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Rapport – the magic of connection


Rapport is a connection, especially harmonious, or a sympathetic relationship. More simply thought of as “what happens when two people click”— they connect, interact well, and respond to each other favorably.

For a young person to feel rapport with boarding staff, they will need to feel a connection, feel understood and feel their concerns are highly regarded. When a point in the relationship is reached where a flow of information is happening naturally, that is called rapport.

Rapport is not synonymous with affection, and indeed a young person doesn’t have to like you to feel a rapport with you. However, they must feel safe and respected.

Rapport is developed by actions

Rapport results from things we can do, and they aren’t very difficult. Developing rapport is a delicate balance between an adult’s manner and abilities and the young person’s desire to trust. The young person’s emotional and mental condition or level of security will determine how quickly or how well you can develop rapport, and may be able to talk about difficult issues.

Never betray trust

We can only succeed if our manner garners trust and help young people open up. It is important that you don’t do anything to betray a young person’s trust, as it is very hard to come back from a breach of trust.

Our general demeanor and behavior around students is always being observed. If students have seen you being respectful, caring and considerate in general, they will be more likely to trust you. If you have been observed being disrespectful, flippant, rude or condescending towards any young people, it wont matter how you try to engage with a particular student, they will tend to have little trust or desire to build rapport.

Five factors influencing rapport

When researchers asked “what must a teacher do to establish rapport with students?” five factors appeared almost twice as often as others, and would apply equally to boarding staff as to teachers:

  • Respect. Supervisors must show respect for each other, for students, for the learning process, and for the institution where it is occurring.
  • Approachability. Students have to feel comfortable coming to staff and staff must be willing to speak with students, in any and varied situations.
  • Open communication. Staff must be honest. There needs to be consistency between what staff say, and what they do.
  • Caring. Staff 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.
  • Positive attitude. Staff should have a sense of humour and be open to points of view other than their own.

(Reference: Building Rapport with Your Students

By Maryellen Weimer, PhD in Teaching and Learning

– See more at:

Rapport building techniques

First Impressions – the first minute of interaction often has the power to set the tone. How you talk to students when you first meet them, first thing in the morning, welcoming students back into the residence after school, even the tone or atmosphere of the room plays a huge part. Nathan Hulls says we need to :

  • Be engaging right from the start.
  • Pay individual positive attention to each student as they arrive.
  • Smile and look them in the eyes.
  • Be genuinely interested in them, how they are feeling, what’s been happening
  • Be positive and upbeat
  • Make it all about them
  • Acknowledge their strengths

Body Language and Eye Contact

helps develop rapport. One of the best ways to show interest is to lean forward, toward the speaker with a relaxed posture and a smile or nod. This encourages the young person to open up. Eye contact lets a young person know you are intent on hearing them. However, with some sensitive teens or cultural groups, eye contact can be intimidating, so if you sense this you act accordingly.

Open-Ended Questions

Instead of asking, “Are you feeling well today?” which would elicit a one-word answer, the question should be, “What were you feeling as you walked in the door just now?” The question is meant to evoke a conversation. Sometimes it takes several questions before you can hit on the right subject and any real talking begins.

Active listening 

To respond back to someone with a paraphrase of what they’ve just said shows you’ve been really listening and want to understand. It helps develop respect, interest and rapport between people in a conversation.

Give – Time, Positive Affirmation, Yourself, Empathy, Understanding

One of the laws of the psychology of influence according to Dr Robert Cialdini is the law of reciprocity. It outlines that in human nature we feel obliged to reciprocate when we are given something.

By being someone who gives of themselves, gives affirming compliments, is generous with their words, their time and their positive actions it will not only create great connection with the teens you work with, but you will also start to see these things coming back to you. (Nathan Hulls)

Listen without judgment 

We can learn a whole lot about teens, their story, their background, what’s going on in their world, when we just take the time to stop and listen. But more than that, it is important as trusted adults in the world of teens, that we create a safe space where they know that they are being heard and also not being judged.

Its often easy for us to launch straight into solution mode (especially us males), but often teens need an adult who will listen to what they have to say without judging and sometimes without even providing them with any feedback or response, unless they ask for it. (Nathan Hulls)

Show empathy

To have empathy means you are trying to feel what they are feeling, genuinely trying to understand them, and connect with their emotions.

You establish rapport with the young people in your care by showing concern for their welfare and having a commitment for their well being.

Be involved in extra-curricular activities

Be involved in activities such as sport, performing arts, creative hobbies. This can you topics to connect and you are seen as active outside the boarding environment.


I heard it said recently “I am their teacher, I’m not paid for them to like me”. Let me tell you right now, teens will not learn from someone they do not like! It may not be your ‘job’ for teenagers to like you, but if you want to enjoy your job and to do well at your job, it is not just a nice idea, it is imperative that you understand that building a genuine relationship with the young people you work with is the first key to any sort of engagement.

Having rapport and relationship with teens translates to powerful and influential leverage. The kind of leverage that compels them to want to please you, to want to work with you, and to want to do well. The better relationship you have with the teens you work with – the easier behaviour management becomes.

(Nathan Hulls)

Getting the balance right

It is important to establish a relationship or personal rapport with students, however those working with young people should make sure that the relationship is appropriate and that the students understand the professional nature of the relationship. There is an important balance between being distant and authoritarian or being over-familiar with them. Being “over familiar” is being excessively friendly, informal, or intimate, and allowing or taking undue liberties.

The balance:

Distant/un-caring         ———- RAPPORT ———-            Over-familiar/too informal

Authoritarian                                                                    Laissez-faire –no boundaries

This means;

  • Not being on their case all the time,
  • Not being over familiar, or allowing young people to be over familiar
  • A genuine relationship of mutual respect

Over familiar means being excessively friendly, informal, or intimate, or taking undue liberties. When Boarding staff become over familiar they over step a boundary that can cause issues such as;

  • Young people lose respect for supervisors who are over familiar,
  • Young people may choose not to follow instructions,
  • Young people may take undue or unacceptable liberties, which push the boundaries further,
  • An outside observer may gain an impression of an unnatural or unprofessional relationship between the staff member and the young person,
  • Other young people in the boarding residence may find it difficult to understand the relationship and know how to act around them. They may also feel that there is favouritism.

If a boarding houseparent or supervisor knows that they have been over familiar with a young person, they will need to redress the situation. Consider the following;

  1. You don’t want to punish the young person for something that is essentially your fault,
  2. You may have to admit to the young person that you were ‘a bit too free and easy’ (or something similar) and that you are going to have to make some changes,
  3. For a period of time the pendulum may need to swing the other way. During this time you would need to enforce the ‘distance’ between yourself and the young person. The distance is there because you are the staff member and they are the young person. It is also a part of a professional relationship, there needs to be a small distance between a student and a supervisor.



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