In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Teacher-Student Relationships

  • Introduction
  • Research about Teacher-Student Relationships
  • Positive Relationships as a Basis for Equality and Freedom
  • Links between Teacher-Student Relationships and Students’ Sense of Belonging
  • Links between Teacher-Student Relationships and Pedagogy
  • Teacher-Student Relationships from Listening to Students
  • Teacher-Student Relationships as the Basis for “Critical” and Liberatory Actions
  • Culture and Color Influencing Teacher-Student relationships
  • Teacher-Student Relationships from a Māori Worldview Perspective
  • Relationships across Schools, Families, and Communities Supporting Learners
  • Teacher-Student Relationships for Students Most at Risk

Education Teacher-Student Relationships
Mere Berryman
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 January 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0232


This review responds to a number of questions, including: What is known about teacher-student relationships? What about teacher-student relationships makes them effective and successful? How do effective relationships ensure that teachers and students can face the daily challenges in todays’ education systems and also in wider society? How might these relationships contribute to future proofing our societies against the global crises that have become our collective reality? Discourses related to relationships are often used as though there are collective understandings. However, much of the praxis—the policies, pedagogies, and testing regimes—found in learning institutions still protect and privilege some students over others, and the gaps in education and society continue to widen. This bibliography will show that teacher-student relationships continue to be widely researched; that early philosophical understandings grounded in relationships of equality and freedom have intergenerational interest and traction; and that relationships can take many forms, with some forms of teacher-student relationships resulting in more productive outcomes than others, and some forms actually doing harm. The scholars included in this entry are engaging in the types of relationships where “critical” questions increasingly sit at the forefront of learning and schooling. They are interested in contexts for learning where all learners are respected and able to bring their own experiences, their solutions, and their potential to the table, and from which collective growth and benefit can ensue. Among this common thread there is a diversity of worldviews, with knowledge that may yet be untried or untested. These citations provide insights into the kinds of teacher-student relationships that can help us learn more deeply about the profession by beginning with the self.

Research about Teacher-Student Relationships

Although teacher-student relationships are considered to be central to the experiences of teaching and learning, there are still a lot of questions about these relationships that are unanswered or poorly understood. Much of the research being undertaken about the influence of the teacher-student relationships are along the lines of Hattie 2009; Hattie 2012; and Roorda, et al. 2011—all of which utilize meta-analyses to compare large numbers of research studies and synthesize their significance across a range of factors. Other research has explored aspects of student-teacher relationships, such as Pogue and Ahyun 2006, which looks at teacher and student behaviors in order to understand the impact of positive immediacy behaviors by teachers on students’ perceptions of their teachers’ credibility. Gehlbach, et al. 2012 examines how teacher-student relationships changed over the course of a year, and what the implications of these changes were on students’ engagement and learning. Building on her earlier work, Christine Rubie-Davies became interested in teachers’ perceptions of students and the links such perceptions had on students’ learning outcomes. Rubie-Davies and Peterson 2016 found that teacher perceptions were influential to differential learner outcomes between children from majority and minority cultural groups. Similarly, Li 2018 studies student-teacher relationships in relation to Latino and non-Latino students. Sointu, et al. 2017 explores the association between students’ behavioral and emotional strengths, their relationships with teachers, and their academic achievement. Bainbridge and Houser 2000, meanwhile, demonstrates how interpersonal teacher-student relationships remain important at a tertiary level. Finally, to understand the ways in which teacher-student relationships influence teachers’ feelings of professional and personal self-esteem and well-being, Spilt, et al. 2011 provides a review of related literature.

  • Bainbridge F. A., and M. Houser. 2000. The teacher‐student relationship as an interpersonal relationship. Communication Education 49.3: 207–219.

    This research article explores the importance of interpersonal teacher-student relationships at a tertiary level. While content expertise and delivery methods have traditionally been viewed as of primary importance at a tertiary level, this study shows that to facilitate successful learning, teachers need to balance both the content and relational dimensions in their teaching.

  • Gehlbach, H., M. E. Brinkworth, and A. D. Harris. 2012. Changes in teacher-student relationships. British Journal of Educational Psychology 82:690–704.

    This study investigated how the relationships between teachers and students changed from the beginning to the end of the year, and whether any such changes influenced students’ motivation or academic outcomes. Findings revealed that relationships could and did change, and that changes were important for both motivation and academic outcomes. Further research was advocated to improve relationships.

  • Hattie, J. 2009. Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. London and New York: Routledge.

    Hattie investigated the influences on students’ achievement and concluded that teachers who were able to make the learning visible for their learners, who saw learning through the eyes of the learners and promoted situations where students could see themselves as their own teachers, were essential. Signposts for teaching excellence included teachers who were directive, caring, and actively and passionately engaged in teaching and learning as the most powerful influence.

  • Hattie, J. 2012. Visible learning for teachers: Maximizing impact on learning. London and New York: Routledge.

    Hattie introduces additional meta-analyses to reinforce his previous work about what makes the most effective and successful teacher-student relationships and interactions, and he provides concise guidelines for teacher and student implementation. Guidance and practical supports are also provided for school leaders wanting to facilitate “visible learning” in their schools.

  • Li, Y. 2018. Teacher-student relationships, student engagement, and academic achievement for non-Latino and Latino youth. Adolescent Research Review 3.4: 375–424.

    This meta-analysis compares the results of twenty-six studies on the association of teacher-student relationships with the engagement and achievement of non-Latino and Latino youth. The findings show strong associations between positive teacher-student relationships with student engagement and academic achievement for both groups.

  • Pogue, L., and K. Ahyun. 2006. The effect of teacher nonverbal immediacy and credibility on student motivation and affective learning. Communication Education 55.3: 331–344.

    This study, involving 586 students, explores the impact of the interaction between positive immediacy behaviors, such as teacher smiles, head nods, and eye contact, with students’ perceptions of teacher credibility. The findings demonstrated that personal communication between teachers and students, as well as teacher expertise, helped to define what students understood as effective to teaching and their subsequent learning.

  • Roorda, D. L., H. M. Y. Koomen, J. L. Spilt, and F. J. Oort. 2011. The influence of affective teacher-student relationships on students’ school engagement and achievement: A meta-analytic approach. Review of Educational Research 81.4: 493–529.

    This meta-analysis draws from 99 studies and a total of 129,423 students, across primary to secondary levels. It explores the influence of teacher-student’ relationships on engagement and achievement. Results show the importance of positive teacher-student relationships, especially for students who are academically at risk, including those from disadvantaged backgrounds and those with learning difficulties.

  • Rubie-Davies, C., and E. R. Peterson. 2016. Relations between teachers’ achievement, over- and underestimation, and students’ beliefs for Māori and Pākehā students. Contemporary Educational Psychology 47:72–83.

    This New Zealand study explored indigenous Māori students’ beliefs about their teachers and their teachers’ expectations of them, looking to understand any influences on the achievement gap between these students and their non-Māori peers. It concluded there were connections, and that the inclusion of culturally based interventions to improve student-teacher relationships by using culturally appropriate teaching methods may help to increase achievement.

  • Sointu, E. T., H. Savolainen, K. Lappalainen, and M. C. Lambert. 2017. Longitudinal associations of student-teacher relationships and behavioural and emotional strengths on academic achievement. Educational Psychology 37.4: 457–467.

    This longitudinal study, across forty-six schools in Finland, explored the association between students’ behavioral and emotional strengths, their relationships with teachers, and their academic achievement. The study showed that academic achievement was predicted by students’ behavioral and emotional strength and the student-teacher relationship.

  • Spilt, J. L., M. Y. Helma, and J. T. Thijs. 2011. Teacher wellbeing: The importance of teacher-student relationships. Educational Psychology Review 23:457–477.

    This review of the literature sought to study the importance of teacher-student relationships in relation to their influence on teachers’ feelings of professional and personal self-esteem and well-being. It argues that teacher stress from student misbehavior may be better understood from a relational perspective. While it found few studies testing these considerations, it offers suggestions for future research in this area.

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