Social Psychology Network

Maintained by Scott Plous, Wesleyan University

Creating Rapport in the Classroom

  The following material is based on an article by William Buskist and Bryan K. Saville entitled "Creating Positive Emotional Contexts for Enhancing Teaching and Learning" (reprinted by permission from the March, 2001, issue of the APS Observer, pp. 12-13, 19).

Creating Positive Emotional Contexts for Enhancing Teaching and Learning

William Buskist and Bryan K. Saville
Auburn University

Rapport is tricky to understand. Perhaps that is why the voluminous literature on college and university teaching essentially ignores it. Rapport has been avoided in favor of other variables, such as methods of teaching, modes of testing, and techniques of assessing teaching effectiveness, which can be more readily conceptualized and manipulated. Nonetheless, it is worth considering the role of rapport if for no other reason than its contributions to effective teaching.

To gain a bit of insight into this matter, we surveyed several hundred Auburn University undergraduates enrolled in an introductory level psychology course and asked them to tell us three things: (i) the extent to which they have experienced rapport in their classes; (ii) the things that teachers do to develop rapport with them; and (iii) how rapport affects their academic behavior.

Only slightly more than half of the students reported that they had experienced rapport with a professor. These students told us that the most common teacher behaviors contributing to the development of rapport were, in order: showing a sense of humor; availability before, after, or outside of class; encouraging class discussion; showing interest in them, knowing students' names; sharing personal insights and experiences with the class; relating course material in everyday terms and examples; and understanding that students occasionally have problems arise that inadvertently hinder their progress in their courses. Finally, the students also told us that the most common positive effects of rapport on their academic behavior were, in order: to increase their enjoyment of the teacher and subject matter; to motivate them to come to class more often, and to pay more attention in class. Thus, rapport seems to facilitate both student motivation for learning and their enjoyment of the course, and enhances student receptivity to what is being taught.

Tips for Rapport-Building

How might we build rapport with our students? Try any or all of the following suggestions for developing rapport with your students:

  • Learn to call your students by name.
  • Learn something about your students' interests, hobbies, and aspirations.
  • Create and use personally relevant class examples.
  • Arrive to class early and stay late -- and chat with your students.
  • Explain your course policies -- and why they are what they are.
  • Post and keep office hours.
  • Get online -- use e-mail to increase accessibility to your students.
  • Interact more, lecture less -- emphasize active learning.
  • Reward student comments and questions with verbal praise;
  • Be enthusiastic about teaching and passionate about your subject matter.
  • Lighten up -- crack a joke now and then.
  • Be humble and, when appropriate, self-deprecating.
  • Make eye contact with each student -- without staring, glaring, or flaring.
  • Be respectful.
  • Don't forget to smile!

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