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  6.  — Students and teacher

Students and teacher

Relational learning can facilitate a respectful and supportive relationship between teacher and student. Positive teacher-student relationships play an important role in creating a sense of trust and cooperation in classroom.

A positive relationship between teacher and students is important in fostering student achievement and creating an environment for high-quality teaching and learning processes and outcomes. Teacher-student relationships have also been found to impact “some dimensions on learning, student learning behaviour, student inclusivity, student attendance and dropout and overall student experience.” (p.1005).1 The focus should be on building and maintaining a respectful and supportive relationship with the student, not building friendship.2

Three students testing a car's electrical systems

Building teacher presence, in both face-to-face and online environments, can foster relationships between students and their teachers. This is not only about being present with the formal teaching space but also being clear about the expectations for the course, making sure that students know when the teacher is available and the most appropriate ways to make contact.

Creating sustainable and meaningful relationships with students can take time but will help students to feel that they are part of a wider community of learning. In this short video, Professor Peter Felten from Elon University outlines some of the elements of building such relationships.

Leo Lambert and Peter Felten discuss ways to build relationship-rich environments. (03:45s)

Small steps

Some practical tips to strengthen their relationship with students.

Learn and use students’ names, 3 or start your first day of class by introducing yourself and who you are, what your educational background is, and what your hobby is. This will help students to relate to you and be more comfortable with you and your class.2

Provide opportunities for students to give feedback during the term3 and ask them explicitly about how they would like to be engaged in their learning.4

Be enthusiastic, smile, and convey warm gestures. Facial and body language matters. If your approach is welcoming and casual, it will make students feel more relaxed and comfortable.2, 3

Make sure that students know the most appropriate way to contact you outside of the class.3

Use inclusive language in your teaching, including te reo.

Student engagement in the educational interface

Helping students to feel they belong is likely to encourage students’ attendance and make learning easier as they are more emotionally comfortable in class5.

Watch these short video clips by Dr Ella Kahu on ways to engage with students.

Ways to engage students in the first year of university (03:14s) 6

Making a connection online (03:46s) 7

Students and teacher in practice

Ko wai tātou? Who are we?

Ko wai tātou? Who are we?

Whanaungatanga is to encourage the development of close connection between people, to create a sense of belonging. Waipapa Taumata Rau’s design team co-designed a first-year compulsory Arts general course.

Page updated 22/02/2023 (minor edit)

  1. Tormey, Roland. “Rethinking student-teacher relationships in higher education: A multidimensional approach”. Higher Education 82 (2021): 993–1011.
  2. Garcia, Javier, S. “Relational learning: Creating a “working alliance” in the classroom”. In Westfall-Rudd, Donna, Vengrin, Courtney, & Elliott-Engel, Jeremy. Teaching in the University. (2022) Pressbooks. Available from:
  3. Quinlan, Kathleen, M. “How emotion matters in four key relationships in teaching and learning in higher education”. College Teaching 64, no 3 (2016): 101-111. doi: 10.1080/87567555.2015.1088818
  4. Bovill, Catherine. Co-creating learning and teaching: Towards relational pedagogy in higher education. (2020). Critical Publishing.
  5. Kahu, Ella, R. & Nelson, Karen. “Student engagement in the educational interface: Understanding the mechanisms of student success”. Higher Education Research & Development 37, no 1 (2018): 58-71.
  6. Kahu, Ella, R. “Ways to engage students in the first year of university”. (Video) (2018); Available from:
  7. Kahu, Ella, R. “Making a connection online”. (Video) (2020); Available from:
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