“Connection – The Foundation of Learning”

louise gilbert

One of the reasons that I feel so passionate about education is because I know deep in my heart that teachers have the most important job in the world.

“It is not simply about educating minds.”

It is more than that. Education is about developing human beings and creating a better planet.


What we do in the classroom not only impacts the children we teach but a teacher’s work ultimately influences the world. These students of ours grow up to become future citizens and leaders. What we do today in our classrooms touches the planet in ways that, quite possibly we might not even realize yet. A teacher’s work is about creating a better world. And it all begins with the connected relationships that we create in the classroom.


Once upon a time, before you became a teacher, you were once a student.

Cast your mind back to when you were at school. Take a moment to remember one teacher who made an impact on you in powerful, positive ways. Remember when you were in his or her classroom you were attentive, you were engaged in the learning and interestingly enough, your academic results were favorable?


Now what was it that made this teacher so great? How did he or she impact your life? And how is it that you still remember his/her name all these years later…




When you think back to that one great teacher who impacted your life, it is certain that you had a great relationship with him or her. You felt connected, you felt seen and valued as a person and there was a mutual respect between the two of you.


Great teachers understand that there is one critical foundation to effective teaching and learning that comes before anything else – connection with students. Skilled teachers create positive relationships of respect and trust. From a place of connected relationship, students learn effectively, feel valued and will be far more readily engaged and focused in class.


A significant body of research shows that positive relationships between teachers and their students are paramount to effective learning.


Studies show that, “Academic achievement and student behavior are influenced by the quality of the teacher and student relationship.”[i] The more the teacher connects and communicates effectively with his or her students, the more likely they will be able to help students learn optimally and accomplish quickly.


One particular study out of The University of Nebraska concludes,

“Teachers must never overlook the importance of cultivating student-teacher relationships in their classrooms. Student-teacher relationships are built through purposeful and continual effort, primarily on the part of the teacher. It is in the relationship between teacher and student where learning takes root and begins to grow; and the degree to which a teacher invests in those interactions not only affects learning outcomes and student behavior in the classroom, but also potentially impacts each student’s future achievements and success.”[ii]


One reason why positive relationships improve student learning is due to what happens in the brain when a student feels good. Positive relationship boosts a student’s sense of well-being.


The brain releases dopamine when an experience is pleasurable, such as a positive interaction with a teacher who is liked and respected. Dopamine is one of the brains most important neurotransmitters and turns on all the learning centers in the brain! And researchers have now discovered that how quickly and permanently one learns, is directly related to how much dopamine we have available in our brains.[iii]


Research aside, it’s common sense isn’t it? If the relationships with your students are positive, then your students are more likely to listen, less likely to disrupt, more likely to be engaged and open to the learning because of the strong foundation of human connectedness that you’ve built between you. The relationship is like a bridge. You are on one side with the learning outcomes you wish to share with your student. On the other side of the bridge is your student. Without the relationship, there is no bridge to cross together or to meet in the middle. Instead there is just a wide, cavernous gap.


Building this bridge is a daily focus. It takes skill and attention. There are many ways to go about it and in my work I get to see countless teachers out there making a difference, building these bridges with their students and creating positive, flourishing and respectful relationships as the foundation of learning.


As educators, it’s important to remember how significant our work in the world is. We are in the business of human development – nurturing lives, developing hearts and minds, making a difference in the world that impacts the future of humanity. And the foundation of it all begins in the classroom – with our striving to create connected relationships with our students.


[i] Jones, V. & Jones, L. (1981) “Responsible Classroom Discipline.” Boston: Allyn and Bacon, Inc. Page 95

[ii] Knoell C.M. (2012) “The role of the student-teacher relationship in the lives of fifth graders: a mixed methods analysis.” PhD Thesis, University of Nebraska. Page 86

[iii] Pleger B, Ruff CC, Blankenburg F, Klöppel S, Driver J, et al. (2009) Influence of Dopaminergically Mediated Reward on Somatosensory Decision-Making. PLoS Biol 7(7): e1000164. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1000164


Join Louise Gilbert to learn more at her TTA workshop, “Transformational Teaching Tactics – A 5 Step System for Quality Teaching with Effective Learning Outcomes” on May 26th 2015.in Melbourne

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