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Cornell University

Connecting With Your Students

Connecting with your students allows instructors to build rapport in a classroom and enhance student engagement in their learning process.

How does connecting with students impact learning?
How can you get to know and connect with students?
How can you make the most out of office hours?
What can you do if you notice students in distress?

Do you know…

  • Who your students are?
  • Why they are taking your class?
  • How you can improve their learning in and out of class?

How does connecting with students impact learning?

A number of authors have explored the impact of building rapport on student learning (Benson, et. al., 2005; Meyers, 2009, Umbach & Wawrzynski, 2005; Witt, et. al., 2004). There are a number of potential benefits:

  • Instructors can better understand their audience and therefore deliver more relevant lectures, and use more appropriate examples and classroom activities resulting in more engaged students and enhanced learning.
  • Students will feel more comfortable expressing their feelings in or out of class.
  • Students are more likely to get excited about the course content and improve their class participation.
  • Students will feel valued and therefore more willing to be intellectually challenged by the instructor.
  • Having strong rapport creates a mutually beneficial and exciting learning environment.

How can you get to know and connect with students?

  • On the first day of class, share some information about yourself including your background, research interests, a personal website, why you enjoy teaching this course, etc.
  • Also on the first day, collect information about students such as their name, year in college, reason for taking the course, previous exposure to course content, etc. Use index cards to collect this information and refer to the cards whenever you interact with a student.
  • To create ease and a relaxed atmosphere, smile and incorporate humor.
  • Step away from the podium.
  • Arrive early for class and stay a bit later to chat with students and address any questions they may have.
  • Ask students questions about their experiences related to course content.
  • Be available and encourage students to meet either during office hours or after class.

How can you make the most out of office hours?

Nilson (2010, p. 89-93) suggests some tips for holding effective office hours:

  • Announce your office hours clearly in your syllabus, in the first class, and prominently on your office door.
  • Require all students to meet with you in office hours at the beginning of the semester.
  • While students are writing their first assignment, request that they visit you to review early drafts to get some feedback.
  • Have students turn in or pick up their assignments, tests or exams in your office.
  • If using group work, have each group make an appointment to report on their progress.
  • Start your meeting with small talk. Find out how they like the course and how things are going for them this semester.
  • Arrange seating so that there is a comfortable distance. Close the door partially to ensure privacy, but not all the way.
  • State your limits for office hour meetings. For example, students should not come to office hours to get a review of a missed class, or if students want to discuss changing a grade, they should come with a written justification.
  • Communicate in your syllabus what students should expect in office hours and how they should prepare in order to get the most out of the meeting.

What can I do if I notice students in distress?

Cornell Health Services at Cornell offers a list of characteristics students may display under various levels of distress and suggestions for what you can do.


Cornell Health Services has a Notice and Respond program available to faculty and graduate TAs.
CTI Connecting with your Students (CU NetID required to access. Link redirects to login page.) pdf
CTI Millennials (CU NetID required to access. Link redirects to login page.) pdf

Past CTI Presentation Materials



Ambrose, S.A., Bridges, M.W., DiPietro, M. & Lovett, M.C. (2010). How Learning works: Seven research-based principles for smart teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Angelo T.A. & Cross, K.P. (1993). Classroom Assessment Techniques: A handbook for college teachers (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Meyers, S.A. (2009). Do your students care whether you care about them? College Teaching, 57, (4) 205-210.

Nilson, L.B. (2010). Teaching at its best: A research-based resource for college instructors (3rd. ed). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Umbach P.D. & Wawrzynski, M.R. (2005). Faculty do matter: The role of college faculty in student learning and engagement. Research in Higher Education, 46, (2), 153-184.

Witt, P.L., Wheeless, L.R. & Allen, M. (2004). A meta-analytical review of the relationship between teacher immediacy and student learning. Communication Studies, 71, 184-207.
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