top of page

Winning over the hearts AND minds of our students: the Teacher-Student Relationship (TSR)

The Educational Coach

20 Mar 2024

Discovering new insights into the Teacher-Student relationship is essential for educators striving to create and coach supportive learning environments.

Discovering new insights into the Teacher-Student relationship is essential for educators striving to create and coach supportive learning environments. Relationships are fundamental to optimal wellbeing and are a basic psychological need. When managed correctly, effective teaching and coaching promote growth and well-being for students, encouraging collaborative behaviors and a sense of belonging among students. 

Recent research by Jowett et al. sheds light on a multidimensional approach, emphasising closeness, commitment, and complementarity (3Cs) between teachers and students. This approach offers a holistic perspective on fostering positive relationships. In the past, we have only focused on teachers, here there is a child-centered approach. 

By understanding these interactions, the emphasis is placed on having good quality coaching conversations, to support students' emotional and academic needs. For a deeper dive into this innovative research, read on and explore practical strategies to strengthen Teacher-Student relationships and empower the relationships in your school. 

As coaches, relationships are crucial to our line of work. For you, they are crucial for Classroom success. Yet, there are still many unknowns about the Teacher-Student relationship, what’s involved and how to improve it. 

The British Psychological association has supported pioneering research into the Teacher-Student Relationship and boasts an exciting future. Relationships are central to the human experience, and in psychology, positive relationships are vital for optimal functioning and wellbeing (Seligman, 2012). Nowhere is this more evident than in schools, where the quality of interactions between students and teachers can profoundly impact various aspects of student life.

Research indicates that strong teacher-student relationships are not just beneficial but often essential for students' emotional regulation, attention, problem-solving skills, and academic achievement (Pianta, 2006). In fact, these relationships are frequently valued even more highly than familial support (Oberle et al., 2014; Troop-Gordon & Kopp, 2011). Conversely, students who struggle with poor relationships with their teachers may experience heightened emotional and behavioral difficulties, including increased levels of aggression (Milatz et al., 2014).

 Recent and exciting research from Jowett et al. (20230 propose a better understanding of the content and functions of Teacher–Student relationships, by using this dyadic and multidimensional approach. Through improved measurement, a network of knowledge helps translate this to clearer practical guidelines on how to build healthy and effective Teacher–Student relationships. This approach is born out of sport and the Coach-Athlete relationship using interdependence theory (Jowett, 2007). Interdependence theory proposes that relationships are defined through interpersonal interdependence which is “the process by which interacting people influence one another's experience” (Van Lange & Balliet, 2015, p. 65). Accordingly, the dyadic relationship is defined as an interpersonal situation within which both persons' interpersonal feelings (closeness), thoughts (commitment), and behaviours (complementarity) are mutually and causally interdependent (Jowett & Felton, 2014). These components make the 3C’s: 

  • Closeness reflects the affective ties the members of the relationship experience and include mutual trust, respect, appreciation, and liking (e.g., Teacher: I respect my student; Student: I respect my teacher). 

  • Commitment describes the intentions of the members of the relationship to maintain their proximity over time despite highs and lows they may experience (e.g., Teacher: I am committed to my student; Student: I am committed to my teacher).

  • Complementarity captures the level to which relationship members are cooperative and collaborative with one another (e.g., Teacher: I am responsive to my student; Student: I am responsive to my teacher). 

Here, the 3Cs capture a teacher and student's mutual and causal parts of their relationship, The emphasis is on the combined interrelating between a teacher and a given student. For example, a teacher's 3Cs (e.g., I appreciate my student) are likely to influence student's 3Cs (e.g., I appreciate my teacher) and vice versa. This shifts from previous unidirectional approaches to considering both the student and teacher. An important development for education. 

As a tool for schools, The 3Cs model and its corresponding new measure (TSRQ-Q; Jowett et al., 2023) provide a clear description of what the quality of the connection between a student and a teacher looks like. Considering the interpersonal situation within which a student's and a teacher's feelings (closeness), thoughts (commitment) and behaviours (complementarity) are mutually and causally interconnected, there is support here for a student-centered perspective (e.g., I trust, respect; I am committed; I am responsive to my teacher). Often, we are focused on what teachers can change or to do to help students, when actually we rarely understand how students feel, there is support here for the application of this to teacher and student wellbeing initiatives. 

This innovative approach to the Teacher-Student relationship holds promise for offering a more comprehensive understanding of the impact of interaction between educators and learners. The dual pathway reveals that nurturing positive and high-quality Teacher–Student relationships, from the student's perspective, fosters growth, development, and positive emotions. Students experience a sense of well-being and vitality, often referred to as "the feel-good factor," highlighting the reciprocal and interdependent nature of such relationships (Hinde, 1997). 

So, what can you do? 

In addition to employing effective communication strategies, such as good quality coaching conversations, educators can further enhance teacher-student relationships through the implementation of coaching techniques. Coaching in education involves fostering a supportive and collaborative relationship between the teacher and the student, with the aim of promoting personal and professional growth (Shanmugam & Jowett, 2017).

Coaching conversations in education focus on guiding teachers to reflect on their practice, set goals, and develop action plans to improve their teaching effectiveness. Through active listening, probing questions, and constructive feedback, coaches empower teachers to identify their strengths and areas for growth, explore alternative strategies, and implement changes that positively impact student learning outcomes.

Coaching also emphasizes the importance of building trust and rapport between the coach and the teacher, creating a safe and non-judgmental space for open dialogue and reflection (Shanmugam & Jowett, 2017). By fostering a culture of continuous improvement and professional development, coaching enables teachers to take ownership of their learning journey and strive for excellence in their practice whilst sharing common goals aligned with the school's vision and values.

To summarise, understanding and nurturing strong Teacher-Student relationships is essential for student success. By prioritising effective communication and fostering a student-centered approach, educators can create environments where students' relationships thrive academically and emotionally. Embracing new research like this helps maximise our classrooms.


Jowett, S., Warburton, V. E., Beaumont, L. C., & Felton, L. (2023). Teacher–Student relationship quality as a barometer of teaching and learning effectiveness: Conceptualization and measurement. British Journal of Educational Psychology. 

bottom of page