Pairing Or Building A Positive Relationship With Your Students

Pairing, or building a positive relationship, with your students is a vital step in developing instructional control and setting your student and yourself up for an effective year. Here are tips to help you set yourself and your students up for a successful year.

What Is Pairing?

Pairing is a fancy word for building a positive relationship with the student. The point is to associate yourself with all of the reinforcers and activities that the student naturally wants. You are the doorway to get those things. For example, if I have 2 cupboards and one holds bills and the other cupboard holds your favorite drink and chocolate, which one are you going to want to open? Your job is to be that 2nd cupboard for your students through targeted interactions.

Pairing is not just letting your students play all day to keep them from having meltdowns. Pairing is active... it's purposful. You are making the activity or toy even better by being part of it.

Why Pair?

The concept of pairing or building a relationship with your students has been around since the beginning of schools. All students do better when they feel connected to the teacher and classroom. Students with disabilities engage in less behaviors and spend more time on task and learning when they know you are the doorway to all of their favorite things. Pairing with a student leads to better instructional control.

How To Pair 

An crucial part of being the doorway to the reinforcers is to make sure that the reinforcers aren't available without you. It is important to make sure that reinforcers can't freely be taken by the student elsewhere. Read this blog post for more info: Making Reinforcers Powerful & Effective

The first few days of school are crazy busy! Let's be real... you may think you will be able to fit spontaneous one on one time with students here and there, but it isn't going to happen. In a blink of an eye, the day is over and you missed it. Instead, plan pairing time right into your schedule. 

I like to schedule blocks of time that is play based or is a task that the majority of my students can do with limited adult support. Then, I have each adult target one student to pair with. For example, talking, joking, playing with the student. You want to make the student associate this really fun thing (playing, toy, jokes, food, etc.) with you. 

Throw in some random reinforcement as well. For example, walk by the student and randomly give him a reinforcer AND praise for something you see him doing (something you want to see more of). For example, if the student is quietly reading a book walk over and praise him while giving him a consumable reinforcer (ex: candy, pretzel, etc.) 


There will be times when you have to target pairing with a student outside of the beginning of the school year. Here are some examples of times when you should work on pairing with a student.

  • A new student comes into your classroom
  • Behaviors have started to spike during your work sessions. There are many reasons why you might have to re-pair with a student. 
  • The student is becoming resistant to working with you.... time to remind the student of all of  those reinforcers that you can help him get. Kibosh negative patterns!

Pairing with your students is so important for setting yourself and students up for a positive and effective school year. Give it a shot!

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