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The Power of Relationships in Schools

Growing and nurturing student belonging.

Key points

  • All relationships take time and effort, including ones in schools.
  • Good relationships with teachers help students feel a greater sense of belonging and connection to the school community.
  • When students feel that they are part of a community at school, they are more likely to engage in positive ways at school.

School belonging is commonly described as a student’s feelings of being accepted and supported. This can be influenced by a student’s feelings and perceptions about their group of friends, teachers, school staff, team, or classroom, making it important that the relationships inside the educational institution remain healthy and positive. In fact, relationships are central to a student developing a sense of belonging to a school.

And, as most adults will know, relationships of all types take work and effort, even naturally occurring ones (cue to call a parent or loved one right after you finish reading this blog).

Students not only need to know how to build and keep positive relationships, but they also need the opportunities to have positive relationships in the first place.

Read on to learn more about the power of relationships in schools for school belonging:

Why are relationships in schools important for school belonging?

Most people seek out and desire strong social bonds, but for adolescents and children, such bonds are critical to healthy development. Adolescents, in particular, rely on others for approval, decision-making, problem-solving, and social support. Relationships become an important part of identity development and support the transition into young adulthood.

What are the benefits of positive social interactions for school belonging?

Positive social interactions are essential for students’ academic success and overall well-being in school. In difficult situations, like family divorce or conflict, relationships with others can prove to be an important source of coping for young people. Relationships also have a substantial role in health and well-being outcomes, and the presence of healthy relationships in youth can predict patterns of relationships in adulthood.

Young children, for instance, who have challenging experiences with trust and attachment can face further difficulties with social bonds and relationship formation later in life. These impacts can create obstacles for friends and intimate relations as well as further learning and employment. Having an early foundation for building positive relationships is important, and the school can play a critical role in this.

Good relationships with teachers help students feel a greater sense of belonging and connection to the school community and encourage them to participate more actively. Student engagement in learning is linked to greater academic performance and is vital for a sense of belonging.

How can school promote a sense of belonging?

Most schools prioritize students’ sense of belonging to their school and its surrounding community (Allen et al., 2018). But many also lack access to targeted interventions that might help students maintain and improve their sense of belonging (Allen et al., 2021).

Megan Pedlar (2018) suggests the following ways to establish student-teacher relationships:

  • Prioritize high-quality teacher-student connections.
  • Set an atmosphere in the classroom and school grounds that is both encouraging and nurturing for students.
  • Provide students with emotional assistance.
  • Be aware of students’ feelings and needs.
  • Show kids that you care about them.
  • Make an effort to comprehend pupils’ perspectives.
  • Be courteous and treat others fairly.
  • Establish a feeling of belonging among students by fostering healthy peer connections and mutual respect.
  • Encourage positive classroom management.

What is the future for studies in improving school belonging?

School belonging and teacher support are often investigated as bivariate connections in academic research. A correlation between two variables might build relationship inferences, but it does not tell us anything about causality. However, while the student-teacher relationship is considered to be one of the most important components of school belonging, nurturing this relationship needs to be a priority. Teachers and other school staff need to know more about specific techniques and activities they can take to create a sense of belonging (Allen, Slaten, et al., 2021). And then they need the leadership that affords them the time to do so.

Here are two quick activities that teachers can try from Boosting School Belonging: Practical Strategies to Help Adolescents Feel Like They Belong at School, co-written with Associate Professor Peggy Kern from the University of Melbourne.

Activity 1: Radio Show Host

Purpose: Help students get to know more about their teachers.

Materials: Pen and paper

Suggested time for completion: 30-40 minutes


Students often know very little about the lives of their teachers, and some self-disclosure (within professional limits) can enhance the student-teacher relationship. In this activity, students pretend to be radio hosts and ask teachers questions to find out more information about them. This activity can be fun with you as the interviewee or by bringing in another teacher or counselor. At its core, this activity aims to allow students to see teachers as “real people.”


Ask your students to imagine that they are radio show hosts, doing a “get to know you” segment on their show. The goal is to interview one of their other teachers. Ask students to choose a teacher they do not know a lot about.

Ask the student to think about what questions they would want to ask a teacher. What would they want to find out? Give them time to come up with a list of questions, offering some suggestions as needed.

If you are working with a group, it can be fun if they interview you or, alternatively, bring in a colleague. Give students time to brainstorm ideas and come together to share their responses with one another, coming up with a final set of questions.

If you are the interviewee, have fun with this. Let students ask questions, be a bit vulnerable, and show that you are a real person. This can be a bit scary but helps give students a sense of you as a real person.

For other teachers, if possible, bring them in and let the students interview them, using the questions they came up with. If others are not available, encourage the students to follow up over the next week and interview a teacher with their list of questions, reporting back on their findings the next week.

Activity 2: About Me

Purpose: Get to know more about each student.

Materials: Pen and paper

Suggested time for completion: 20-30 minutes


Strong student-teacher relationships involve teachers who understand and know their students. So teachers need to know their students as individual people—what they like, what they dislike, who they are as a person. It’s hard to support students you don’t know. You might guess, but it’s helpful to know firsthand from their perspective. This exercise helps students proactively show their teacher who they are by telling a bit more about themselves in a letter.


Ask your students to write a letter to a teacher they would like to build a stronger relationship with. Guide students to let them know who they are, what they like, what they don’t like, and what they would like to achieve from their class. Students should also mention what they like best about the teacher they are writing to.


Healthy relationships between students and their peers, teachers, and school staff are key to student belonging. When students feel that they are part of a community at school, they are more likely to participate in school activities, identify with school values, and invest in their work.


Allen, K. A., Kern, P., Vella-Brodrick, D., & Waters, L. (2018). Understanding the priorities of Australian secondary schools through an analysis of their mission and vision statements. Educational Administration Quarterly, 54(2), 249-274.

Allen, K. A., Jamshidi, N., Berger, E., Reupert, A., Wurf, G., & May, F. (2021). Impact of school-based interventions for building school belonging in adolescence: A systematic review. Educational Psychology Review, 1-29.

Allen, K. A., & Kern, P. (2019). Boosting school belonging in adolescents: Interventions for teachers and mental health professionals. Routledge.

Allen, K. A. Slaten, C., Arslan, G., Roffey, S., Craig, H., & Vella-Brodrick, D. (2021). School belonging: The importance of student-teacher relationships. In P. Kern & M. Streger (Eds.), The Palgrave handbook of positive education. Palgrave & Macmillan.

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