Relationships, relationships, relationships. We’ve heard this refrain from educators for a while now – learning starts with relationships.

I had the good fortune to chat with two high school students recently about their experience with a particular teacher who had not ascribed to the notion that relationships matter. To him, these two students were known as “#10” and “#16.” When they passed in the hallway, there was no acknowledgement. It was robotic. He wasn’t personable. The students, predictably, felt their learning suffered.

Another set of middle school students shared a story of a teacher who was so interested in their lives, in getting to know the students, and building the relationships that she never seemed to get to the teaching and learning. While they agreed that their teacher was kind, invested, and cared about them and their future, they also felt that their learning suffered.

So what is the role of relationships?

It’s my contention that the relationship is absolutely critical. That said, it’s equally vital to emphasize that the relationship itself isn’t the end goal. It’s a mechanism to facilitate learning. Building strong relationships enables educators to differentiate their approaches, connect students with the content, and augment their learning. Remember WHY we build relationships: to foster deeper learning for each individual student.


Pete Hall is an educational consultant, former award-winning principal, speaker, and author of six books (including Lead On! Motivational lessons for school leaders (Eye on Education, 2011) and Teach, Reflect, Learn: Building your capacity for success in the classroom (ASCD, 2015). He shares his perspectives in 212-word entries every month or so. He can be reached for speaking engagements, professional development, or other queries at