Article  |  November 15, 2022

Promote teacher-student relationships. It’s a win-win scenario that will save the day.

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“The level of stress is exponentially higher. It’s like nothing I’ve experienced before,” Leah Juelke shared her sentiment in an NPR interview. “‘We need to be nurtured, too,’ many teachers say. They are Reaching a Breaking Point.” Leah Juelke is a high school English teacher in Fargo, N.D, and a finalist for the Global Teacher Prize in 2020. 

Conversations with teachers reveal that the pandemic increased work-related stress. In part, the pandemic worsened classroom behavior because of the long period of unstructured online learning. Moreover, teachers don’t want to return to their job in the classroom anymore because they find it hard to build that teacher-student relationship while making up for the missed teaching due to the pandemic (Lempres, 2022).

A National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) survey shows that 56 percent of schools reported a rise in classroom disruption because of student misbehavior in 2021-2022. Teachers are not prepared for the classroom disruption resulting from the pandemic. Nearly one in five teachers consider leaving the classroom because they feel overwhelmed every day. (Jose, 2021). Juelke, the English teacher, says nothing prepared her for teaching during the coronavirus pandemic, or now, no support or training after returning to the classroom. Teachers are disappointed with the leadership and are desperate for resources and practices for this unprecedented time that seems to be the new normal.

Schools with higher teacher turnover have lower achievements (Boyd, Lankford, Loeb, & Wyckoff,2005; Hanushek et al., 1999). In one study done in NYC schools, teachers who produce higher achievement and are more experienced are less likely to leave their classrooms (Boyd et al. (2011b). To further emphasize that teacher efficacy is the key to low turnover, Hanushek and Rivkin (2010). Teachers stay if they are equipped and empowered to teach. A low turnover rate saves school hiring and training costs and increases average teacher effectiveness in a school. Therefore, retaining effective teachers is a priority for school leadership. Teacher satisfaction and retention are largely tied to teacher-student relationships. Even better, good teacher-student relationships also reduce classroom disruption (Aldrup et al., 2018).

Instead of asking teachers to develop teacher-student relationships, school leaders should promote prosocial behavior in their schools. With increased prosocial behavior in the classroom, students are more likely to interact with teachers positively and respectfully, enhancing teacher-student relationships. Sequentially, the relationships result in higher student achievements and teacher satisfaction, low turnover, and high retention of effective teachers.

It is a win-win situation.


School leaders must introduce two effective practices to teachers to promote prosocial behaviors.

Jig-saw classroom (through peer interactions):

Encourage teachers to provide opportunities for students to create social interconnectedness – activities that require students to rely on each other to succeed. Jigsaw concept mapping is a great way to do it.

Download the worksheet and share it with your teachers.

10 Steps to Jigsaw Classroom.pdf

Jigsaw Worksheet.pdf

Model empathy and prosocial behaviors by paying attention to verbal language. (through teacher actions):

Prosocial actions are infectious. When teachers check on students regularly with compassion asking questions like:

“What’s going on?”

“What do you need?”

“How are you feeling today?”

By responding to these questions, students will develop empathy and communication skills. While it might be difficult for students to speak out at first, once a safe environment is established, students will start to feel more and more comfortable conveying their needs. When a student communicates, teachers understand their needs better.

Claire, an upper elementary student, said, “When something troublesome happened at home, I came to school the next day. When I came in, my teacher asked me to her desk and asked me what was wrong, and she gave me a hug and asked me if I wanted to talk to her about it. And, if I needed to go into the hallway and have a minute, then I could.” In this scenario, a positive connection is created between Claire and her teacher.

Download the tips sheet to share with your teachers to start modeling prosocial behaviors.

Simple Actions In Classroom.pdf

Good teacher-student relationships require consistent efforts from teachers. If your teachers are already overwhelmed and want to add another responsibility to their plate,[DS2]  an SEL solution may help.

Palo  promotes prosocial behavior by teaching students .” self-compassion and empathy towards others.” Our SEL solution asks students reflection questions, for example:

  • How are you feeling today?
  • How do you like your friendships?
  • What did you do to help someone today?
  • Did anyone help you? How do you feel when someone goes out of their way to help you?
  • Do you have struggles? Who do you think can give you a hand? What can they do?

Students practice sharing their needs and thoughts so they can communicate their needs on the second try.

Palo provides a safe environment for students to learn about relationships and deliver communication skills. Spending 5-10 minutes with Palo daily, students get a boost of their daily SEL. They become more compassionate and communicative. They are nicer to each other, and they are nicer to teachers. Palo delivers student insights for teachers to connect with their students by understanding their motivations and interests. Palo’s proprietary intelligence and analytics provide student insights to teachers, helping them connect with students and their motivations and interests.


Cardoza, K. (2021, April 19). ‘we need to be nurtured, too’: Many teachers say they’re reaching a breaking point. NPR. Retrieved October 10, 2022, from

George, D. S. (2022, July 6). Behavioral issues, absenteeism at schools increase, federal data shows. The Washington Post. Retrieved October 10, 2022, from

Guiang-Myers, G. (2019, June 1). Making prosocial behavior contagious. Edutopia. Retrieved October 10, 2022, from,interdependence%2C%20and%20celebrate%20prosocial%20acts.

Gutierrez, A. S., & Buckley, K. H. (2019, October). Stories from the field: Building strong teacher-student relationships … Retrieved October 10, 2022, from

Boyd, D., Lankford, H., Loeb, S., Ronfeldt, M., & Wyckoff, J. (2011b). The role of teacher quality in retention and hiring: Using applications-to-transfer to uncover preferences of teachers and schools.Journal of Policy and Management,30(1),88–110.

Boyd, D., Lankford, H., Loeb, S., &

Wyckoff, J. (2005). Explaining the short careers of high-achieving teachers in schools with low-performing students. American Economic Review,95(2), 166–171.

Michael Cho