Inclusive Classrooms: Students Who Work Together, Learn Together (Emerson, 2013) provides additional methods to enhance active learning for all students.


Balkcom, S. (1992). Cooperative learning (ED/OERI Issue Number1). Retrieved from

Bucalos, A. L., & Lingo, A. S. (2005). Filling the potholes in the road to inclusion: Successful research-based strategies for intermediate and middle school students with mild   disabilities. TEACHING Exceptional Children Plus, 1(4) Article 1. Retrieved from

Kagan, S., & Kagan, M. (2009). Kagan cooperative learning. San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing.

Nash, R. (2009). The active classroom: Practical strategies for involving students in the learning process. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.


Laying the Foundation for Standards-based Data-driven Specially Designed Instruction

Specially designed instruction (SDI) provides students with disabilities (SWD) the opportunity to make progress in the general education curriculum (IDEA, 2004). A student’s Individualized Educational Program (IEP) is supposed to provide the roadmap for special and general educators. Unfortunately, it is not unusual for special educators to become overwhelmed with the simultaneous demands of IEP development, scheduling IEP meetings, and standardized testing in the spring.

The problem with the spring timing of the Virginia Standards of Learning (SOL) assessments and IEP development for the next school year is that the IEP is frequently developed without the benefit of student outcome data on the SOL assessment. Any disconnect between IEP goal development and student performance on the SOL assessment can lead to an instructional gap that limits opportunities for SWD to make progress in the general education curriculum. While new IEP goals must be based on a student’s individual needs and other student progress monitoring measures, there must be a connection to the grade-level general education curriculum, as measured by the SOL assessment during assessment years.

Although teachers know whether a given student passed or failed an SOL assessment before designing instruction, they may not know that they can analyze skill performance more in-depth in the Student Detail by Question (SDBQ) report.  That is, the SDBQ report provides details within the reporting categories on the SOL Test Blueprints that may be used to guide more targeted standards-based IEP goal development and SDI.  These targets, in turn, may provide students a more realistic opportunity to make progress in the general education curriculum.

To illustrate, a sixth-grade student performed well on questions relating to synonyms, context clues, and a lower-level question requiring him to apply knowledge of affixes (see Figure 1). However, when presented with medium-level questions requiring application of knowledge of word relationships and affixes, he did not respond correctly. These results suggest that SDI focused on word analysis strategies may be appropriate. If this student is to successfully move through middle and high school, effective word analysis is critical.

Figure 1. Grade 6 Reading SDBQ Report:  Use Word Analysis Strategies and Word Reference Materials


(Virginia Department of Education [VDOE], 2017)

The same sixth-grade student was successful with fictional text on medium-level questions focused on characterization, author’s organizational pattern, and plot development, but struggled with lower-level questions about how story elements impact plot development and the use of implied information and textual support to make inferences (see Figure 2). This suggests that the student may benefit from SDI focused on comprehension strategies in fictional texts, with specific attention to story elements, plot development, and inferencing.


Figure 2. Grade 6 Reading SDBQ Report: Demonstrate Comprehension of Fictional Texts


(VDOE, 2017)

In comprehending nonfiction texts, the same sixth-grade student was successful with medium-level questions related to an author’s organizational pattern, cause and effect, and drawing conclusions on explicit information using textual support (see Figure 3). The student’s success with an author’s organizational pattern in both fiction and nonfiction texts suggests that this is an area of strength across genres and that similar structures might be used to support areas of weakness. The missed question about the use of text structures to categorize information implies a possible gap in knowledge worth consideration for Tier 1 instruction with possible connections to specific SDI. Additionally, the missed question about comparison relationships suggests that the student lacks strategies for analyzing nonfiction texts. This information should be considered when setting goals and designing instruction for this student during his seventh-grade year.

Figure 3. Grade 6 Reading SDBQ Report:  Demonstrate Comprehension of Nonfiction Texts


(VDOE, 2017)

When SDBQ reports are available for SWD in specific content areas, they should be fully analyzed for connections to IEP goals and SDI for the upcoming school year. Teachers should seek out all available skill-specific data rather than relying solely on SOL pass rates. Additional sources of skill-specific data are noted in Strategic and Specially Designed Instruction: Leveraging Data Sources to Ensure General Curriculum Access (Buyrn, 2016). Every missed question on an SOL assessment does not necessarily indicate a need for specific SDI, but it provides data worth consideration and further investigation as special and general educators plan a course for the upcoming school year.

The SDBQ can also uncover areas of focus for Tier 1 instruction. An effective program for SWD includes Tier 1 instruction informed by previous outcome data from all students and individualized goals and SDI that align with the general education curriculum.  If special educators uncover gaps between students’ IEP goals and the standards-based assessment data in the fall, they should adjust those goals and ensure that SDI rises to the level of need and expectation so that teachers and students can hit the ground running. If standards-based goals are well aligned with both student need and targeted SDI, ongoing formative assessment and progress monitoring measures will help chart a course for success across the school year.

Teachers interested in effective classroom assessment strategies may wish to access the IRIS Center Modules Classroom Assessment (Part 1):  An Introduction to Monitoring Academic Achievement in the Classroom (2004) and Classroom Assessment (Part 2): Evaluating Reading Progress (2005). Ongoing formative assessment practices aligned with summative assessment measures l provide a connected and strategic instructional foundation for SWD. These modules provide specific practices and models that will help teachers make these vital connections.


Buyrn, C. A. (2017, February). Strategic and specially designed instruction:  Leveraging data sources to ensure general curriculum access. Training and Technical Assistance Center at the College of William and Mary:  Link Lines Newsletter. Retrieved from

Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act, 20 U.S.C. §300. (2004). Retrieved from

The IRIS Center. (2004). Classroom assessment (part 1):  An introduction to monitoring academic achievement in the classroom. Retrieved from

The IRIS Center. (2005). Classroom assessment (part 2):  Evaluating reading progress. Retrieved from

Virginia Department of Education. (2017). Student detail by question report. Richmond, VA: Author.

Inclusion: What, Why, and How?

Inclusive practices are vital to providing students with authentic experiences in diversity and meeting the unique needs of all learners (McGregor & Vogelsberg, 1998; Staub & Peck, 1995). With ongoing collaboration and strategic planning, school communities embrace inclusion by adopting a growth mindset to address student needs. Inclusive schools welcome all local students, with varying performance levels and learning styles, to attend their neighborhood schools, which is why a shared ownership mentality is imperative for success (Janney & Snell, 2013).

Individualized Education Program (IEP) teams often conclude that general education classes are the appropriate placement for students with disabilities. Therefore, school personnel must provide meaningful specially designed instruction (SDI) in that setting through natural opportunities for targeted academic, social, and adaptive skills for these students. When preparing for successful inclusion, it is important to seek a common understanding of the term, and discuss research and practical elements necessary to meet the needs of all students within the school community.

What Is inclusion?

The Inclusive Schools Network defines inclusive education as that in which, “all students are full and accepted members of their school community, in which their educational setting is the same as their nondisabled peers, whenever appropriate” (Stetson & Associates, 2017). Table 1 lists an overview of facts and myths about inclusion.

Table 1

Facts and Myths

Inclusion DOES mean:

Inclusion DOES NOT mean:

  • Teaching students with disabilities in neighborhood schools.
  • Having a shared ownership of all students among staff.
  • Embedding related services into typical daily schedules.
  • Providing guidance and support to general and special education teachers and administration.
  • Scheduling students with disabilities in classes, the cafeteria, library, and other facilities along with same-age peers per their IEP.
  • Planning in advance for academic and extracurricular activities to involve students with disabilities.
  • Involving parents in the planning process.
  • Teaching all students to understand and embrace human diversity.
  • Providing meaningful opportunities for students with disabilities to contribute to the school community.
  • Providing specially designed instruction and accommodations.
  • Scheduling common planning for co-teachers.
  • Scheduling students with disabilities in general education classes without supports.
  • Determining placement for students with disabilities based on their eligibility identification alone.
  • Isolating students with disabilities in a separate wing of the school.
  • Using a push-in model for older students with disabilities in a classroom with younger children.
  • Maintaining separate daily schedules for students with disabilities and their nondisabled peers.
  • Ignoring student needs and parent concerns.
  • Presenting students with disabilities as needing sympathy and help from other peers.
  • Setting unreasonable expectations for teachers and administrators.
  • Placing all students with disabilities in one general education classroom per grade level.
  • Discounting pull-out services as an option to address targeted skills in addition to instruction in the general education class.


Adapted from Malatchi (1995).

Why Is Inclusion Important?

When schools faithfully implement inclusive education for students with varied disabilities, all parties involved benefit. Not only does inclusion encourage social interaction for students with disabilities, it can also increase academic outcomes for students without disabilities (Choi, Meisenheimer, McCart & Sailor, 2017; Janney & Snell, 2013). The potential benefits to teaching students with and without disabilities in the same classroom are summarized in Table 2.

Table 2
Demonstrated Benefits of Inclusion

Benefits for Students With Disabilities

Benefits for Students Without Disabilities

  • Increased reading achievement for students with mild disabilities when given specially designed instruction in an inclusive setting with additional targeted pull-out services compared to results from instruction in a resource room alone (Marston, 1996).
  • Less student reliance on adults and greater utilization of peer supports (Helmstetter, Curry, Brennan, & Sampson-Saul, 1998).
  • More direct instruction, improved attendance and behavior, and increased student independence after high school (Wagner, Newman, Cameto, & Levine, 2006).
  • More growth on yearly state tests in reading and math in comparison to other noninclusive schools (Choi et al., 2017).
  • No significant difference in academic performance or report card behavior ratings when compared to students without disabilities in noninclusive general education classes (Sharpe, York, & Knight, 1994).
  • Opportunities for peer tutoring and support, and increased student participation and spelling performance (Carter, Cushing, Clark, & Kennedy, 2005; Dawson et al., 1999).


Aside from student-centered benefits, embracing an inclusive school model ensures compliance with the least restrictive environment (LRE) requirements in Section 612(a)(5) of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (2004), which states “to the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities are educated with children who are not disabled.”  While the law does not define inclusion, it is a worthy philosophy for students and staff (Pitonyak, 2017). Inclusion, when implemented with fidelity, provides access to meaningful academic and social instruction for all students and promotes acceptance, which is essential as we prepare students to transition as contributing members of society.

How Do I Get Started?

Structural tools are important for shifting inclusion from a philosophical idea to a common practice.  One resource that can assist in implementing inclusion for students within the general education setting is the IEP Planning/Recording for an Inclusive Classroom matrix, which is intended for weekly lesson planning and data collection around specially designed instruction.

The example in Figure 1 shows target percentages and results for individualized student goals.  The lesson design and formative assessment techniques were determined before instruction was delivered. The data results (shown in red and green) were recorded soon after instruction to allow for analysis to guide further prescriptive planning for explicit instruction on progressing IEP goals.

Figure 1. IEP planning/recording for an inclusive classroom.IEP Planning Recording

The Classroom Accommodations Grid (see Figure 2) displays an at-a-glance classroom profile of individualized student accommodations used by teachers during planning, instruction, and assessments to ensure that all students with disabilities have access to the general education curriculum.  As illustrated, accommodations were listed horizontally at the top with student initials on the side.  The special education and general education teachers collaboratively examined student IEPs to determine which accommodations needed to be targeted on the grid.

Figure 2. Classroom accommodations grid.         classroomaccommodations

Research supports inclusive practices as a method of improving outcomes for students (Carter et al., 2005; Choi et al., 1999, Dawson et al., 2017; Wagner et al., 2006). One teacher described the profound urgency of inclusion by sharing a distinctive observation, “Some kids reach out to everybody, but I’ve seen a few kids who have been saved by having somebody to care for in almost an unconditional way” (as cited in Staub & Peck, 1995, p. 3).   When educators loyally practice a shared ownership approach to inclusion, it positively influences the quality of life for all students.

Additional Resources

Refer to the following Link Lines articles from T/TAC at the College of William and Mary for additional information on quality indicators for inclusive practices, creating master schedules to support inclusion, and designing lessons for an inclusive classroom.

Access TTAC Online to explore products created by the Real Co-Teachers of Virginia- Middle & High and Real Co-Teachers of Virginia-Elementary, such as co-taught lessons, planning tools, and other resources for including students with disabilities in a co-taught classroom.

View a video testimonial from educator Cyndi Pitonyak on how to move a county to inclusion. Cyndi shares her story as a witness to the success of inclusion in southwest Virginia.


Carter, E. W., Cushing, L. S., Clark, N. M., & Kennedy, C. H. (2005). Effects of peer support interventions on students’ access to the general curriculum and social interactions. Research and Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities, 30(1), 15-25. Retrieved from

Choi, J. H., Meisenheimer, J. M., McCart, A. B., & Sailor, W. (2017). Improving learning for all students through equity-based inclusive reform practices: Effectiveness of a fully integrated schoolwide model on student reading and math achievement. Remedial and Special Education, 38(1) 28-41. doi:10.1177/0741932516644054

Dawson, H., Delquadri, J., Greenwood, C., Hamilton, S., Ledford, D., Mortweet, S., Reddy, S., … & Walker, D. (1999). Class-wide peer tutoring: Teaching students with mild retardation in inclusive classrooms. Exceptional Children, 65(4), 524-536. Retrieved from

Helmstetter, E., Curry, C., Brennan, M., & Sampson-Saul, M. (1998). Comparison of general and special education classrooms of students with severe disabilities. Education and Training in Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, 33(3), 216-227. Retrieved from

Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act, 20 U.S.C. § 612 (2004). Retrieved from

Janney, R.,  & Snell, M. (2013). Characteristics of inclusive schools. In R. Janney & M. Snell (Eds.), Modifying schoolwork (3rd ed., pp. 5, 65). Baltimore, MD: Brookes.

Malatchi, A. (1995). Defining integration. The Collaborator, 4(3). Retrieved from

Marston, D. (1996). A comparison of inclusion only, pull-out only, and combined service models for students with mild disabilities. Journal of Special Education, 30(2), 121-132. Retrieved from

McGregor, G., & Vogelsberg, R. T. (1998). Inclusive schooling practices: Pedagogical and research foundations. A synthesis of the literature that informs best practices about inclusive schooling. Baltimore, MD: Brookes Publishing. Retrieved from

Pitonyak, C. (2017, March 14). Inclusion: What does it mean and who is it for? [Webcast]. Retrieved from VCU Autism Center for Excellence.

Sharpe, M. N., York, J. L., & Knight, J. (1994). Effects of inclusion on the academic performance of classmates without disabilities: A preliminary study. Remedial & Special Education, 15(5), 281.  Retrieved from

Staub, D., & Peck, C. A. (1995). What are the outcomes for non-disabled students? Educational Leadership, 52, 36-40. Retrieved from:¢.aspx

Stetson & Associates, Inc. (2017). Inclusion basics [Web log post]. Retrieved from

Stowe, M. (2015, September/October). Lesson design for an inclusive classroom. T/TAC Link Lines. Retrieved from

Wagner, M., Newman, L., Cameto, R., & Levine, P. (2006). The academic achievement and functional performance of youth with disabilities: A report from the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 (NLTS2) (NCSER 2006-3000). Menlo Park, CA: SRI International. Retrieved from

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.


Engagement Survey

T/TAC W&M, in an effort to tailor our newsletter offerings to your particular needs, has provided a brief survey below on topics related to classroom engagement. Please take a moment to respond so that our upcoming newsletters reflect your interests in this area.

Classroom Engagement Survey


Mastering Math Using the Proceduralizing Strategy

At all levels, math problem solving requires specific, ordered steps.  Simple recall of steps is only a small part of the process.  The desired learning outcome is for students to be able to identify the appropriate procedure and to understand how to apply it and why it works.  Students with disabilities and other students who struggle with math may have difficulty remembering, understanding, and/or executing steps in the problem-solving process.  The Proceduralizing Strategy (Thomas, Brunsting, & Warrick, 2010), when used throughout Tier 1, 2, and 3 instruction, can reduce barriers with recall and application.

Proceduralizing supports students in mastering recall, comprehension, and application of procedural steps.  With the increased rigor and the addition of open-ended questions on the Standards of Learning Assessments in Virginia, skill mastery is crucial to students’ mathematical success.  Students with disabilities benefit from instructional approaches, including explicit and systematic instruction, think-alouds (Vaughn, Wanzek, Murray, & Roberts, 2012), and peer coaching (McDuffie, Mastropieri, & Scruggs, 2009).  The Proceduralizing Strategy encompasses all of these techniques and could serve as a vehicle to help students with disabilities master certain math skills.

The National Council for Teachers of Mathematics (2000) promotes application of math knowledge using the Process Standards:  problem solving, reasoning and proof, communication, connections and representations.  Math lessons, therefore, should include opportunities for students to express their understanding using one or more skills related to those standards.  The Proceduralizing Strategy addresses the problem solving and communication standards, and teachers can use this flexible strategy to present new information in whole-group instruction in Tier 1 or as specialized instruction to reinforce and remediate in Tiers 2 and 3.  For example, teachers can intensify instruction in the upper tiers by chunking and providing written prompts and cues.

The steps for Proceduralizing are noted in Figure 1.

Figure 1.  Proceduralizing Strategy steps.

mathimage (Adapted from Thomas et al., 2010, pp. 26-27)

Classroom Example

The following provides a classroom example showing how the Proceduralizing Strategy may be used to teach students slope and writing linear equations.  A similar process may be used for teaching other math strategies as well.

Choose a Procedure

An important procedure in Algebra 1 (VA SOL A.6) is determining the slope between two points and producing the equation of the line.  Students need to understand and apply this procedure in Geometry, Algebra 2, and beyond.  The Proceduralizing Strategy may be used to create mastery around this skill.

Model the Procedure

Teachers can model the procedure using an example that clearly and concisely demonstrates the steps needed to solve the problem.  Avoid complicated examples that contain skills that might distract from the flow of the steps needed to solve a problem (e.g., how to add and subtract fractions, adding and subtracting integers, or denominators of zero).  Teach and review any prerequisite skills prior to modeling using exit tickets or class warm-ups to address common student barriers.

Example:  Find the slope and equation of the line passing through the points (8, 4) and (5,10).  Below is a list of four general steps to be used during the modeling portion of this procedure. Cues are noted in bold.

Step #1:   LABEL your points.

One point is (X1, Y1), the second point is (X2, Y2).

Step #2:  Find the SLOPE between the two points.

Substitute values into the slope formula.

m = (Y1 – Y2)/(X1 – X2). Now simplify to determine the value of the slope.

Step #3:  Solve for b (y-INTERCEPT) of the line.

Write down y = mx + b.  Substitute the X1 value for x, the Y1 value for y and the slope value for m.  Solve this equation for b.

Step #4:  Write the EQUATION for the line between the two points.

Write down y = mx + b.  This time, substitute only the slope value for m and b value for b.  Leave y and x as variables in your final answer.

Discuss the Procedure

When modeling math strategies, the think-aloud approach is helpful.  Saying aloud the thinking that goes into each step of the procedure is beneficial for the student as well as for the teacher.  That is, the student is able to hear how to maneuver through a problem using appropriate questions and connections, and the teacher, listening to students problem-solve by thinking aloud, gains a formative evaluation, revealing what the student does and does not understand.  Teaching students to softly think aloud as they work provides a method for them to “… stay focused on their work and organize their mathematical thoughts …” (Lee, 2015, p. 285).  Students needing explicit instruction on how think-alouds work may be provided with prompts and sentence starters such as the following to help them attack the problem.

  • “What is the problem asking me to figure out? I am trying to figure out …”
  • “What strategy/formula/equation do I need? The strategy/formula/equation I will use is … because …”
  • “What information do I need in order to use that strategy/formula/equation? I need to know …”
  • “Do I have all the information I need? If not, how can I get the pieces I am missing?  I have … and still need …”

Teachers can model a similar question-and-answer approach each time they present a problem to demonstrate the mental process used in all stages of problem solving.

Coach Students in Writing Steps

The first problem modeled should be followed by a second example, with the teacher continuing to model the procedure using the think-aloud approach to allow students to write each step in their own words.  The object is not to have them copy predetermined steps, but to give students the opportunity to internalize and gain ownership and autonomy by writing the steps in their own words and in a manner that holds most meaning to them.  The teacher’s role, in turn, is to coach students in recording steps that remain general enough to apply across several problems.

Partner Discussion and Peer Coaching

Once students have recorded their steps, they are grouped in pairs to discuss their steps and work through two practice problems.  Groups of three may be provided three practice problems.  Problems should be comparable to those modeled during instruction; avoid complex examples that may divert focus from the procedure to mathematical operations that may derail students.

One at a time, students work through a problem without the use of their written steps while their partner coaches them using his or her own written steps as a reference.  This opportunity for peer coaching allows students to explain the problem, get immediate feedback, and execute the steps on their own for the first time.  By providing student groups with the solutions to their problems, they receive immediate feedback on their execution of the procedure, which supports their accurate application of the process.

Class Reflection

After all students have had an opportunity to work through one practice problem, the teacher facilitates a class discussion in which students share their experiences – both positive and challenging – as coaches and problem solvers.  Students then add to or adjust their steps, if needed.

Independent Practice

For independent practice, assign an exit ticket, classwork and/or homework using the procedure on simple problems before progressing to more difficult problems.

Proceduralizing In the Co-Taught Classroom

Co-teachers can use proceduralizing to address varying levels of student needs.  Using this strategy within a co-teaching approach allows teachers to monitor how students word their steps, coach their peers, and understand the application of the procedure.  Further information on co-teaching approaches may be found in the Co-Teaching Considerations Packet.

Parallel teaching (Tier 1) allows students more opportunities to ask questions of and respond to questions from the teacher or peers.  Teachers can use alternative teaching (Tier 2 or 3) when a smaller group needs more intense instruction than can be provided in the whole group.  Students in the smaller group practice further with the Proceduralizing Strategy, while the other students, who may not require such a formalized procedure, practice with a less explicit method.  Co-teachers could use One Teach, One Observe to collect data to inform future instruction.  For instance, one teacher observes students, making note of:

  • students having difficulty with writing the steps in their own words;
  • student interactions during peer coaching;
  • teacher wait time; and
  • effectiveness of the think-aloud process.

Further, utilizing the Team Teaching approach with this strategy, one co-teacher could clarify steps or model mental questioning during the problem solving while the other co-teacher answers.  The possibilities are endless.

In summary, the Proceduralizing Strategy allows students to learn math content through explicit and systematic instruction, think-alouds, and peer coaching.  They then use communication and problem solving to demonstrate their math knowledge.  This strategy is packed with effective approaches that support students with disabilities and other students who struggle in math.


Lee, J. (2015). “Oh, I just had it in my head”:  Promoting mathematical communications in early childhood.  Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, 16(3), 284-287. doi:10.1177/14639491156 00054

McDuffie, K. A., Mastropieri, M., & Scruggs, T. E. (2009). Differential effects of peer tutoring in co-taught and non-co-taught classes: Results for content learning and student-teacher interactions. Exceptional Children, 75(4), 493–510.

National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. (2000). Principles and standards for school mathematics. Retrieved from

Thomas, E. J., Brunsting, J. R., & Warrick, P. L. (2010).  Styles and strategies for teaching high school mathematics: 21 techniques for differentiating instruction and assessment.  Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Vaughn, S., Wanzek, J., Murray, C. S., & Roberts, G. (2012). Intensive interventions for students struggling in reading and mathematics: A practice guide. Portsmouth, NH: RMC Research Corporation, Center on Instruction.  Retrieved from

Balanced Rosters in Co-Taught Classes: A Critical Factor in Successful Co-Teaching

Administrators consider a number of factors when planning for co-taught classroom assignments. At the top of the list is thoughtful personnel assignment. While matching co-teaching partners based on their skills and collaborative styles is extremely important, careful consideration of the students assigned to their classes is just as critical. Administrators should not automatically place every student with an Individualized Educational Program (IEP) in a co-taught class (Friend, Hamby, & McAdams, 2014). Similarly, they should avoid the temptation to assign students with 504 Plans, students who are English Language Learners (ELL), students with behavioral concerns, and other struggling learners to co-taught classrooms. [Read more…]

Creating a Master Schedule that Supports Inclusive Practices

Creating a Master Schedule that Supports Inclusive Practices, an article from the May/June 2012 edition of Link Lines, provides steps for ensuring that the master schedule supports inclusion of students with disabilities in general education classrooms.  This article includes detailed tips for balancing class rosters.

Reading Resource Guide

As announced in our last edition of Link Lines, we have new products to help newsletter readers find valuable educational resources related to topics including student engagement, classroom management, and co-teaching.  We have compiled current online resources, arranged them by media type, highlighted the five we found most helpful to practitioners, and identified those that are family-friendly.  View the Reading Resource Guide, compiled by Christine Peterson.  We will share additional guides in the 2017-18 editions of Link Lines.