The Power of Teacher-Student Relationships

As we kick off another exciting school year, let’s begin by examining the power of teacher-student relationships.

In his 2007 meta-analyses of 119 studies, Cornelius-White found that the majority of students who dislike school, do so primarily because they dislike their teacher. {Who says teachers hold no power now?!}

Furthermore, after evaluating person-centered teacher variables and student outcomes, Cornelius-White found that positive teacher-student relationships were critical to student success.

So now you're asking yourself, how can I establish effective relationships with my students this year?

| Related Article: Building Positive Relationships |

Research suggests that in order to improve teacher-student relationships and reap their benefits, teachers must facilitate students’ development by demonstrating they care about each student as a learner and a person. By seeing their perspective and communicating it back to them, teachers allow students to self-assess, feel safe, and learn to understand others and the content with the same interest and concern. “Building relations with students implies agency, efficacy, respect by the teacher for what the child brings to the class (from home, culture, peers), and allowing the experiences of the child to be recognized in the classroom” (Hattie, 2009, p. 118).

| Related Article: 5 Tips for Better Relationships With Your Students |

Here are some of my recommendations for building relationships with your online students:

  • When conducting Welcome Calls, engage the students in authentic dialogue about themselves. While it is tempting to rush through these calls and cross them off the to-do list, these are actually your secret weapon. Take this time to learn about your students, take notes, mark student events on your calendar and call/email students with motivational/congratulatory messages. If they know you care, they’ll be far more likely to answer your calls and attend your virtual lessons.
  • Build a learning community of trust and respect. Ask students to introduce themselves to their peers on a specific Message Board thread; refer back to their posts throughout the year to remind yourself of their hobbies and interests.
  • Connect with the student in your conversation before addressing academic concerns. Find common ground or mutual interests to discuss with the student then ease into the content. This will be less threatening to the student and allow him/her to engage in the discourse more comfortably.
  • Differentiate assignments and provide students with choices. Offer essay prompts, digital projects, or modified test questions that allow students the opportunity to share information about themselves or their interests. After all, learning is more meaningful when it is relevant.
  • Celebrate their achievements. A quick email can go a long way in encouraging and reinforcing positive behaviors in students. Embed a congratulatory photo in the body of the email to make it immediately rewarding.
  • Appropriately share your achievements, interests, and hobbies with the students. If they see you as a real life person on the other end of the phone or computer, they’ll be more likely to open up and share information about their lives with you.

| Related Article: Developing Positive Teacher-Student Relations |

For more tips on building relationships, check out the related articles. While they are not written for the online learning environment specifically, they still apply and can be facilitated through phone calls, emails, assessment feedback, virtual lessons, and tutoring sessions alike.

How do you build relationships with your students? I’d love to hear your ideas, please share below!

Never stop learning.


  • Cornelius-White, J. (2007). Learner-centered teacher-student relationships are effective: A meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research, 77(1), 113-143.
  • Hattie, J. (2009). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. Routledge.
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