Relationships: The Heart of a Positive School Culture

Strong relationships are the foundation of a vibrant school culture. When students are known, noticed, appreciated, and challenged to be their best by teachers, staff, and other students, they build deeper bonds to the school and to each other. These deeper connections accelerate motivation and learning.

Of course, it’s easy to say that relationships matter. It’s harder to make them a priority. Teachers have to get through lessons, grade papers and tests, deal with behavioral issues, and on and on. Yet when we find ways to focus on enhancing relationships—often in small ways—it can make a great deal of difference in student engagement and learning as well as in student behavior and classroom management.

Jostens Renaissance has partnered with Search Institute to provide insights, tips, and tools to help you be more intentional about nurturing positive relationships in your classroom and school. The tips will alternate between a focus on enhancing teacher-student relationships and how teachers can enhance student-to-student relationships.

For the past four years, Search Institute has been examining what kinds of relationships young people need in their lives in order to become their best selves. They have identified five key elements of relationships that help young people grow:

  1. Express care—Show students that they matter to you.
  2. Challenge growth—Push students to keep getting better.
  3. Provide support—Help students complete tasks and achieve goals.
  4. Share power— Treat students with respect and give them a say.
  5. Expand possibilities—Connect students with places that broaden their world.

A more detailed list that includes specific actions to support these keys can be downloaded here. Each of these elements is part of strong relationships between teacher and students and between students themselves. By attending to these specific actions, we can ensure that young people are surrounded with a strong, balanced web of relationships that helps them not only flourish in school, but thrive and contribute throughout their lives.

Building relationships is not a one-size-fits-all strategy. Effective teachers vary the specific accents in their relationships to fit with the priorities and personalities of different students. Giving that level of individual attention can be a major challenge, particularly when you teach many students each semester or quarter. However, as Robert Pianta and his colleagues wrote:

When teachers learn to make modest efforts to form a personal connection with their adolescent students—such that the students feel known—they can dramatically enhance student motivation.

Click the below image to download an entire guide on cultivating caring relationships:



Pianta, R. C., Hamre, B. K., & Allen, J. P. (2012). Teacher-student relationships and engagement: Conceptualizing, measuring, and improving the capacity of classroom interactions. In S. L. Christenson, A. L. Reschly, & C. Wylie (Eds.). Handbook of research on student engagement (pp. 365-386). New York: Springer.

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