Students who have warm and trusting relationships with their teachers feel and do better in school. Could relationships with students be similarly important for teachers? New research says yes! In one of our studies, our team found that teacher-student relationships can affect teachers’ well-being over the academic year. Whereas close relationships with students make teachers feel more accomplished, relationships characterized by conflict make teachers feel more exhausted.
First and foremost, teacher well-being matters because teachers are humans, and they deserve to thrive. We also know that teachers need to be well to connect with, instruct, and support their students. It feels like a chicken or egg situation; teacher-student relationships and teachers’ well-being can influence one another. However, our team recently concluded a new study in which we learned that teacher-student relationships early in the academic year affect teachers’ well-being more than the other way around. If we put together this finding with other research, the message is clear: Relationships should be the priority for the well-being of both students and teachers.
As teachers gear up to start the new school year, the opportunity exists to prioritize teacher-student relationships. A few practices that teachers can use to intentionally establish strong relationships with students, adapted from the Establish, Maintain, and Restore (EMR) method, include
Meaningful greetings and farewells
Transitions into and out of the school day matter for teachers and students. Beginning and ending the school day in a meaningful way can make teachers feel more accomplished and students feel seen. To begin the day in a meaningful way, teachers can greet students by their name, welcome them in the classroom, and show students their presence is valued. To wrap up their time with students, teachers can offer words of encouragement, thank students for participating during the day, or wish students a good rest of their day. Creating daily traditions is a great way for teachers to remind themselves to take time to do these things.
Fit in extra/more one-on-one time with students
Getting to know students well takes time and intentionality. To help this process along, teachers can spend brief (~10 min) one-on-one sessions with each student in the classroom. This time can include having a conversation or letting a student lead an activity. One-on-one time can be an opportunity to learn about students’ interests, build trust, and show each student that the teacher is a resource for them at school. This time allows for connection and closeness amidst the busyness of the school day, laying a foundation for the types of teacher-student relationships that fuel teachers’ sense of accomplishment.
Learn and share personal information about students
Most of us feel close to others who know us well and demonstrate it. To get to know their students more fully, teachers can learn information about students’ interests, families, and other relevant topics. Teachers can then find natural opportunities to genuinely acknowledge or reference this information. This shows students that teachers are interested in and care about them as people, beyond academic performance, helping to establish a closer teacher-student relationship.
As teachers and students return to school, school communities can make the intentional choice to prioritize teacher-student relationships. These relationships are the cornerstone of connection that promotes the well-being and engagement of students and the teachers who work hard to support them.
The views in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of CASEL.
Dr. Pilar Alamos is a Weissberg Scholar and postdoctoral scholar at the University of Virginia’s School of Education and Human Development. Pilar’s research focuses on teacher-child interactions and relationships in early childhood education settings. Dr. Cathy Corbin is a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Washington. Cathy’s research focuses on understanding teachers’ psychological adjustment and teacher-student relationships as multifaceted and co-developing classroom processes, particularly among historically minoritized teachers and students.