top of page
  • Writer's pictureAction Hero Teacher

3 Ways To Supercharge Your Teacher-Student Relationships & Make Your Learners Adore You

Updated: Feb 16, 2021

Pygmalion picture by Jean Raoux
Pygmalion by Jean Raoux

This week, I'm going to dive a little deeper & arm you with information that will not only make your students adore you, but help them get better grades, higher confidence & potentially change their lives for the better!

This can all be done using 'the Pygmalion Effect.'

You will learn:

1) What the Pygmalion Effect is & it's origins,

2) The pioneering study in the 60s that changed the way that we looked at our students' potential

And lastly,

3) 3 simple but effective tips that will help you turbo-boost your student-teacher relationships & minimise poor behaviour.

Let's hop to it.

Pygmalion & Galatea

'The Pygmalion Effect' was named after the character Pygmalion, who happened to star in his own ancient Greek myth written by Ovid.

In the story, Pygmalion was a famous sculptor and his creations were revered all over the land. One day, good old Pygmalion created a sculpture of a woman who was so lifelike that he fell in love with it and refused to look at any other woman — very creepy.

Poor Pyg, upset and depressed, wished that the statue whom he called Galatea could come to life and be his wife.

Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love, was so impressed with Pygmalion’s devotion that she granted his wish and Galatea leapt into his arms as a flesh and blood woman. They lived happily ever after, which is lovely but still creepy.

Pygmalion believed so strongly in Galatea, that his love brought her to life. How does this relate to our students?

The Pygmalion Effect

School Principal Lenore Jacobson and Harvard Psychologist Robert Rosenthal covered the Pygmalion Effect in a pioneering research study in the 1960s, and this looked at how teachers’ beliefs in students affect their performance.

In a controlled experiment, the researchers conducted a series of IQ tests with a primary school class and collected the results.

They then informed their teachers that 20% of the students were “gifted” and that later in the year, their academic achievements will outpace that of their classmates. The teachers were given their names.

The teachers assumed that the gifted 20% represented the most intellectually talented members of their class and they were treated accordingly, being given more help, more resources and more encouragement.

After eight months, these students indeed did become the top of their classes academically achieving what was predicted.

What the teachers did not know was that this was a red herring: the students were chosen entirely at random, with some of them being in the lower half of the class in terms of IQ, but, regardless of their actual ability, still rose to the top.

The researchers noted “the results of the experiment further evidence that one’s expectations of another’s behaviour may come to serve as a self-fulling prophecy1”

The Pygmalion Effect, in a nutshell, is the observation that people tend to perform up to the level that others expect of them. If you believe & show your students that you see the best in them, most of the time they will rise to the occasion.

But it could also go the other way too: Lack of belief & negative teacher-student relationships can LOWER students' motivation & performance levels & can stifle their school career.

You can't let that happen.

Here are 3 ways that you can use the Pygmalion Effect as a force of good in your students' lives.

1) Take a genuine interest in their wellbeing

a teacher & students looking directly at the camera at the back of the classroom
Teachers it's not about you. It's about them

"No one cares how much you know until they know how much that you care" - Eleanor Roosevelt

I know that it sounds corny, but this is absolutely true. Especially with difficult students, the relationship must come before the academic performance.

Our students' BS detectors are very finely tuned... You really can’t fake this stuff. If you try, they will see right through you.

Find a student with whom you haven’t had a good working relationship and ask them what they want to do with their life. Take a genuine interest in them and be kind. You will find that if your student feels safe & you have earnt their trust, they will open up.

If you are uncertain how to do that, I have just the ticket: In a previous blogpost, I wrote about the power of 'warmth' and how you can use an 'empathy roadmap' to build rapport with even the toughest learners. Click the link below to get the step-by-step plan.

2) Cast A Vision For Your Students to Live Up to

A man on a snowy hill staring at a mountain
Show you students how to get to the top

'Casting a vision' is what Alan Watkinson did for Sir Mo. Once you have found out your students' aspirations, help them to see an idealised future which is greater than their present one & guide them to the next steps to complete that dream.

Do they want to be an architect? An accountant? A business owner? Help them to connect what they do in school to where they want to go.

You can also use this “vision casting” to challenge your students. If you have a student who, after they have told you their aspirations, doesn’t perform to the standard, remind them of what they said they wanted to be and push them to raise their efforts to achieve it.

Their dreams can act as their ‘North Star’ which can help keep them focused and diligent.

Of course, be pragmatic too. When you are casting a vision, there has to be a clear roadmap of where your students want to go.

If a student says that he wants to go “inside the sun,” then they are being unrealistic.

Gently guide them towards something that is achievable. As that great man Ben Parker, once said: “With Great Power Comes With Great Responsibility.” Use a lot of tact and emotional intelligence.

3) Use 'Bridging'

2 men looking down & pointing at a mobile phone.
Find out what interests your students & share what you find

Some of you may teach a subject that some of your students may not see the point of doing, especially if it is unrelated to what they want to do for a career.

Use a technique called 'Bridging.' Try to build connections between your subject and what they want to do and why it will help them. Be creative. Look at what your students currently enjoy & see if you can spot the tangible links to what you are teaching.

Your street cred will go through the roof if you can pull this off successfully.

There was a boy that I taught who wanted to do football but hated Spanish lessons and wouldn’t do any work. The vision I cast for him was that when he was a successful footballer, he may want to go the La Liga - the Spanish Premier League and it would be great if he knew fluent Spanish to talk to his new fans there.

I wrote a whole segment about bridging in my blogpost "4 Teaching Strategies That Will Keep Your Students At The Edge of Their Seats" - click the link below for more!


I also wrote about 'bridging' to appeal to today's students in my free "Teaching Generation Z" eBook. Click the link below to get your free copy!

Use these tips wisely! Did you enjoy the post? Do want to stay abreast of all the tips, tricks & strategies from AHT? It's simple: join the AHT mailing list below - it will take you less than 30 seconds & you get the latest info delivered straight to your mailbox.


1. Rosenthal, R, Jacobson, L, 1965. Pygmalion in the classroom. The Urban Review, [Online]. 1, 20. Available at:


bottom of page