Student-Teacher Relationships - Challenge Map
Challenge Map

School Culture, Climate & Safety

Student-Teacher Relationships

The Challenge

Educators recognize that to grow and persist at school, students need teachers who know them as individuals; who care about them, believe in them, and understand what they need to succeed. But ensuring that each student has a personal, mentor-like relationship can be challenging for teachers, especially those at the middle and high school level who teach many classes each day. Beyond the time required to form these connections, many teachers want help understanding and responding to the varied backgrounds and needs of their students. In addition, some schools and teachers need training on strategies to implement appropriate disciplinary practices that respond to disruptive behavior, but do not cut students off from learning opportunities (e.g. restorative justice).

In the Words of District Leaders

How do we know and respond to our students based on what they're good at, and help them be resilient and confident, and where they need support?

“In my experience, kids will often rise to the bar as high as you set it. So, if you keep it low they’re not going to rise much higher.”

“[Believing in the potential of all learners] takes one on one touches, face-to-face meetings with students, to say, ‘Come on, you can do this. You have three teachers who say you are AP material.’ [This commitment has] made us look at the supports that we have in place for all kids, not just for first time AP students.”

Ideas from the Field

  • One district has built a “social emotional academic development” team working to build social emotional learning competencies among educators, particularly at high-poverty schools.
  • Equity training for teachers has helped shift culture and change teacher attitudes. This includes working with teachers to better understand tracking and class assignments, and how marginalized students may benefit from a different approach. Additionally, shifting the discipline approach by supporting teachers to ask, “What can I do in my own influence to de-escalate this situation right now?” and moving away from immediate removal from classroom or school building.


Check out the following research-based resources for more information about student-teacher relationships:

Identity, Behavior & Relationships topic page – From Digital Promise, an introduction and key findings from the research on social development and relationships, including links to additional resources.

Improving Students’ Relationships with Teachers to Provide Essential Supports for Learning – From the American Psychological Association, this site describes measures of student-teacher relationships as well as strategies for building positive relationships.

Two studies point to the power of teacher-student relationships to boost learning – From the Hechinger Report, this article shares research that demonstrates the importance of giving teachers and students plenty of time to form relationships.

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