How Positive Relationships & Supportive Interactions Impact Student Learning

Instructor: Amanda Robb

Amanda holds a Masters in Science from Tufts Medical School in Cellular and Molecular Physiology. She has taught high school Biology and Physics for 8 years.

In this lesson, we'll be learning about the importance of positive relationships between teachers and students. We'll go over strategies you can try in your own classroom and discuss how to personalize them for your students.

What Are Positive Relationships?

Take a minute and think back to when you were school. Who was your favorite teacher? Now, think about your least favorite teacher. What made your favorite teacher good, and what made your least favorite teacher bad? Most likely, you had a personal connection with your favorite teacher and felt like they cared about you.

This is an example of a positive relationship, when someone understands you and your needs and you form a bond. Your least favorite teacher probably didn't exhibit that type of relationship. You might have felt like they were unfair or didn't relate to you.

As a teacher, you won't be close with every student, but it is important to try to form meaningful relationships and respect your students, even if you aren't going to be their favorite teacher. Today, we're going to look at outcomes of positive relationships and strategies you can use to build them.


Positive relationships are one of the most important tools in your classroom. This is especially true for students that have a history of trauma. Students with trauma typically lack healthy, emotional relationships at home. They do not respond well to traditional discipline. It replicates the cycle of making mistakes, being punished, and suffering that are characteristic of trauma.

Students from this background often do not listen to rules simply because they are rules. There needs to be buy in from the students and trust with the adult to overcome trauma barriers to learning. Positive relationships are the way to get there.

As you might recall from your own time in school, however, positive relationships with adults benefit all students. Positive relationships promote emotional health and increase learning more than discipline.


Positive relationships are essential to student learning outcomes. So, how do we cultivate these, especially with some of our most challenging students? Although students with challenging behavior can be the most frustrating, these are often the students that need the most positive interaction and support. Let's look at a few examples


Gianna is a 9th grade student in your math class. She has repeated 9th grade two times and has not passed any of her state exams. Her attitude towards school is poor. She often comes in late and does not have her work completed.

Challenging students often benefit the most from positive relationships.
challenging student

Clearly, this student has challenges in school, and a typical reaction from a teacher may be to yell or shame Gianna for her behavior. This type of relationship, though, won't help Gianna get more engaged in school. It will most likely only alienate her further. How do you build your relationship with her while maintaining high expectations?

Although it's important to address tardiness, the first thing to do when a student comes in is to greet them. Tell Gianna hello and that you are happy she came to class. Later, you can address the lateness by reminding her how much you enjoy her company and how much she contributes when she's here. Think about what you would want if you were the student. Encouragement goes a lot farther than shame.

When Gianna does do work, take the time to congratulate her on a job well done. If possible, make positive calls home as well.

Perhaps most importantly, try to build a relationship with her outside of the classroom. One strategy is called two-by-ten. In this strategy, a teacher tries to have a two-minute conversation with ten students per week outside of class about something that isn't related to school. Ask them what their plans are for the weekend, if they saw a recent sporting event, or about something else you know they enjoy. This cultivates relationships without the academic pressure that can be so crushing for some of our students.


Prior to starting the school year, you can give your students surveys about their outside interests. This information can help you craft your curriculum to your specific students. From your survey, you know that Toby really enjoys basketball. He hates math and reading, but sports are his oasis. Since the beginning of the year, Toby has been hard to manage in class. He talks out of turn, doesn't do his homework, and avoids doing work by asking to leave the classroom.

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