Dunbar’s Number and its Impact on Positive Relationships Between Teachers and Students 

 July 13, 2021

By  James Brauer

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The following is a summary of an article originally published by edsys.com.

How Many Positive Relationships Can We Have?

Biology places certain limitations on the size of our social circle. This number states that one can only maintain 150 stable relationships with others during a given phase of their life. Research has shown that there is a relationship between brain size and the ability to form stable, intensive relationships.

This concept is applicable to all spheres of human life, professional and personal.

Dunbar’s theory encourages us to question our institutional architecture. This is the place where social interaction begins for humans. It also seconds the value to academics.

What Does This Mean for Today’s Classrooms?

Consider that a teacher can teach seven classes per day with 40 students each. In a single day, she meets over 200 students.

According to Dunbar’s theory it is virtually impossible for a teacher to learn the bare bones of, and establish positive relationships with, all their students.

Even in the most unlikely of cases, the teacher can remember these details even if it is beyond her ability to connect with students on a personal basis.

And yet, Students Crave Teacher Interaction

Unfortunately, the current educational system places academic growth above wholesome spiritual, physical and emotional development.

To understand the demands of an exponentially increasing academic performance, it is important to establish a solid connection at each individual level. This allows her to tailor her lessons and curricular plans to each child’s needs.

Planning classroom activities with consideration of the strengths and weaknesses each student can help to create a sense responsibility for all.

The next step in a child’s growth is to establish a relationship with someone other than their parent. Research has shown that children’s emotional intelligence increases when they are nurtured in structured environments. It is common for students to have difficulty meeting their attention needs in today’s educational institutions, which are characterized by overcrowding and a lack of infrastructure.

A Quick, Easy Fix

Let’s first reduce the number of classes so that every student receives the attention and care they deserve.

It would be a great idea to place students with similar weaknesses together, and make the classrooms smaller. If done correctly and with care, ability grouping isn’t so bad. Teachers can concentrate on creating engaging lessons and activities that will captivate all students.

And, teachers must be ready to deal with the changing dynamics of students and class sizes.


In today’s society, it has become increasingly difficult to forge meaningful, positive relationships with others. Our brains have a limited capacity for maintaining social connections and as we grow older, this number is reduced even more. Research shows that the size of our brain limits how many people we can form close bonds with during a given phase in life. The Dunbar Number helps us understand why teachers are so hard-pressed to maintain positive student/teacher relations while also catering to their academic needs. It is important to establish an emotional connection at all levels (physical, spiritual, mental) in order for children and adults alike to live healthy lives where they feel fulfilled emotionally and intellectually.

Researchers have determined that a teacher has a better chance of creating learning opportunities when he can easily connect with students on an emotional level. Our current educational system fails to take this into account because it is too focused on academic achievement, which means that children aren’t receiving the attention they deserve.

The solution would be to reduce class sizes and to encourage learning at all levels. A more intimate relationship between teacher and student will open up new doors of learning, which is vitally important for the success of today’s students.

James Brauer

James Brauer, an education veteran with a rich 20-year career, merges his diverse experiences in special education, alternative and virtual schooling, and education administration in his incisive blog posts. Now, as a high school teacher imparting knowledge in English, Drama, and Career Communications, he combines his scholarly acumen with real-world insights to delve into the depths of education, business, and personal development. Each piece is a testament to James' unwavering commitment to future-ready skills and his ability to frame complex ideas in an accessible, engaging manner. Join him as he navigates the evolving landscapes of these intersecting fields, always with an eye on the horizon of learning innovation.

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