The Importance of Building the Teacher-Student Relationship

Michele Snoke
Michele Snoke
Elementary school principal; M.S.E. in Educational Leadership
A smiling student and smiling teacher high-fiving at a desk.

Relationships between a teacher and a class of students are just as important as the daily academic instruction presented to the students. Building these relationships is the job of all teachers, but not all teachers are aware of how connecting with students will build student confidence and inevitably promotes high achievement.

Why is Teacher-Student Relationship Building Important?

 Teachers spend on an average 180 days a year with students. During the 180 days teachers witness the amazing growth of students academically, socially, and behaviorally. The degree of a students achievements and improvement can be determined by the level of relationship built between the teacher and the student.

The initiation of an authentic relationship by a teacher with a student can result positively for a student’s desire to prioritize life of learning and succeeding. Teacher-student relationships begin the first day of school. Many teachers use “ice breaker” activities for both students and the teacher to learn fun and interesting facts about one another. Teachers can gather the interesting information shared by all students and use the facts to initiate conversations with students. Teachers can also inquire with students the results of weekend activities, such as sporting events and/or dance recitals. When teachers initiate conversations with students it allows for an expression of interest with an individual student, and making the student feel important.

Students of all grade levels desire to impress the teacher either with their aptitude for learning, or their unique talents. Students feel comfortable sharing their true self when the relationship with the teacher is secure and a level of trust has been achieved. The next level for teacher-student relationships involves mutual vulnerability where both individuals feel comfortable to sometimes share sensitive information. Once the teacher-student relationship is established, students will organically evolve into a confident and independent thinker and active learner, making teacher-student relationships extremely important and necessary in an educational setting.

How can Positive Relationships Impact Student Success?

Positive relationships between a teacher and a student provide a level of comfort allowing a student to take academic risks that will advance academic achievements. All positivity expressed by a teacher with students impacts educational success. Students respond to positive comments, positive interactions and exchanges offered between a teacher and a student.

A positive relationship can start with a simple smile, gesture to welcome the student into the classroom. Engaging an authentic and not forced conversation between a teacher and student develops a positive relationship. The positive relationship can be trusted by the student and sometimes relied upon when students are struggling and need a much-desired ear for listening. The positive relationship requires a respected connection between both the teacher and student in order for a student to feel successful in the classroom.

How Teachers can Create Appropriate Boundaries with Students

The challenge for a teacher to connect with students and build relationships starts with the grade level and development of the students the teacher is teaching. Teacher-student relationships start at the beginning of the school year when teachers create classroom culture boundaries that rely upon classroom procedures. Relationships within the classroom should not affect the teacher’s classroom management, but should enhance the level of respect the students and teacher have for one another, and strengthen the culture and make following classroom procedures simple.

Elementary teachers (K-5) must first create a safe environment in the classroom for a student-teacher relationship to blossom. In all elementary grades, teachers are developing a solid foundation for learning that flourishes when the students feel valued by the teacher. Elementary students and teachers can create handshakes or other forms of greeting that will enhance a relationship, making the relationship connection unique. The boundaries for relationships with elementary students can also include teachers witnessing and celebrating students’ out of school activities, attending a sports event, dance recital, or art show. The teacher should always check with the student’s parents to receive permission before attending an out of school event. Elementary student-teacher relationships are the first step toward how students develop future relationships with middle school teachers and beyond.

Middle school teachers develop relationships with students as mentors to guide the young adultescence to their potential. The teachers are similar to cheerleaders, encouraging the students to strive to always do the best work and to keep a watchful eye on the mental health of the students. Middle school sports and other various extracurricular activities can become a good vehicle for teachers and students to build relationships. Once again, the boundaries for these relationships is important, and a helpful tip would be for the teacher and student should never be alone together and try to include another adult or additional students in the mix.

Lastly, high school students rely upon teacher relationships for guidance and as role models. High schoolers end the four years as adults, and these students are seeking to witness behavior and actions by the adults they trust. High school students also need teacher relationships for positive encouragement to lead to a successful future. These relationships should be used by teachers for coachable opportunities with students. The boundaries for relationships between teachers and students at this level is crucial. As in all teacher-student relationships, parents should have direct communication with the teacher.

Teacher-student relationships provide students with the encouragement and desire to perform well because someone is sincerely vesting the time in the student. Teachers also need these relationships to assist with gauging the effectiveness of instruction in the classroom.

*Updated May 2021
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