In researching our recent whitepaper on learning and wellbeing in schools, one message came through loud and clear: teacher-student relationships are everything!

This research was compiled by Education Horizons working closely with expert educators. It explored the hypothesis that great teaching and learning was one of the biggest in-school drivers of student wellbeing. We explored this hypothesis by comparing the evidence bases for developing student wellbeing and for effective school teaching and learning. We found almost complete overlap – the focus areas identified in a range of wellbeing frameworks were aligned to high-impact influences identified in the Visible Learning research base.

1. Teacher-student relationships at the heart of great school learning

According to the Visible Learning meta X repository at, the teacher-student relationship influence is  “the quality of the relationship between the teacher and student, and in many cases also the relationships developed by the teacher between the students.” This influence was assessed through five meta-analyses covering 428 different studies and 588,851 students.

The identified effect size of Teacher-Student Relationships was 0.47 – above the 0.4 average effect experienced by a student achieving 12 months learning in a 12-month period.

Our consultations with education leaders reinforced the significance of this influence on student learning.

We are highlighting the importance of relationships at the centre of this conversation. Learning won’t happen nor will wellbeing be enhanced if we don’t have strong relationships.

Allan Dougan,
Australian Association of Mathematics Teachers CEO
Member of Education Horizons Advisory Board

Teaching is fully a relational activity. Learning likewise is relational in that it occurs within the relationship one has with oneself. The capacity to learn is complex. However learning is relationally determined and all want to be resilient learners. This can only occur if the relationship with self and the teacher is of quality.

John Hendry OAM,
Former school leader and positive psychology advocate
Co-founder of the Relationship-based Education model

2. Building teacher-student relationships in practice

During discussions with a leading school in South Australia, the school’s Wellbeing Leader made an interesting point about the challenges of building teacher student relationships. He described the influx of new year sevens at the start of 2023, including many from very small rural schools and some with identified anxiety issues and prior access to dedicated teachers’ aides.

For this leader, the challenge was how to recreate the same level of special attention at the heart of these students’ previous teacher relationships. As discussed in the whitepaper, asking teachers to carve out time for regular deep one-on-one time with every student is unsustainable in an average classroom.

In consultation with leading education expert Associate Professor Lorraine Hammond, we explored the idea that exclusive relationship-building time – outside of teaching and learning – is not the most effective way to build and benefit from strong teacher-student relationships.

After an initial read of the draft whitepaper, Associate Professor Hammond said she “was reminded of an acting principal in a large K-12 school with plenty of student wellbeing issues. He listened to me talking about pedagogy and engagement through instruction to the staff on one of the days before school started a few years ago. He told the attendees that what I had said was ‘all very well’, but their focus for the next two weeks was to ‘build relationships with the students.’  I pulled him aside and asked how he thought staff might do that. He had no suggestions other than ‘getting to know you games’.

“In the metropolitan, regional and remote schools I work in around Australia, we build relationships and student wellbeing through instruction and predictable routines. Our teachers teach at pace and use Engagement Norms. This reduces off-task behaviour by maintaining student participation and engagement.”

3. Building the right environment for great teacher-student relationships

Based on this insight we went back to the research literature to understand how other high-impact learning influences could shape development of strong relationships within the teaching and learning process.

In our Learning and Wellbeing whitepaper, we concluded that:

“When considering the teacher-student relationship identified in the Visible Learning evidence base, it is important to consider this influence in the context of other high-impact influences also identified in the research.

These include

  • teacher clarity;
  • success criteria;
  • clear goal intentions;
  • teacher credibility;
  • student feedback on teacher performance;
  • peer-assessment;
  • class discussion; and
  • student self-assessment.

When viewed together, these influences describe a learning environment where students:

  • understand what is required of them;
  • feel confident and motivated to actively meet new learning challenges;
  • are able to collaborate with their peers; and
  • have a sense of identify and ownership through voice in their learning process.

Where teachers:

  • have student engagement goals;
  • are seen as credible;
  • plan for clarity;
  • provide meaningful feedback; and
  • are open to constantly gathering student voice and developing ownership,

students are more likely to feel they are part of a trusting relationship and more likely to take responsibility for building trusting relationships.

We posit that this style of learning experience will reduce pressure for more traditional intensive one-on-one interactions and foster greater teacher-student engagement. This is an interesting area for further study, as schools confront student reliance on teachers and re-engage students following the disruption of the pandemic.

Where to from here?

Please complete the form below to book a demo and explore how our SEQTA Learning and Wellbeing platform can support relationships through great teaching and learning.