Relationships and positive psychology

Girl in denim jacket hugging friend in kitchen

This will help you:

  • define and explore relationships in the context of positive psychology

  • understand how to foster positive relationships in the classroom.

The relationships students form with each other and with their teachers at school are critical to their ongoing development. They will have an important impact on students’ capacity to learn and to socialise, and on their overall wellbeing. While addressing negative behaviours is important, a positive psychology approach encourages stronger relationships, to build meaningful connections and improve student wellbeing.

What makes a relationship ‘positive’?

In positive psychology, ‘relationships’ refers to the good relationships people build with others. Individual and changing over time, relationships can be difficult to define. Signs of positive relationships include:

  • respect and trust

  • companionship and shared activities

  • open communication

  • mutual support

  • mutual benefit

  • positive emotions for both parties

  • shared values, views or aspirations.

By helping students to identify the key relationships in their lives, you will be enabling them to strengthen these connections and build new ones. You can do this by teaching students about friendships, bullying and respectful relationships.

Why are relationships important in a classroom?

Students interact all the time. Even when they aren’t working together, students impact each other in terms of how they behave and make each other feel. Research shows the following:

  • Working groups are more likely to be successful when the people within the group get along.

  • Feeling connected to classmates can increase a student’s sense of belonging.

  • If students feel supported, they are more likely to show resilience.

  • Positive relationships can provide a sense of camaraderie.

How do I support positive relationships in the classroom?

1. Model positive relationships

Encourage positive relationships by modelling behaviours you want to see in the classroom. This can include showing empathy, kindness and respect towards students and other staff, even if it isn’t returned. Demonstrating pro-social behaviours, such as greeting students by name, acknowledging their efforts and interests, and engaging all students in conversation, can also help them identify what positive relationships look like.

2. Invest in your students

Taking the time to get to know your students and adapting lessons to their interests and needs will go a long way in helping them build positive relationships. By checking in with students when they need support, pushing them to achieve their potential and being generous with positive feedback, you role model a positive relationship, which will help them understand what a respectful and positive relationship looks like.

3. Focus on difficult relationships

If a student presents challenging behaviours, explain to them privately and respectfully why you’re speaking to them. Remain patient and speak about problem behaviours, rather than blaming the student. A two-way conversation in this situation will help the student feel heard, and lay the groundwork for a stronger, more positive, relationship. Learn more about ReachOut Schools’ tips for having a challenging conversation.

4. Create opportunities for new relationships to form

Fostering opportunities for new relationships will help students develop new friendships. Breaking students out of familiar friendship groups and pairings provides them with the chance to work with different people. This gives them the opportunity to explore different viewpoints and to practise respectful communication.

5. Embed teamwork into class tasks

Where possible, encourage teamwork with tasks. When students work in groups, they have the opportunity to practise and demonstrate their teamwork and communication skills. You will also be able to provide feedback and guidance to assist students in strengthening these attributes.

What can I do now?

  • Discuss pro-social behaviours in the class and, together with the students, come up with a list of shared expectations.

  • In your next group activities, put students together with others whom they may not already be close to but who have complementary strengths.

  • Read more about the PERMA model and consider some ideas for bringing it to your classroom.