Creating Birds of Similar Feathers: Leveraging Similarity to Improve Teacher-Student Relationships and Academic Achievement

By Ericka Berman

Student Teacher
Understanding student-teacher relationships are important in understanding factors affecting learning.


Having thriving student-teacher relationships (TSR) is important in academic success. In studying the improvement of TSR, schooling, positive youth development, and social motivation are of great interest to researchers.

Dr. Hunter Gehlbach and his team of researchers carried out this study using a sample of 315 ninth graders and 25 teachers from a high school in the southwestern United States. Students were assessed on their perceived degree of general similarity to their teachers (α = .88) and perceived TSR (α = .90). In addition, teachers completed the teacher form of the TSR scale (α = .86). Mid-quarter and final grades were also collected and compared to the TSR.

From 28 completed item get-to-know-you surveys done by the participants, researchers listed five things that students had in common with their teachers in the treatment group or five commonalities the students had with students at a different school in the control group. When participants received this information, they filled out a brief feedback sheet so they would more deeply consider commonalities. It was hypothesized that teachers in the treatment group would perceive students as being more similar and develop better TSR, in addition to students in the treatment group having higher grades.

Results were consistent with parts of the hypothesis. By the end of the marking period, students and teachers felt more similar to each other (β = 0.33), but students perceived their TSR to be similar regardless of their group (β = 0.09). For students assigned to the teacher condition, there was no support for an effect on mid-quarter grades (β = 0.04), but these same students probably earned higher final grades (β = 0.21).

The study is limited in its subjective perception surveys, which are variable in reliability. Logistical errors, such as timely deadlines, also affected teacher’s responses. The outcomes lacked the statistical power desired, so the researchers switched to a different statistical approach that concluded Type II errors instead of Type I errors. From here, future replications should aim for a larger sample size.


  1. H. Gehlbach, et al., Creating birds of similar feathers: Leveraging similarity to improve

teacher-student relationships and academic achievement. Journal of Educational Psychology 108, 342-352 (2016). doi: 10.1037/edu0000042

  1. Image retrieved from:

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