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Even today, some people argue that teachers don’t have to build strong connections with students in order to teach them. However, experience and a growing body of research point to the importance and impact of teacher-student relationships as a driving force for learning, especially for students who otherwise struggle in school. The fact is that learning does not happen for many students without positive relationships with their teachers.  

We know that when teachers take time to listen, show interest, and develop strong, positive relationships with students, the payoff can be seen in increased student engagement, improved behavior, and elevated academic performance. We also know that for students who often struggle, have difficulty fitting in, or otherwise find school to be a challenge, a strong relationship with even one teacher can make a significant difference in those students’ school attendance, sense of belonging, and feelings of hope. Strong relationships with students can also lead to greater levels of satisfaction and lessened levels of stress and anxiety for teachers.  

Yet, beyond these obvious benefits of strong student-teacher relationships lie benefits that often go unobserved, despite the impact they can have on students and teachers alike. Here are five of these benefits worth noting.  

First, strong student-teacher relationships can lead to decreased aggression and oppositional behaviors for as long as four years. A 2016 study reported that strong relationships have even been shown to be as effective as anti-bullying initiatives. 

Second, strong positive relationships with teachers can improve students’ health even into adulthood. A 2020 study published by the American Psychological Association found that participants who had strong relationships with their teachers in middle and high school experienced better health into their mid-20s. Interestingly, however, strong relationships with peers did not lead to the same results.

Third, students with influential teacher relationships are more likely to enroll in college. A study conducted by researchers at Harvard and the University of Virginia found that students who experienced strong, positive relationships with a high school teacher, counselor, or coach were nearly 10 percent more likely to enroll in college than a matched sample of peers.

Fourth, when teachers have strong relationships with students, their relationships with parents are typically better and more productive. Levels of trust tend to be higher, which makes parent conferences more productive, and even calls home with less-than-positive news are better received when parents know that we care about and have a strong relationship with their child.

Fifth, a recent study at the University of Missouri found that teachers who have positive relationships with their students tend to use more complex, high-impact instructional practices. They are more likely to take risks associated with challenging instructional practices and generate improved student achievement. The study noted that these practices also lead to increased professional success and satisfaction.

We know that having positive relationships with students can make our work each day easier and more satisfying, but they also create a better environment within which students can learn. Surprisingly, these relationships have significant staying power and can impact students’ lives long after they leave us. Without question, they are more than worth the effort.

Thought for the Week

Simply pulling a strategy “off the shelf” or defaulting to the most recently read article or staff development session topic may not generate the results we seek.

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