Establishing RapportRecently, I was speaking with a successful high school teacher, who happened to be the coach for boy’s sports. He usually went to school in the family car, which was an Escalade SUV, but he did own a hot sports car – a classic - an older Porche. When I asked why he was taking the Porche to school that day, he replied that he took the sports car in from time to time, just to increase his prestige.
What he meant by “prestige” refers to an elusive quality called rapport. Rapport is today a carefully studied and researched aspect of teaching. This is for an important reason – it has been found that the best teachers have a knack for gaining rapport. Rapport is akin to respect, but respect is mixed with a certain ease and familiarity. Rapport is essential to “a good working relationship.”
Rapport means that the students in some sense feel “close to” or “respect for” the teacher. This happens for many reasons, but one of the best reasons for rapport is that the students see the teacher working very hard and trying very hard to educate them. Trust is a big part of rapport. Rapport means the students feel they are “in good hands” in the classroom. When there is rapport, the students feel they understand and appreciate the teacher, and also feel the teacher understands and appreciates them. Rapport can be defined as “mutual respect and affection.”
What I call “teacher radar” is part of rapport. Rapport is enhanced when the teacher is always aware of what is going on in the class at all times, and reacts to it authentically. In other words, if you ask how students are feeling, notice anything new, laugh when little accidents take place - aal this helps to build rapport. A good teacher reacts to the mood in the room and also leads the mood in better directions when necessary. A good teacher checks to make sure they are being understood.
Humor can be an essential aspect of rapport. Students love to laugh, and humor, in general, helps to build rapport. But the use of humor has to be carefully reviewed and controlled. We can laugh, but it is essential to know when it is time to get back to work.
Rapport probably helps most during the “engage” part of the lesson plan. This is the first contact, the attempt to raise interest in the topic, perhaps the most important phase of all. During this phase, the teacher is most like an entertainer, trying to gain that elusive quality called rapport with an audience. If you have rapport, you can capture interest, and this is important. If the class does not take that first step, they aren’t likely to take the second and third ones, either.
A tricky aspect of rapport might be called “sharing the personal.” Some beginning teachers have terrible problems with “sharing personal information” in the classroom. Of course, the main lesson that needs to be learned is that the personal stays at home, and the classroom is for learning. It is usually a mistake to share personal information in a classroom.
But sometimes, in the classroom, there is an exception. If the teacher shares something personal, does it honestly and artfully, and stops at just the right point, it can help to develop rapport.
The delicate contradiction in rapport is that the teacher has to be capable of building rapport – of being “cool,” as it was usually put in schools where I taught – but that can never happen if a teacher tries to be cool. To try to be cool and not bring it off is to lose the whole battle.
At Coachella Valley High School, where I taught remedial english
, the students were 99% Hispanic and had very poor english
language skills. The most “cool” teacher in the english
department was Mr. Iguerra. He was Hispanic, he was single, he lived in Mexicali – and when it was time to celebrate at the school, he fired up the barbecue and made carne asada for the kids. That’s cool, if you are a Hispanic teenager.
But the point is Mr Iguerra used his good rapport with the students to excellent educational effect. Rapport enough is not alone. He was an organized, experienced teacher, who knew how to conduct class and how to teach lessons. Rapport just enables the door to open, to get you started. Then you have to teach.
The process of building rapport is highly personal, and no one rule will work for every teacher and every situation. The students may have loved Mr. Iguerra because of their cultural ideals and because of the carne asada. But I was Caucasian, not Hispanic. Carne Asada wouldn’t work for me. I had to earn my respect from those students in my own way. That is always the case with rapport.