October 5th, 2010

Building Rapport with Your Students

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Rapport, defined as “the ability to maintain harmonious relationships based on affinity” (a definition cited in the article referenced below), is more colloquially thought of as what happens when two people “click”—they connect, interact well, and respond to each other favorably.

Often it happens when two people are very much alike or have lots in common. That’s one of the reasons it isn’t always easy for professors to establish rapport with students—sometimes there’s a big age difference; others times it’s having few (if any) shared interests. However, there are good reasons for faculty to work on establishing rapport with students. The article referenced below lists outcomes, all established by research, that result when rapport is established.

Here’s a selection from the larger list that does seem particularly relevant and that is supported by some research involving teachers and students.

  • Higher motivation—When students feel rapport with their teachers and feel that their teacher’s personalities are something like their own, motivation is higher.
  • Increased comfort—When there is rapport, students tend to answer more freely and with a greater degree of frankness.
  • Increased quality—In a degree program, when students feel rapport with faculty, their perceptions of the quality of that program increase.
  • Satisfaction—Rapport leads to satisfaction—supported by much research, including research done in classrooms. When students report having rapport with the instructor, their satisfaction with the course increases.
  • Enhanced communication—As rapport grows, so does understanding and comprehension. Teachers and students understand each other better when there is rapport between them.
  • Trust—Sometimes trust is necessary for rapport to develop. But trust can also be an outcome. Once rapport has been established, trust between parties grows.

Rapport does not result in learning, but it certainly helps to create conditions conducive to learning—things like higher motivation, increased comfort, and enhanced communication. Teaching doesn’t always result in learning either, but, like rapport, it is one of those factors that can contribute positively to learning.

Five factors for building rapport
The researchers in this article queried business faculty about their perceptions of rapport—what must a teacher do to establish it with students? Five factors appeared almost twice as often as others.

  1. Respect. Teachers and students must show respect for each other, for the learning process, and for the institution where it is occurring.
  2. Approachability. Students have to feel comfortable coming to faculty and faculty must be willing to speak with students, after class, during office hours, via email, on campus.
  3. Open communication. Faculty must be honest. There needs to be consistency between what faculty say and what they do.
  4. Caring. Faculty must care about students; they must see and respond to them as individuals. They also need to care about learning and show that they want students to learn the material.
  5. Positive attitude. Faculty should have a sense of humor and be open to points of view other than their own.

Rapport is not something developed by announcement. Rapport is developed by actions—it results from things teachers do. The good news, as demonstrated by the content of this article, is that we know empirically what teachers can do to establish rapport. The even better news is that the actions required aren’t all that difficult to execute.

Reference: Granitz, N. A., Koernig, S. K., and Harich, K. R. (2009). Now it’s personal: Antecedents and outcomes of rapport between business faculty and their students. Journal of Marketing Education, 31 (1), 52-65.

Reprinted from Rapport: Why Having It Makes a Difference, The Teaching Professor, volume 23, number 6, page 2.