It’s All About the Relationships

How to Incorporate a Social Curriculum (+ 6 Pieces of Advice for Teachers)


To me, there is no more important facet of the classroom community than relationships. Standards, teaching methods, and the times may change, but strong relationships between teacher and student—and student and student—will ALWAYS be vital.

Regardless of the content you’re teaching, you can’t truly capture your students’ attention until you’ve captured their hearts. They need to know that you are truly there to help them.

My buddy, and founder of Teach Like a Rockstar, Hal Bowman, believes (and I do, too), that in those first weeks of the school year, you aren’t really even teaching curriculum. Sure, you’re teaching procedures and processes. But in those early days, you’re creating your classroom community—you’re starting to build those relationships that will serve you well the rest of the school year.

Love First, Teach Second

Here’s the thing: If you really want your students to excel in your classroom, love them first and teach them second.

If you take the time to build relationships—and trust—your kids are going to want to do more for you. They’ll be more receptive to taking risks and accepting challenges. They’ll learn faster, go further, and have more fun simply because they know you CARE and BELIEVE in them.

Belief is everything! And students need to hear that explicitly and often from the teachers who serve them.

“I believe in you. I know you’ve had difficulties, but I’ve seen your perseverance. Others may have given up by now … but not you. I believe in your strength and your ability to change your trajectory!”

There’s real power in those words!

Listen … 80% of average daily human thought is naturally negative. That’s why intentionally verbalizing these positive messages is so important. A classroom with this kind of positive energy—with an almost familial atmosphere—tells students of all ages that, first and foremost, they are loved, cared for, and safe.

Students show up for class more often and more willing to “do the work” when they feel part of something larger than themselves. They develop self-confidence and academic grit. And they are more willing to take academic risks when they feel confident enough to try—and secure enough to fail.

We often wrongly blame students when they don’t excel. By creating a classroom community where students feel connected and significant, you’re removing many of the barriers that can impede academic achievement.

Incorporating a Social Curriculum

When we talk about “creating a classroom community,” what we’re really talking about is teaching a social curriculum. And in my view, a social curriculum is infinitely more important than your academic curriculum.

Why? Because these social connections—these relationships—are the true path to academic achievement!

So … how do you go about incorporating a social curriculum in your classroom? Your exact methods may vary based on the students you’re teaching and your own personality. But here’s what you need to know to get started:

  • Start before the first student even enters the classroom. Greet your kids every morning with a touch (fist bump, handshake, high five) and encourage them to share these same greetings with the other students as they’re comfortable. The goal is to work up to greetings with eye contact for each and every student and adult by building comfort and confidence.
  • Neuroscience tells us that oxytocin (the “love hormone”) is released through positive touch. Many students (particularly challenging students) lack this in their home life. That’s why teaching ALL students to interact positively—through eye contact, handshakes, and kind personal greetings—is so important.
  • Begin the school year or grading term with activities that encourage positivity and team building. This will help students become more comfortable with you and each other. And because belief is such an important factor, I’ve found that many of my favorite activities come from the curriculum I teach in my Growth Mindset professional development workshop. This curriculum is heavily influenced by Carol Dweck’s work and is centered on her thesis that “The view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects your ability to succeed.”
  • Avoid launching immediately into content learning at the beginning of a term. Invest upfront energy to create solid relationships with your students and reap the benefits of classroom management and academic success throughout the year!
  • Model positive family dynamics in the classroom in everyday instructional activities and classroom procedures. For those students who don’t have a strong family dynamic at home, this is invaluable and can have lasting positive effects beyond a student’s school years.
  • Find ways for your students to contribute to your classroom family and the wider school community to encourage feelings of belonging and significance.
  • Don’t be afraid to use techniques and activities that are geared more toward elementary school in upper grades—even high school. The need for love, security, and belonging never goes away!

Advice for Teachers

You know the importance of a social curriculum—and the rewards that can result. But before you start incorporating this curriculum in your classroom, use this checklist to ensure you’re doing it the RIGHT way:

  1. Get Your Mindset Straight. To create a true family atmosphere in the classroom, you must truly believe in and love your students (and yourself).
  2. Give More, Get More. A positive classroom starts with you—the more positive energy you project, the more you’ll get back from students (and others, too!).
  3. Consider Your Challenging Students. Growth Mindset is key … but it must be strongly nurtured in students who are used to being labeled as “failures” due to poor grades or discipline.
  4. Stay Focused on the Things That Matter. Developing students’ character and teaching positive relationship dynamics is not for the faint of heart! Focus on the big picture and the benefits of what you’re doing when the “small stuff” starts to irritate you.
  5. Meet Your Students’ 5 Critical Needs. Kids need to feel Respected; Important; Included; Accepted; Secure. Be intentional with your care, and the rest will fall into place!
  6. Think Beyond the Classroom. Take your efforts school-wide by engaging ALL of the adults—from front-desk secretaries to food service staff—to be there for the students.

Subscribe to our blog today!