On learning: How important are relationships in the classroom?

By Guest Author Natalie Wheeler

My favorite classes in school have always been those in which I get along with the teacher and students. I seemed to not do well in the classes where my instructor and I did not have good rapport, but I always chalked it up to my own stubbornness.

student teacher courtesy of Rex Pe

According to research by Frisby and Martin, however, I was not such a rarity. Their sample of 232 college students reported on their perceptions of three categories: interpersonal relationships, participation, and learning. Interpersonal relationships were classified as both rapport between the instructor and student and rapport between student and student. Learning was also divided into both cognitive learning (knowledge or mental skills) and affective learning (attitude or growth in feelings/emotional area).

The results showed that rapport in the classroom correlated positively with classroom connectedness, participation, and learning. Rapport between both instructor-student and student-relationships resulted in classroom connectedness, which in turn resulted in classroom participation. Interestingly, however, only instructor rapport consistently predicted participation, affective learning, and cognitive learning.

These results incdicate the importance of good relationships in the college classroom towards but achieving what should be every teachers goal: learning. While student-student relationships may be helpful in creating good classroom connectedness, only the instructors relationship with the student aids in promoting learning.

Both the instructor and student have to take responsibility if they wish to reap the benefits of this good classroom relationship. It is important for educators to understand the positive connection between good relationships with their students and the students absorption of class material. After all, a teacher is none other than an aid to help foster students’ intellectual growth, and it is much easier to let a person help you if you can trust them. That said, college students are equally responsible for maintaining good rapport with both the instructor and their peers. A student who does not make an effort to interact with the instructor or his or her peers might adversely affect the learning environment and process, while an educator who does not promote positive interaction is also stifling their students potential learning. Both instructors and students need to realize this correlation and engage, not only with the learning, but with each other.

Frisby, B., & Martin, M. (2010). Instructor-student and student-student rapport in the classroom. Communication Education, 59, 146-154.