The Brains Behind Teacher-Student Relationships

Many of us have been lucky enough to develop close connections with one or more important teachers in our lives. Panorama’s director of research, Hunter Gehlbach, studies how important it is for both students and teachers to feel that they have something in common with each other in order to form strong bonds. Hunter spoke to NPR’s Shankar Vedantam on the podcast Hidden Brain about his research on why teacher-student relationships matter and the colleague who led him to these important findings.


In “Episode 4: Students and Teachers,” Hunter and Kirstie Paul, a former student, spoke about Maureen Brinkworth, a doctoral candidate at the Harvard Graduate School of Education whose interest in teacher-student relationships led Hunter and his team to develop a ground-breaking intervention. By administering a short survey to both teachers and students that established the things they had in common –values, interests, preferences — and sharing the findings with both sides, the research team was able to close the achievement gap by 60% for minority students at the test site. Maureen tragically passed away in 2014, but her pioneering contributions to this field lives on.

“Maureen made a significant and positive impact on the research, on the students she mentored, and on her teacher. What I found very powerful is that Maureen’s story, and her relationship with Hunter and Kirstie, and the research they conducted with the ninth grade students, all point to the same thing: the relationship between students and teachers is not incidental to how education works. It’s central.” –Shankar Vedantam, NPR’s Hidden Brain

Learn more about Hunter and Maureen’s work on teacher-student relationships, and explore Panorama’s ‘Get to Know You’ survey, which supports building positive teacher-student relationships at the beginning of the school year or semester.

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