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Why Teacher-Student Relationships Matter

teacher 436Education watchers have long known that the relationship with a teacher can be critically important to how well students learn. But emerging research is giving a clearer picture than ever of how teachers can build and leverage strong relationships with their students.

“People sometimes mistake a kind of casual familiarity and friendliness for the promotion of really deep relationships that are about a child’s potential, their interests, their strengths, and weaknesses,” said Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Southern California who studies the effects of emotions and mindsets on learning.

“A lot of teachers … have really strong abilities to engage socially with the students, but then it’s not enough,” she said. “You have to go much deeper than that and actually start to engage with students around their curiosity, their interests, their habits of mind through understanding and approaching material to really be an effective teacher.”

In a forthcoming longitudinal study with Bank Street College of Education, Immordino-Yang is tracking how the highly effective teachers of low-income students set classroom norms and feelings of trust and safety for students—but also leverage that foundation to promote students’ deeper thinking and engagement.

Why Are Teacher-Student Relationships Important?

James Ford, the 2015 North Carolina State Teacher of the Year and the program director for the Public School Forum of North Carolina, told Education Week “Our first job as teachers is to make sure that we learn our students, that we connect with them on a real level, showing respect for their culture and affirming their worthiness to receive the best education possible.”

A Review of Educational Research analysis of 46 studies found that strong teacher-student relationships were associated in both the short- and long-term with improvements on practically every measure schools care about: higher student academic engagement, attendance, grades, fewer disruptive behaviors and suspensions, and lower school dropout rates. Those effects were strong even after controlling for differences in students’ individual, family, and school backgrounds.

How Can Teachers Improve Their Relationships with Students?

In a word: Empathy. Across several recent studies, researchers have found that teachers who cultivate empathy for and with their students are able to manage students’ behavior and academic engagement better.

Vicki Nishioka, a senior researcher with Education Northwest who studies teacher-student relationships, finds that trying to suppress biases or stereotypes about students can sometimes make them worse, but practicing perspective-taking—actively imagining how a student might perceive or be affected by a situation—can reduce bias and deepen teacher-student relationships. She recommended teachers:

• Talk to students to understand differences in their perceptions and expectations in class.

• Research cultural differences between teachers and students to head off cultural misunderstandings, particularly around norms, styles, and language.

• Teach and model perspective-taking for students in class.

Excerpted from “Why Teacher-Student Relationships Matter” in Education Week online. Read the full article.

Source: Education Week | Why Teacher-Student Relationships Matter, https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2019/03/13/why-teacher-student-relationships-matter.html | © 2019 Editorial Projects in Education

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