Jun 28, 2022 · 3 min read

Super-Powering Student Motivation and Engagement

Experts Share Strategies and Tips for Building Connection With Students


Research shows that when students experience strong teacher-student connections, they are more likely to feel more motivated and engaged in school, which is critical to student learning.This foundation makes it easier for students to ask questions and feel motivated to learn the material, rather than give up when struggling. But how do educators build those relationships when they already have so many priorities for their time?

CZI hosted a panel at 2022 the National Charter Schools Conference to share with educators research about the value of putting student-teacher relationships first, and strategies for fostering connections.

Moderating the panel was Dr. Joseph South, from the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). In his role as chief learning officer, Dr. South has a strategic view of edtech and the power of evidence-based learning transformation.

On the panel, Selina Zheng, a senior student at Staten Island Technical High School, shared her insights after participating in the GripTape Learning Challenge program. As part of the mentorship she received, Selina helped pilot the teacher-student connection builder Along, developed by CZI with educators at Gradient Learning.

Dr. Stacey Perez joined the panel with her perspective as the Principal for Classical Academy High School’s Personalized Learning Campus, in Escondido, California. Dr. Perez is an outspoken advocate for supporting student’s academic development and well-being through personalized connections, and practices that philosophy in her school.

Also on the panel was Julia Freeland Fisher, the director of education research at the Clayton Christensen Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank. She recently wrote this Harvard Social Impact Review piece that canvasses the many edtech products focused on building connection. 

Julia opened the session by describing the research that explores how “developmental relationships” impact both academic achievement and student wellbeing. Developmental relationships can happen between students and adults in a variety of roles, including parent, teacher, and mentor.

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Given her experience as a high school principal, Dr. Perez shared how she helps teachers think through their responsibility to developing positive relationships with students, and how to expand on existing networks of trust.

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Recalling interactions with her GripTape mentor, Selina reflected on what her mentor specifically did to help build a connection with her.

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Dr. Perez & Julia explained how similarities can help build trust between adults and students, but how “similarity” encompasses a wide spectrum of traits, including shared identities and common interests.

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Selina described her experience piloting Along, the teacher-student connection builder–highlighting how it provides a space for students to feel safe and comfortable in their school or their learning environment.

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Want more? View the entire panel recording here.


About the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative was founded in 2015 to help solve some of society’s toughest challenges — from eradicating disease and improving education, to addressing the needs of our local communities. Our mission is to build a more inclusive, just, and healthy future for everyone. For more information, please visit www.chanzuckerberg.com.

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