Selective Vulnerability & How to Build Relationships with Students (March 2019 CRT)

[4-minute read] Our 2018-2019 calendar emphasizes developing an understanding & responding to the context of your classroom. We start with an inspirational quote, back it up with research, then provide you with classroom application ideas. Our March 2019 blog post, written by Instructional Designer Travis Irby, takes a deeper dive into how to build relationships with students.

“Great teachers focus not on compliance, but on connections and relationships.” -P.J. Caposely, Education Week Teacher

"Great teachers focus not on compliance, but on connections and relationships."
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Instructors must build trust with students in order to help them achieve classroom success. The key to building this trust is not in the assignments given and completed or exams graded but in the teacher-student relationship. This takes work and communication on the part of the instructor. When this trust is set and a relationship is established, academic success can occur. A positive student-teacher relationship can lead to positive academic change (Ullah & Wilson, 2007).

ACC has a diverse student population with diverse needs when it comes to relationships. Establishing the key trust needed for a strong academic relationship is going to be varied depending on students’ needs. Instructors should realize that the needs for this diverse student population need to be met in order to establish trust and develop classroom relationships for academic success.

Trust generators can be used to build trust and thus positive relationships between teacher and student. Instructors can use the following actions to build trust in teacher-student relationships (Hammond, 2014):

  • Selective Vulnerability: Show your humanness by sharing your personal challenges as a young learner or your current progress learning a new skill. 
  • Concern: Demonstrate genuine concern for important events in a student’s life by asking follow-up questions or even providing a platform to share.   
  • Competence: Teachers who make learning less confusing and more exciting build trust with students. Demonstrated skill and knowledge give a sense of expertise.   

The use of selective vulnerability as a trust builder helps students see the teacher as more than just an authority figure trying to get them to do class work. They see the teacher as an individual who has their own challenges. The student then sees a partner in the learning experience, a partner who has struggled on their own and will help the student with their struggles.

Instructors need to use genuine concern with students. By taking a real interest in students’ lives, the instructor can build the trust necessary to make a positive difference. Instructors must be willing to listen to students’ concerns and act on them when possible. Students should be encouraged to share their concerns with the instructor whenever they arise.

Teachers must demonstrate their competence in order to gain trust. If students believe a teacher can teach the material and assist with their learning, they will trust the instructor with their learning. They will seek a relationship with the instructor based on their demonstrated knowledge and skill.

Trust is a huge factor in establishing the positive teacher-student relationships needed for college success. Students from diverse backgrounds need different methods to establish trust and relationships. Instructors should be ready to create trust and begin to forge the relationships for these students in order to ensure their attainment of positive learning outcomes in college.


To support faculty who are exploring and implementing culturally responsive teaching in their courses, we’ve created a Private Facebook Group to facilitate collegial conversations.

CRTxACC members are encouraged to share resources, experiences, and questions to deepen their understanding of culturally responsive teaching.

Join the Online Community


Hammond, Z. (2014). Culturally responsive teaching and the brain: Promoting authentic engagement and rigor among culturally and linguistically diverse students. Corwin Press.

Ullah, H., & Wilson, M. A. (2007). Students’ academic success and its association to student involvement with learning and relationships with faculty and peers. College Student Journal41(4), 1192-1203.

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