#6 Relationship with Instructors

Students learn better when they have positive relationships with their instructors.

Benefits of a positive faculty student relationship

  • Students with positive interactions and connections with faculty show[1]
    • Greater satisfaction in the overall college experience
    • Higher retention rates
  • Higher levels of learning
  • Greater student involvement in the college community
  • Increased student motivation
  • Students with high satisfaction with their teachers correlated with perception of greater social presence in the online classroom[2]
  • Positive faculty student relationships[3]
    • Lead to positive learning climates
    • Supports the development of problem solving skills
    • Correlates positively with the number of students that go on to graduate school

Fostering positive interaction with students

  • Ken Bain found that best college teachers do the following[4]
    • Find value in each individual student and their unique abilities
    • Believe that each student “requires something special”
    • Genuinely believe students will achieve
    • Have high standards and express trust that students can meet those standards
    • Take students seriously
    • Develop mutual respect with students
    • Expect “more” but not necessarily “higher”
      • Don’t just expect academic achievement rather but expect and support growth as human beings
      • Believe that students want to learn
      • Provide clear and consistent expectations[5]
    • Establish trust and openness
      • Tell stories of their own struggles or your intellectual journey
      • Show humility and recognition that they are fellow students of life
      • Provide evidence that class expectations are fair and consistent
    • Other characteristics of a positive faculty student orientation[6]
      • Students feel the teacher is personally interested in them
      • The teacher shows care about minority groups
      • The teacher is approachable inside and outside the classroom
      • The teacher views each student as unique

Strategies to develop positive relationships with your students

  • Make the effort to know your students [7]
    • Learn student’s names
      • Use a seating chart and tell them why
      • Take notes about physical appearances
      • Take roll in every class
      • Use name tags or display name cards until you know the students
    • Use the first days of class to get to know your students
      • Use index cards for students to write information about themselves
      • Share information about yourself
      • Spend time on social or content based ice breakers to encourage relationship building and excitement for course content
    • Value various viewpoints and model an attitude that embraces critical thinking beyond simple answers[8]
    • Use evidence to support your grading- such as rubrics[8]
    • Examine your own assumptions and biases toward students[8]
    • Use inclusive language, behaviors, and attitudes[8]
    • Use active listening in conversations with students[8]


[1] Vincent Tinto. Completing College: Rethinking Institutional Action. (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2012). 64-65.

[2] Jennifer C. Richardson & Karen Swan. Examining Social Presence in Online Courses in Relation to Students’ Perceived Learning and SatisfactionJournal of Asynchronous Learning Networks 7(10). 2003.

[3] Susan A. Ambrose, Michael W. Bridges, Michele DiPietro, Marcha C. Lovett, and Marie K. Norman, How Learning Works: 7 Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2010).121-152.

[4] Ken Bain. What the Best College Teachers Do. (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Pres, 2004)68-97

[5] Lang, J. M. (2013). Cheating lessons. Harvard University Press.

[6] Ambrose et al. How Learning Works: 7 Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching. 172-173.

[7] Linda B. Nilson. Teaching at its Best: A Research-Based Resource for College Instructors. 3rd ed. (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2010) 43-50.

[8] Ambrose et al. How Learning Works: 7 Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching. 180-187.