It’s all about relationships, but whose relationship?

Now not many of us will argue with the premise that getting to know your students and building a healthy working relationship with them is beneficial for you and them. It will help them feel more comfortable and therefore allow them to learn more.

We all have different ways of doing this, I recommend asking students some questions to find out about their perception of learning. Others, simply, teach, interact and assess.

Lots of us will agree, not all, but many of us will know that relationships are the foundations to a productive, effective, stimulating classroom and working environment. When we spend time with one another and it doesn’t feel like a duty, it feels far more tolerable.

Thompson (1998) says, “The most powerful weapon available to secondary teachers who want to foster a favorable learning climate is a positive relationship with our students”

However, for us as teachers, as adults, as individuals who are mature, can self-regulate can deal with variance and change a lot better than children, how easy is it for us to create, maintain and build relationships?

I would argue, even for us, its not that easy. It is a challenge to work with lots of different ‘personalities.’ It is a challenge for us to get along with all of the different ‘types’ of people. It is also difficult for us to really truly get to know all the people we encounter daily at work. How many adults would we regard as our trusted friend? As the person we would be ‘vulnerable’ in front of?

Therefore, how easy is it for a child, for a student?

In a typical secondary school, for a student they may need to interact with up to 8-10 different teachers, teaching different subjects. They may have a Tutor, a Head of Year, maybe an Assistant Head of Year, Teaching Assistants, Learning Mentors, Sports Coach, Club leader and potentially other adults they need to interact with across their school week.

That could be around 12-15 individuals.

Now, imagine, all of us, one of those 15 different people all trying to build relationships with this one student. We are all of course are individuals. We have our own ways of doing things, even if you stay with the confines of your schools behaviour policy, our interactions, our humour, our tolerance all depend on US. We get frustrated, get irritable and even angry. How, when and why varies depending on the person.

Canter and Canter (1997) make the statement that we all can recall classes in which we did not try very hard because we didn’t like our teachers. This should remind us how important it is to have strong, positive relationships with our students.

Can you then consider how difficult it must be for a young person to manage that many relationships? Regulate that much variance in their day to day interactions.

Lets look at what works:

  • Primary Schools; one teacher, for pretty much all of their lessons. Consistency.
  • SEND teams allocate key workers for students. Consistency.
  • NQTs, given mentors. Consistency.
  • Teachers working with their line managers. Consistency.

Lets look at what is difficult:

A student trying to build a relationship with up to 15 different adults? Students trying to establish what is OK and not OK. Students trying to deal with lots of different people?

It begs the question why some teachers share the dreaded phrase;

Well, they behave for ME

Why do they chose to behave for some teachers and not others? Does that mean they CAN regulate their behaviour? Or does that mean they are choosing to misbehave for you? We know if we have created a good relationship with our students, conflict will reduce, attendance will increase and outcomes will improve.


  1. Pick a student that is currently struggling in your school.
  2. Map out how many adults they need to interact with, in any one week.
  3. Step back and think, is that easy?
  4. How can you show them how to manage that?

Kohn (1996) “Children are more likely to be respectful when important adults in their lives respect them. They are more likely to care about others if they know they are cared about”

I still believe that relationships are the key to success in a school. However, I am reflecting on how much of a challenge this is for students who for one, find creating relationships a challenge, who then have to try to do this with lots of people.

Not to mention trying to be a child and build relationships with all the other students too!!

A positive teacher student relationship will last forever. Here’s my blog about my favourite teacher. I also reference him in my TEDx talk here.



  1. […] It means you have clear routines, procedures and possibly an assertive tone of voice when need be. Don’t fear breaking off task every one in a while to simply have a little joke/giggle with your class! You will also notice I have not used the word relationships in the entire blog, this does not mean I feel we can have quiet, calm, controlled, effective classrooms without relationships, I just feel whilst we can achieve the above we are creating and building those relationships. I have written about relationships here too. […]

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