Fostering Strong Relationships in Schools: A Three-Part Series of Stories from the Field

Building and sustaining strong, positive relationships between and among students, teachers, and leaders is fundamental to promoting student engagement, social-emotional development, and academic growth. At Transforming Education, we believe so deeply in the power of strong relationships that they represent one of the six key components of our SEL Integration Approach, a guide for classroom teachers to support them in integrating social-emotional learning into academic curriculum and daily classroom routines.

In order to share current thinking what educators can do – and are already doing – to intentionally build connections with and among students and staff, TransformEd is releasing a series of stories from the field that highlight students’ and educators’ perspectives about developing and sustaining strong relationships in school. These perspectives were collected during a series of visits we conducted to school campuses across the country in which students reported strong social-emotional skills and favorable perceptions of their school environments.

This three-part series summarizes the latest research on the importance of building strong relationships in school; lifts up student, teacher, and leader voices; and provides additional resources that teachers and leaders can use to foster strong relationships in schools.

Building Strong Teacher-Student Relationships in the Classroom

Fostering positive teacher-student relationships helps create environments conducive to optimal learning experiences and social-emotional wellbeing. From visiting schools, we heard in students’ and teachers’ own words about the importance of teachers taking the time to check-in with students, using positive approaches that demonstrate kindness and patience, and incorporating fun in the classroom can help students feel more connected and valued by their teachers. While building these kinds of relationships takes time, by incorporating small, intentional practices into the day, teachers can find ways to strengthen their relationships and have a positive and long-lasting impact on the whole child. In this brief, we offer strategies to implement in the classroom to build and sustain strong relationships with students, that can be integrated seamlessly into daily activities with little additional time required.

Fostering Positive Peer Relationships

Fostering positive relationships among classroom peers is important for creating a classroom environment conducive to social-emotional development and academic learning. Research suggests that positive peer relationships are associated with better school engagement – including increased attendance and classroom participation – and can help build students’ sense of belonging in school. Moreover, intentionally supporting peer relationships can provide students with the opportunity to learn and practice both intrapersonal skills and interpersonal skills crucial for whole child development. In this brief, we offer strategies to implement in the classroom to promote strong and positive relationships among school peers, that can be integrated seamlessly into daily activities with little additional time required.

Cultivating Relationships Through Administrator Actions

When administrators prioritize cultivating trusting and caring relationships with school staff, it can help create a culture in which all members of the school community can thrive. Research suggests that positive leader and staff relationships can enable the conditions for teachers to further develop their teaching skills and help mitigate factors that lead to teacher burnout. Further, establishing a culture in which relationships between leaders and school staff are prioritized can ensure that the adults in the school are modeling for students what strong and positive relationships look like.

These briefs link to an old version of our SEL Integration Approach. Take a look at our new version here.

“We must resist thinking in siloed terms when it comes to social-emotional learning (SEL), academics, and equity. Rather, these elements of our work as educators and partners go hand in hand.”

TransformEd & ANet