Giving Feedback on Teacher-Student Relationships

by Dr. Punita Rice Teaching

Build a Positive Emotional Learning Climate

In any education context that invests in improvement, the path to better teaching may be in feedback (Measures of Effective Teaching Project, 2013). If the overall school and district culture consistently holds teachers, school leadership, and other key players accountable for results, there can be success and improvement (Steiner & Hassel, 2011). This is particularly true since feedback can help teachers in that accountability, especially in a highly challenging education context.

In the context of challenging, high poverty schools and districts, feedback should most pertain to teachers’ ability to connect with, and build relationships with students, since teacher-student relationships are so important for improving student outcomes (Payne, 2008). Given the impact these relationships have on student achievement, this is crucial.

As Payne (2008) suggests, it is important to empower children and teach them to not let their personal obstacles hinder their potential. There may also be value in getting student feedback on these relationships. Further, given that parents are also stakeholders in this dynamic, it may be valuable to consider how their input and feedback might be utilized in better developing a feedback system for both teachers, and the students themselves. There may also be a role for parent feedback to students regarding their relationships with their teachers. If students, like teachers, were expected by parents to develop strong relationships in school, it could have a powerful and positive impact on student outcomes.

Since teachers’ expectations of their students are so significant for student outcomes (Payne, 2008), perhaps this feedback could be part of a conversation, in which teachers reflect on and examine their beliefs about their students, and how these beliefs impact their relationships with them. Because of the significance of teacher-student relationships in high poverty schools, feedback that carefully addresses how teachers connect with, build relationships with, and engage their students, would be the most important factor in the path to better teaching.

Heartbreakingly, Payne’s depiction of the culture in low-tier schools, in which neither students nor teachers can grow, may be more common than even Payne suggests. I would posit that room for growth even tends to decrease in low-performing classrooms, even in good schools. Low expectations of parents of underperforming students, who are sometimes thrown together in a homogeneous class can impact student learning, as can the decreasing expectations of the teacher in charge of those students. (Read on for references)

Measures of Effective Teaching Project. (2013). Feedback for better teaching: Nine principles for using measures of effective teaching. Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Retrieved from

Payne, C.M. (2008). So much reform, so little change: The persistence of failure in urban schools. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.

Steiner, L., & Hassel, E. A. (2011). Using competencies to improve school turnaround principal success. Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia’s Darden/Curry Partnership for Leaders in Education. Retrieved from

About the Author

Dr. Punita Rice

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Dr. Punita Rice is a wife and mama, an education researcher, a writer, the founder and director of ISAASE, and an advisor with Johns Hopkins University School of Education's Doctor of Education program. Her work centers around multicultural education and equity, and South Asian American experiences in school. You can read more about Punita and her work here. Punita also writes about life, culture, education, and motherhood here on her blog. She works from home in Maryland, and drinks a great deal of coffee.