Interact with every student

Early years

Resources are provided with this practice



The full name for this practice is Teachers cultivate meaningful relationships by interacting positively and respectfully with every student.

By having positive and respectful interactions with every student, you will be in a better position to cultivate meaningful relationships and build classroom environments that are:

  • well-regulated
  • socially positive 
  • inclusive. 

Meaningful teacher-student relationships: 

  • are mutually respectful 
  • are supportive
  • positively influence student engagement and achievement 
  • promote social and emotional development.

Interactions can be verbal, non-verbal, or both.

Students who are socially isolated need support to feel accepted and fit in. You can support these students by remembering to plan for your student interactions when you structure the learning and social life of your classroom. Proactive planning to interact with every student will develop and practice friendly and responsive interaction “styles” that will encourage communication exchanges and help build your relationships with students.

This practice will help students to

feel valued and liked

meet behavioural expectations

be confident

be motivated

tolerate interactions

engage in interactions

This practice will help teachers to

positively manage their classroom

understand student responses

effectively cater to individual strengths and needs

facilitate productive learning time

How the practice works

Apply this practice with your students

The tabs below provide information to support your implementation of this practice. The sequence aligns with the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership's High-Quality Professional Learning Cycle. You can find out more about high quality professional learning in the Australian Charter for the Professional Learning of Teachers and School Leaders.

A. Plan

Reflect on: 

  • your relationship 
  • the quality of interactions with each of your students.

Observe the student and chat with family members and colleagues so you can prepare a list of topics that students will be more motivated to engage with.

Choose interactions which will help support and build positive learning experiences, play, and peer-relationships.

Prepare to interact with every student:

  • Be aware of and respect each students’ abilities and needs. 
  • Respond to his/her own emotional states and communication styles.
  • Know the opportunities for interaction with your students throughout the day. 
  • Know how a student signals (possibly non-verbally) that he/she is ready to engage in an interaction.
  • Plan how you will respond respectfully to students and just move on calmly, e.g.:”OK Sam, thanks. I like our talks”.   

When you understand each students’ social, learning, sensory needs and stressors, you can prepare how to respond respectfully if a student demonstrates that an interaction is not currently welcome.

Plan your communication

A direct questioning style, especially one that involves so-called 'closed questions' that are obvious and require only one-word answers, may prove counterproductive to your attempts to interact with students. Even teachers with genuine intentions to share students’ interests might use conventional questions that students offer minimal or even no response to.

Direct questions

Direct questioning can be confronting, difficult to process, or even meaningless to a student on the autism spectrum. 

“How are you today?” Sam’s answer “Good.”
“What are you building with the Lego?” Sam’s answer: “Robot.” 
“You like that book about trains, don’t you?” Sam’s answer: “Yes.”


A more open, lateral and complimentary statement-based style may motivate students and elicit more sustained responses.

“Hi Sam, it’s good to see you! We’ve got some interesting things happening today.” 
“Wow, this robot is amazing! I wonder how it moves.”  
“I like trains too – I think my favourite is the Japanese bullet train.”

It works better if: 

  • there are frequent one-to-one interactions which include supporting play and peer interactions
  • you take student’s unique abilities, interests, and needs into account when identifying and engaging in interactions
  • the student signals (possibly non-verbally) that he/she is ready to engage in an interaction.

It doesn’t work if:

  • you insist on engaging with a student who shows (verbally or non-verbally) that he/she is not interested in interacting or that the interaction is finished
  • you engage in an interaction while angry or frustrated.

Interact with every student - Practice brief

B. Set goals

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C. Apply the practice

Step 1. Engage one-to-one

Check for student signals (possibly non-verbally) that he/she is ready to engage in an interaction.

Engage in one-to-one interactions with the student as planned e.g., welcome the student at the start of the day.

Introduce topics that the student is interested in. You can do this formally e.g., topic-based class news times or informally.

Use 'labelled praise': 
“Sam, your drawings are wonderful – you’re a clever artist! I wonder if you draw a lot at home too.” 

Avoid engaging in interactions when you are angry or frustrated. Model calm control and refer to visual supports to redirect students.

Step 2. Watch

Watch the student’s interaction carefully.

Step 3. Respect

Respect when a student shows that the interaction is: 

  • not welcome 
  • finished. 

Step 4. Evaluate

Evaluate interactions with a particular student.

Identify possible areas for improving the quality of the interaction. 

D. Reflect and refine

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Reflect on your student goals

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Reflect on your teacher goals

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E. Share

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Your student goals and reflections

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Your teacher goals and reflections

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Further reading

Materials informing practice

American Psychological Society: Improving Students’ Relationships with Teachers to Provide Essential Supports for Learning. 

Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning: Building Positive TeacherChild Relationships. 

Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning [CSEFEL] (2013). Inventory of practice for supporting social-emotional competence.

Copple, C., & Bredekamp, S. (2009). Developmentally Appropriate Practice in early childhood programs serving children from birth through age 8. Washington, DC.: National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).



Similar practices

This practice is from the core research project