How to Improve Student-Teacher Relationships 

Juan Ramirez

May 16, 2022

For middle and high school students, teacher-student relationships play a central role in their educational experience. If you think back to your middle and high school day, this idea is rather intuitive; it’s unlikely that you can recall specific questions from a test or even your final grade in a class, but you always remember the personal connections you made with a favorite teacher.


We know from BRAVE UP! student surveys how students view their relationships with teachers. Such positive relationships can lead to better educational outcomes for adolescent students. But how can we improve teacher-student relationships in the classroom?


Social psychological studies find that when people believe they share commonalities with others, their relationships improve. If you favor a certain sports team, musical genre or set of beliefs, it’s likely that you will have more positive relationships with others that share these same preferences.


With a research team at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, we set off to better understand how “social connectedness” could be applied to a secondary school environment.



  • Teachers and students who learned what they had in common with the other party perceived themselves as being more similar.
  • When teachers learned that they shared commonalities with their students, they rated their relationships as more positive. (By contrast, the intervention did not significantly affect students’ perceptions of their relationship with their teachers).
  • Finally, when teachers received similarity reports about what they had in common with a randomly selected group of students, those randomly selected students earned higher grades in the class.


This study underscores how important teacher-student relationships can be. The study provides an important illustration of how similarities might be leveraged to improve these relationships in secondary schools. Therefore, we encourage teachers to be open with students, and share what you like, hobbies and to talk about things you are passionate about. 

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