What the science says about building positive relationships with the students.

The prefrontal cortex plays a key role in processes like attention control, working memory, problem-solving, and decision-making. Needless to say, these are essential processes involved in learning. This region of the brain is more active during empathic and positive social interactions. Therefore, we can establish that if the relationship between students and their teacher is positive, the brain is in a better condition for learning to happen.

It is also relevant mentioning the hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin is released during positive social interactions, promoting feelings of trust and attachment. The presence of this hormone where there is a positive bond between students and teachers is a fact. Oxytocin promotes social learning and social memory, which involves learning from observation and interacting with others. In this context, teachers serve as role models for students, who are likely to learn from our behaviors. Additionally, oxytocin enhances different types of memory, especially social memory. 

Adding to what has been addressed before, we need to mention that high levels of stress and anxiety impair cognitive functions such as memory and attention. Oxytocin helps reduce the effects of these natural human responses, creating a more appropriate state of mind for learning. Last but not least, oxytocin also plays a role in neuroplasticity, aiding learning through new neural connections which is crucial for supporting lifelong learning and cognitive flexibility.

When we experience pleasurable interactions with others, the brain releases dopamine. Dopamine plays an important role in learning through different processes. Rewards and praise boost dopamine, which reinforces positive behaviors and can be used to generate patterns and attitudes that enhance learning. It also has a significant impact on motivation. Needless to say, motivated students will put more effort into their work and subjects, leading to more effective learning.

Dopamine plays a crucial role in attention and cognitive flexibility. It helps the brain prioritize information and filter distractions, facilitating better understanding and retention of information. Additionally, dopamine is involved in synaptic plasticity, the process by which the strength of connections between neurons changes. This enhances the brain’s ability to store new information and form lasting memories.

On a final note, I’d like to point out the role serotonin and endorphins play in learning. When we do things together or share meaningful moments, our brains release these neurotransmitters. Endorphins make us feel pleasure and reward. When learning is tied to positive feelings and rewards, like solving a problem or mastering a new skill, endorphins get released. This makes learning more enjoyable and keeps us motivated to keep going. They also help reduce stress, which, as we mentioned before, leads to a better learning state of mind.

When it comes to serotonin, it helps regulate mood, creating better scenarios and preparing the person for learning. Additionally, like oxytocin, it’s involved in the neuroplasticity of our brains. As mentioned earlier, this is crucial for learning because it promotes the formation of new neuron connections.

What the students say about building positive relationships with teachers

When I began this journey, I decided to interview some of my former students and athletes to gain insight and demonstrate the importance of building positive relationships with students. After all, at the end of the day, they are the ones who matter. Here’s what they have to say.

A Grade 11 student living in the UK with a mixed background speaks highly about the support and guidance she received, emphasizing the balance between being demanding and having a caring approach that helped her achieve the grades she was aiming for. Similarly, a Grade 8 student at that time mentions how he truly appreciates the positive relationships created with teachers who made an effort to build a good rapport with the students. He highlights how this motivation encouraged him to put more effort into those lessons.

IIn the Caribbean, there was a Grade 12 student who was in her last year before University. I remember her as such a talented student, but unable to unlock her potential. She highlights how this approach to teaching, based on building positive relationships with the students, was a life-changing experience for her. Finally, she could grow her self-confidence, which not only enabled her to achieve one of the best grades in the country in her Spanish National exams but also to continue to shine in her project after school to become a doctor abroad.

Still on the exotic beaches of the Bahamas, I met this young man in Grade 8. Struggling academically and showing some behavioral issues, I wasn’t able to help him succeed academically straight away. However, I forged a positive connection that he still remembers. He mentions how the sacrifice of a teacher moving to a different country to help and care for students he did not know before was more significant than Spanish; it was a masterclass in leadership from a great person who motivated him to strive in the future. And strive he did, becoming one of the most brilliant young entrepreneurs in the USA. Man, I did not see that coming. That’s why we should never give up; always keep believing in them.

The last star I am going to mention in this section is a German student based in Thailand who was not indeed my student but a member of my football team. She wants to remark how she felt those teachers who really cared and who were asking about her well-being and how things were going, and actually meant this. She says it was really open for her to open up to those teachers, and this helped her to go through the difficult last years of IB. She hopes the future of education is heading in this direction as she can only think of good memories from that time.

Why is it important?

Why is it important?

I strongly believe that building positive relationships with our students is key if we want to help them succeed academically and most importantly develop themselves as a person, but why?

Firstly, when there is a good rapport between teacher and student, it just makes the whole learning thing way more enjoyable. Students are more likely to speak up in class, ask questions, and actually pay attention. Plus, when the student feel like the teacher actually cares about them, it is a serious motivator factor. The students not just doing the work because they have to; they are doing it because they want to impress someone who believes in them. Plus, when the students know they have their teacher’s support and there is not judgment, it is more likely they push themselves and try new things.

When you have built a positive relationships with the kids, it makes an impact not only in the learning but also in their general wellbeing. We are there to cheer them on, give them advice, and help them through tough times. That kind of support can make a huge difference, especially when they are facing challenges in school. When students feel comfortable, supported, and trusted by their teachers, it lays a solid foundation for academic success. They are more inclined to participate in class, take on challenges, and push themselves further. Essentially, when students know their teachers care about them, it sets the stage for improved academic performance and personal growth.

When the teacher does not build a positive relationship witht he students they are just not as into it and they may zone out during class. And here’s the thing, when there is not a positive teacher-student connection, student start losing motivation and questioning the teacher or themselves, feeling less confident, and that can seriously affect their performance. That is why it is no surprise that students tend to fall behind when they are not feeling the love from their teacher.

We have superpowers 💪

I have a little girl in my homeroom (Grade 6) who is a writer. Not long ago she shared one of her stories and I really enjoyed reading it. This happened today in class:

– Me: “Ey, after I read your story I got inspired by you and I bought a notebook to start writing”

– Student: “really?” With her eyes really opened.

– Me: “Sure, do you want to see it?”

I took the notebook and the special pen I bought to start writing on it and she opened her mouth like she could not believe her eyes. 

Then I said, “Yes, you have been an inspiration for me, and smiled at her”
This put the biggest smile on her face and she left the room after class over the moon feeling really proud of herself 😀

Be very aware of your words towards your students because the reality is that…

We have superpowers 💪

It’s not just a teddy bear

As you know, I work with emotions and relationships to boost learning in class. But why do I have a teddy bear? Emotions / emotional intelligence and human relationships are strongly related. Building solid relationships with the students and creating a proper learning environment makes it possible for the brain to generate the needed chemicals for the learning to happen. This teddy bear 🐻 is a present from 2 students (2 students who have had a very rough life), so I make a big deal of everything to cover and balance their affective needs. The big smiles they show and the effort they put in Spanish prove that it works. 

As it is a gift from them, I spent all day long with the teddy bear so they could see I appreciated the present and it is important to me. Because of this, bonding grows, the respect gets stronger, and it is easier to teach them. To the rest of my students, it was a shock to see me with the teddy bear 🐻 so I surprised them, generated intrigue and engaged them (always try to break the routine in class). On top of that, the kids love the teddy bear 🐻 and they asked me if they could hold him and hug him. We named him, and everyone has the chance to cuddle him, play with it and keep it while they are working. They look after him, and they share him (sharing skills and self-regulation) 

One day, our bear had a minor accident and got a cut on his belly. The students saw it, and they teamed up and planned everything to fix him. They wanted “to cure” him (how sweet), So they brought sewing threads, needles, scissors and fixed him; he was back 100% healthy. It was so special to see this; they showed responsibility, self-planning, teamwork, and what moved me the most “empathy, love and care” The bear was hurt, but they fixed him with love. 

Now it is Our thing; the Spanish class has a mascot that the kids named, love, and look after him.  It is our special thing in Spanish. The teacher has a teddy bear 🐻 that lets the students play with him. Trust, respect, sharing and showing affection again the bonding and the relationship gets stronger, students feel more confident, in a safe environment and it boosts their learning massively. Little things and small details have a significant impact on kids learning and student-teacher relationships.


Borja Ferraz 🎓
Building positive relationships 🌠❤️