Every counselor knows that it’s important and vital to build rapport with the students in your school at the beginning of the year in order to help them feel safe and trust you with personal information. That’s why I give them fist bumps as they come in from the bus in the mornings and as they leave for the day. Unfortunately, with the COVID pandemic, I don’t give fist bumps because we can't really do that while minimizing the spread of COVID. So I verbalize positive messages as they come through the door from the bus in the morning and leave at the end of the day, even if I don’t have morning and afternoon duty. Why? I just like to start their day on a positive note and end on a positive note. It’s easier for me to do this because it’s one of my strengths to show compassion as a counselor. I know that the vast majority of us are in counseling because we are naturally compassionate and empathetic. There are many ways we can help students start their day off right by doing or saying something positive so they feel safe and happier.
Ways to Build Rapport
As I mentioned, there are several ways you can build that rapport with your students so they will feel comfortable and safe coming to talk to you about any issues. Many times I will say "good morning" and "have a good day" to most students coming to school in the morning as they get off the bus. I may pick some at random and say something nice and appropriate about their nice shoes, their haircut, or the color of their shirt. This week I even commented on one student’s mask. I love superheroes and I told him I liked his Spiderman mask. He has been responding to me positively every time I seen him this week. I also might congratulate a student on something good they did that I heard about to start his or her day off on a good note.
Other ways we, as counselors, can build rapport are to display positive and appropriate items in our office and create bulletin boards with positive messages—or even themes with the pictures and names of students with permission. Most students like to see their names, work, and pictures up that relate to them. Sometimes I will give a positive nod or thumbs up when they respond correctly to a question I asked them. We can build rapport with our students using verbal and nonverbal positive language.
Even though I like to give fist bumps and high fives to build rapport, I cannot due to the pandemic. It is important to use other ways to build that positive rapport. We don’t know what home is like for some of these students that come to school looking sad, scared, or even angry. So it is up to us and other educators to build positive rapport with them by helping them feel good about themselves, safe, and also help them learn and grow at school. It is important to also build good positive rapport with the parents so the child can have a stronger and better support system as well as more people to trust and feel safe around at home and at school. It takes a village to raise some of our students, but it can start with us building positive rapport from the moment a student gets off the bus or logs into the Google Classroom meet.
Joe Murphy, Jr is a multilingual certified school counselor (English, Spanish, and some French) working as an elementary counselor in Hattiesburg Public School District, Mississippi. He has three years of high school counseling experience and at least thirteen years of teaching experience. His counseling interest areas include academic, career, multicultural, mental health, substance abuse, sports counseling, family, migrant youth, and LGBTQ youth issues.