Building Relationships in School for Lifelong Learning

Author: Lara Smith
Education Thought Leader

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Maya Angelou 

It is easy to understand that friendships are a very important part of growing up. Those friendships teach us so much about ourselves and how to move through the world as we grow up. 

Now, research has confirmed the importance of those relationships for young people. Studies on youth development and young adult outcomes how that youth who learn to build and navigate positive relationships with both peers and adults are more likely to achieve positive adult outcomes that include:

  • economic self-sufficiency
  • ability to maintain healthy friend and family relationships 
  • becoming positive contributors to their community. 

Relationships support these outcomes by teaching young people important skills such as being productive, connecting with others, and navigating interpersonal interactions. 

We are talking about friendships, of course, but also adult-youth relationships, peer relationships with classmates and teammates, and anyone else who our students encounter, in both positive and negative ways. 

Learning to navigate these relationships, whether they ‘like’ the other people or not, teaches young people collaborative skills, conflict resolution, communication, and more. 

But how do we help our students build these relationships in a healthy way that teaches them these important skills? 

It starts with creating a positive classroom culture, one that builds trust and allows our students to be authentically themselves.

When you walk into a classroom where relationship building is a priority, you will see:

  • Ground rules, group agreements, behavior expectations, or other guidance that ensures everyone knows how they can expect to be treated and how they are expected to treat others. 
  • Youth voice and choice displayed in things like the weekly/daily schedule, stations, and space for one-on-one and small group interactions.
  • Displays celebrating the students, their accomplishments, and their cultures, creating a sense of belonging for everyone. 

When you talk to young people about relationships in their classroom or programs, they might say things like: 

  • “I feel respected by adults and other students here.”
  • “I learn about students who are different from me.”
  • “There are rules about how people treat each other here, and the adults enforce them.”
  • “Someone here would notice if I am not here.”

There are many ways to facilitate healthy relationships in your classroom. Here are some things you can focus on to help students build strong relationships and set them up for success:

  1. Get to know the students as individuals – It can be small things, but getting to know what motivates your students, what they may be afraid of, and what they like, will go a long way in helping them feel a sense of belonging in the group. They know who to turn to for different needs, what to expect from each other, and learn from each other. 
  1. Let them get to know you – Strong relationships are built on both sides. For students to really trust you and feel that sense of belonging, they need to know you as a person too. 

This does not mean you should share everything about yourself. It just means they need to see you as the person you are. They can learn from some of your lived experiences, know some things you like and things you do not like, maybe laugh at some funny habits you have. Sharing these helps to build connections over time and help students see you as a support, rather than just an adult. 

  1. Understand the pace of relationship building – Just because students are put in a class together with you does not mean they immediately feel connected to each other or see you as an ally. This takes time. 

The Tuckman Model for group development identifies 5 steps in a group’s lifecycle:  Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing, and Adjourning. This model is applicable to classrooms too.

  • Forming – When the group is forming, students do not know each other yet, and may feel unsure. They may feel anxious, nervous, excited, or curious. People may be reserved or on their best behavior.
  • Storming – In this stage, some conflict may arise as students start to push back and ‘get real.’ As students get more comfortable with the group, personality conflicts can creep in. Students may also start to question authority in this phase,  
  • Norming – By the time the group reaches the ‘norming’ stage, they will start to resolve their differences and hopefully appreciate each others’ skills. As students get to know each other, and you, better, they will get more comfortable asking for and offering help.
  • Performing – When group norms are established, and students feel like they know who each other is, they can start performing. Group tasks get easier, students lean on each other, and interpersonal conflict lessens. 
  • Adjourning – At the end of a program or school year, the group must disband. Focusing on the feelings that may come up, celebrating the accomplishments, and making plans for the future can help solidify the skills the students have learned through this process. 

It is important to remember that this model is not linear. Groups may move from norming to performing, and then move back to storming if a conflict arises, or even forming if someone new joins the classroom. 

With this model in mind, it is easier to understand group dynamics, recognize why behaviors are creeping in, and create an atmosphere for positive relationship building. 

Relationship building is a life skill that is not taught in books, but it is taught in the classroom. By focusing on an atmosphere of collaboration and relationships, you are setting your students up for a lifetime of healthier, more meaningful, interactions. 


Foqas is founded, in 2014, with the VISION to help educators experience greater success to have a stronger impact on student achievement. We have three objectives: 1) Build supportive communities for teachers to connect with each other. 2) Promote a culture to share knowledge and experiences with others. 3) Guide teachers to become leaders in their fields of interest. 

To learn more about Foqas and how we support teachers: visit

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