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3.5: The student-teacher relationship

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    Authors: UQx LEARNx team of contributors

    The student-teacher relationship

    Click here to watch video lecture. (8:20 minutes)

    Video summary

    JULIE BOWER: "What is it about that one teacher we remember so strongly that makes us feel either immense warmth and admiration or sheer dread when remembering how we learned about how to find the area of a triangle!

    I came across a really powerful statement a number of years ago by Dr. Haim Ginott that has completely changed the way I walk into a classroom."

    “I’ve come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather…I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized”.

    The student – teacher relationship is profoundly important in how students learn.

    When the classroom is characterized by emotionally engaged teachers, there is a much greater chance that students will be actively engaged and deep learning will take place.

    Meta-analyses by John Hattie indicate that the student-teacher relationship is absolutely paramount – the school context is a major source of social and cultural learning and the quality of the relationship that a student has with his/her teacher is an important factor in that student’s well-being and learning outcomes.

    The teacher smiles, some laughter – a relaxed but structured atmosphere, students are respectful of a teacher’s knowledge about a subject, students feel comfortable sharing opinions, students know and accept teacher expectations, teachers treat students with respect. Cornelius-White (2007) conducted a meta-Analysis of 119 studies to identify these teacher-student relational variables.

    The emotional connectivity of the teacher with the student, the student with the student, and the teacher with the teacher optimizes the classroom for positive learning experiences and outcomes.

    Emotions drive our engagement with the world around us. They influence our decisions, how we interpret experience, and how we create memories. As educators it is imperative to leverage this emotional drive in our students if we want to impact student motivation for deep learning. Relationships are a crucial pathway for doing so.

    Cooperative group learning and peer mentoring have been linked to positive social and academic outcomes, relative to individual or competitive tasks. Social emotions such as empathy, admiration, love, and compassion meet our basic human need to belong. So providing opportunities for students to work together, and for teachers to work together, can have important positive outcomes in schools.

    Some fascinating research about empathy by Mary-Helen Immordino-Yang has shown us that being able to empathize with others actually increases neural activity in the brain. What her research shows us is that by engaging social emotions (such as empathy) where students experience meaningful learning and connect socially with others, they are actually using more brain processing capacity, enabling them to connect ideas, to remember these experiences longer term, and make meaning of their life experiences.

    The Mindful Practice for Teachers program was developed with teachers for teachers. It provides an opportunity for teachers to work together on their own well-being and experience social emotions such as empathy. This program combines relaxation skills, self-awareness, mindful movement, and background knowledge about the effects of stress on the body and brain to assist teachers to self-regulate their emotions in the classroom. Teachers have found some really positive impacts on their daily teaching practice and their relationships with their students.

    We know positive relationships are crucial to learning, but what steps can we take to build an environment where positive teacher-student relationships flourish

    • Firstly, we must look after our teachers. Teachers need opportunities to plan together, to debrief, to make professional decisions, and to learn about emotions. Teachers need to be aware of the enduring effects that their own presence, empathy, and emotional states have on their students.
    • Secondly, we then need to create relaxed and respectful classrooms where students and teachers can engage meaningfully with each other for deep learning.
    • Thirdly, we must find the balance between helping students to find their strengths and challenging them to broaden their minds and build the capacity to think creatively about new and exciting concepts.

    Activities that promote interest, challenge thinking, and provide opportunities for success for all students, whether individually or collaboratively, are more emotionally engaging longer term.

    Once we establish that emotionally positive educational climate, there are a number of strategies we can use to build positive student teacher relationships. For example, we can explicitly teach social and emotional skills for working together (for example managing emotions, mindfulness, social problem solving, being a good communicator, naming emotions, understanding how emotions and the brain work, finding personal strengths); we can provide opportunities for students to work meaningfully together towards self-set goals; periodically we can check in and see if the presentation can be made more creative or enjoyable, we can smile; we can provide a sense of predictability in the classroom to heighten students’ perception of control; we can clearly communicate expectations and performance demands; we can create a learner-centered classroom where learning is separate from testing; we can encourage students to become intrinsically motivated and self-regulated learners; and we can provide a degree of student choice in authentic learning tasks.

    If we focus on building positive teacher-student relationships using these strategies, perhaps we will become that one amazing teacher that someone conjures up and remembers when reflecting back on what they have learned at school

    3.5: The student-teacher relationship is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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