Tips for Positive Teacher-Student Relationship

The Teacher’s Lunchbox: Recipes for Positive Relationships

The importance of positive teacher – student relationships

Hello, educators. My name is Phyllis Ohr, and for the past 20 years I’ve engaged in teacher consultation and mentoring as a school psychologist throughout the New York City area. I’m very excited to share some of my ideas with you in a series of monthly blog posts. This first post comes at the start of the new school year, a perfect time to develop rapport with your students. Most of my ideas for positive teacher techniques are common sense, but there may be some relationship strategies you haven’t used before.

Why is it important to develop strong rapport with your students? Educational research has shown that when teachers develop positive relationships, they create an environment where students thrive and enjoy school more. According to Sara Rimm-Kaufman, Ph.D., an expert in the field, and as cited by the American Psychological Association, students will develop positive relationships if their teacher 1) shows a personal interest in that student, 2) actively listens to and engages in open communication with the student, and 3) guides the student using positive regard instead of negative judgment.

Now that you’re starting the new school year, you have the opportunity to build positive relationships with your students from day one. You can practice positive teacher relationship techniques using the acronym POSITIVE RELATIONSHIPS:

Ingredients for creating positive teacher – student relationships

  • Praise: positive reinforcement is very powerful — especially if you tell your students exactly what you like about their behavior.
  • Openness: be a role model to your students by sharing when you’re proud of your accomplishments — and likewise acknowledging your mistakes.
  • Support: show your support of students’ ability to become independent problem solvers by expressing a positive attitude when they work on their own.
  • Interest: become personally interested in getting to know the children in your classroom; show enthusiasm for their interests.
  • Trustworthiness: be a positive role model by being honest and following through when promises are made.
  • Interact: instead of spending time at your desk, join students as they sit in groups.
  • Validate: acknowledge students’ emotional responses without judging, and demonstrate how you control your own emotional responses as a guide.
  • Enjoy: show your pleasure and enjoyment of your students — smile!



  • Respect: showing respect is both verbal and nonverbal. Be aware of the messages you send and how your tone of voice or body language may convey a lack of respect — even if your words are positive. Use nonthreatening words and actions.
  • Empathize: show empathy and compassion by thinking about what it’s like to be in your student’s shoes.
  • Listen: show you’re listening attentively and actively by repeating and extending what the student says.
  • Accept: while you will be able to form positive relationships with many of your students, demonstrate acceptance if a student chooses to remain distant.
  • Tolerance: let’s face it: Not every day will be perfect. Model for your students methods to tolerate distress by talking about how you calm yourself down.
  • Individualize: your class is made up of many different personalities. Get to know each of your students separately by engaging in individual conversation, especially inhibited or challenging students.
  • Observe: it’s common to experience moments with students that can be very stressful. Instead of reacting, take a few moments to “take hold of your mind.” Do this by observing and calmly letting your thoughts and emotions come and go like a wave.
  • Nurture: provide emotional nurturance and growth in the classroom by engaging students in daily classroom rituals where they are encouraged to express themselves without judgment
  • Share: if you model sharing of yourself (such as your goals, your likes, or your disappointments), you create an environment where sharing is the norm.
  • Helpful: set up a system in the classroom where being helpful and kind to each other is positively reinforced. Fill up a bucket with good deeds, and reward the class when they fill it. That will give you plenty of chances to give positive feedback to your students.
  • Imitate: it’s your job to lead in the classroom, but you can follow your students’ lead in certain situations. Imitating their appropriate behaviors is a wonderful way to show your approval. For example, let them choose all aspects of an art project (what to create, what materials to use, etc.), and then follow their instructions.
  • Play: when your students are engaging in free play, join the play as an equal, as long as they seem comfortable.
  • Sensitivity: children’s emotional reactions are not always predictable, and you can’t assume a child will feel a certain way when something happens. Be a sensitive teacher by voicing acceptance of each student’s emotional response while helping them explore why he or she might feel that way.

Thank you for reading my first blog post. I enjoyed putting together the ingredients for positive teacher-student relationships. I realize that some students are easier to form relationships with than others. You may have children in your class with emotional, behavioral, social, and/or academic challenges which often impact a teacher’s ability to understand and help those children. For my next blog I will address the ingredients for understanding and helping children with challenges.

Bye Bye!

 By Dr. Phyllis Ohr

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