What Everyone Needs to Know About High-Performance, Teacher Student Relationships

crash course in evidence based teaching smallIn this section of our course in evidence based teaching, we learn about teacher-student relationships. Strong teacher-student relationships are crucial.

To a large extent, the nature of your relationship with your students dictates the impact that you have on them. If you want to have a positive and lasting difference on your kids, you need to forge productive teacher-student relationships.

Strong teacher-student relationships:

  • Shape the way children think and act in school
  • Improve how well they do at school

impact of teacher student relationships

When you have a good relationship with your students, they are more likely to feel positive about class and about school in general. They are also more willing to have a go at hard work, to risk making mistakes, and to ask for help when they need it.

Therefore, it is not surprising that research shows constructive teacher-student relationships have a large and positive impact on students’ academic results.

It is teachers who have created positive teacher student relationships that are more likely to have the above average effects on student achievement.
John Hattie

In fact, the quality and nature of the relationships you have with your students has a larger effect on their results than socio-economic status, professional development or Reading Recovery programs1. It is not that these things don’t matter, but rather that your relationships with students matter more.

This is why I call them high-performance, teacher-student relationships.

If you want to make a real and lasting difference, the evidence shows that investing time and effort into building high-performance with students is one of the most powerful things you can do.

But what do such relationships entail? Our knowledge of evidence based teaching provides the answer.

In this article, you will discover:

  • How to build strong teacher-student relationships
  • How to adopt a high-performance relational style


Productive Teacher Student Relationships: Element 1 – Care

Angela Maiers has been exploring teacher-student relationships with her own classes for over 20 years. In her article 12 Things Kids Want From Their Teachers, she describes how she found that building such relationships requires you to show genuine care for your students – both as learners and as people.

It is a view supported by research.

You need to:

  • Be accepting, warm and nurturing
  • Be aware of and empathetic to their thoughts and feelings
  • Let them know they are important to you

And, to do all of this, you need to take the time mentally present with them throughout the day.

Students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
Adapted from Theodore Roosevelt

When teachers and students have a warm and caring relationship, the students show greater levels of school adjustment (even years later)3 and achieve higher marks1.

This doesn’t mean that you should be too permissive. Students like order and security, but they also need to know you have nothing but their best intentions at heart.


  1. Warmth – accept your students for who they are and care for them as a good parent cares for their child. Show them that they are important to you.
  2. Empathy – understand how your students think and feel about what is going on around them.
  3. Time – take the time to physically and mentally present when talking with your students.


Productive Teacher Student Relationships: Element 2 – Expectation

Caring about your kids is critical. However, forging productive teacher student relationships takes more.

You need to believe your students are capable of succeeding and you must expect them to do so.

Your beliefs about students are important because they subconsciously influence how you treat each child. If you want to have the largest impact on student results that you possibly can, it is important that you genuinely believe that:

  • Children need guidance and structure
  • All children can and should behave well
  • All children can and should improve how well they do at school
  • Improvement comes from hard work
  • Some students will need more support than others to meet your standards

When you have high expections of your students, you act on your beliefs by demanding that students behave well, work hard and understand the material that you are teaching them.

Press your students to understand difficult material and to engage thoughtfully with their work. Push them to achieve more than they ever thought possible, but support them along the way.

 If I treat you as what you are capable of becoming, I help you become that.

You accept a child for who they are, but you do not accept (or gloss over) that it is okay for them to misbehave or to do substandard work. Accepting such work sends the wrong message – a message that you don’t really believe they can do any better.


Relational Styles In Brief

The two essential elements of high-performance, teacher student relationships are care and expectation.

While some people see these as polar opposites, this is not the case.

Effective teachers care about their kids, while also expect them to do well.

teacher student relationship styles graphic

As teachers can show high or low amounts of care, as well as high or low amounts of press, teachers can relate to students in four distinctly different ways.

On any given day, a teacher may display behaviours from each of the four styles – and sometimes the situation warrants such flexibility. Despite this, when you look at their typical ways of interacting with students over time, different teachers exhibit different relational styles.


The 4 Relational Styles Explained

The 4 relational styles are:

  1. Authoritarian
  2. Friendly
  3. Aloof
  4. High-Performance

Productive teacher-student relationships are ‘high-performance’.

The Authoritarian Style

Authoritarian teachers show high amounts of press and low amounts of care. While they may want students to learn, they view their relationships with students as an us-vs-them phenomenon, where it is important for them to come out on top. Authoritarian teachers are rigid, and value rules for rule’s sake. They often overact to small infringements, and they are sometimes sarcastic and cynical.

The Friendly Style

Friendly teachers show a high degree of care but a low amount of press. While they may care deeply about students’ self-esteem, they misguidedly accept minimal effort and mediocre work. Friendly teachers let their belief in student-directed learning prevent them from giving students the instruction and guidance they need. This often leads to chaotic classrooms and students working independently on tasks they have not been shown how to do.

The Aloof Style

Aloof teachers show low amounts of press and low amounts of care. While they may go through the motions of teaching, they do so mindlessly. They are often apathetic and indifferent, as their minds are elsewhere – think Bad Teacher. Aloof teachers don’t seek conflict with kids, yet their indifference and lack of structure lead students to act out. Then, over-reactions, escalating conflict and passive-aggressive behaviour often follow.

The High-Performance Style

Teachers who forge high-performance relationships care for their students while simultaneously pressing them to excel. They have a passionate desire to help students learn and improve, which leads them to demand high standards of behaviour and effort. Yet, they also value their kids as people and take an interest in their lives. These teachers provide their students with strong guidance (both academically and behaviourally), while also nurturing personal responsibility and self-regulation.

Research5 shows that when teachers adopt a high-performance style of relating to students, the students have better attitudes about school, and they achieve better results.


In Closing

If you want your students to excel, you should forge high-performance relationships with each of them.

Holding high standards without providing a warm environment is merely harsh. A warm environment without high standards lacks backbone. But if you can create a combination of high standards with a warm and supportive environment it will benefit all students, not just the high achievers.
Lee Jussim

High-performance, teacher student relationships are a crucial aspect of evidence based teaching. However, teacher student relationships are still just one piece of the puzzle.

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