Teacher-student relationships

My year has had a quite interesting start; beginning at a new school, taking on a new leadership role, getting used to working in a modern learning environment, tackling a new (shorter!) year group.

It’s been a great learning curve and I’ve found heaps of benefits in teaching and learning in a modern learning environment. I’ve never collaborated in such an intensive way with fellow teachers or for a school with such clear and embedded values, learning vocabulary and ways of operating. I’ve enjoyed the experience so far in many ways but there is a bit of a niggle that we have been discussing at school recently – relationships between adults and students.

I brought this up earlier this year, mostly because I miss this aspect of teaching terribly. It rubs salt in the would when I visit Northcote Intermediate and College, where many ex-pupils now attend, and they chat away with me like old friends catching up. I receive emails from time to time updating me on their progress, which I really care about because I really KNEW these children when they were in my class and they knew me.

I don’t have that same feeling anymore. Building that kind of relationship with 60 children is just really tough. Don’t get me wrong, we have great learning focused relationships. I could tell you an awful lot about their strengths and weaknesses learning; I just don’t know whether they won their rugby game on the weekend or how much their big sister bugs them.

It makes you wonder though, is this a fault of the MLE schools that needs some creative thinking to fix? Or is it something I am hanging onto because I like that aspect of teaching when really it is pointless and perhaps students don’t really want to build relationships with us anyway?

I had no research to back me up, aside from John Hattie’s effect sizes (0.72 for teacher-student relationships) and the fact that children would be somewhat more likely to report abuse to you if you had some sort of relationship with them. But, honestly, I find those reasons a bit callous. Teaching is, after all, a human activity.

Here is a little snippet from research out of New York University that perhaps shows that relationships really are rather important:

Teachers play an important role in the trajectory of students throughout the formal schooling experience (Baker, Grant, & Morlock, 2008)….Teachers have the unique opportunity to support students’ academic and social development at all levels of schooling (Baker et al., 2008; Bronfenbrenner, 1979; Bronfenbrenner & Morris, 1998; McCormick, Cappella, O’Connor, & McClowry, in press). Aligned with attachment theory (Ainsworth, 1982; Bowlby, 1969), positive teacher-student relationships enable students to feel safe and secure in their learning environments and provide scaffolding for important social and academic skills (Baker et al., 2008; O’Connor, Dearing, & Collins, 2011; Silver, Measelle, Armstron, & Essex, 2005). Teachers who support students in the learning environment can positively impact their social and academic outcomes, which is important for the long-term trajectory of school and eventually employment (Baker et al., 2008; O’Connor et al., 2011; Silver et al., 2005).

When teachers form positive bonds with students, classrooms become supportive spaces in which students can engage in academically and socially productive ways (Hamre & Pianta, 2001). Positive teacher-student relationships are classified as having the presence of closeness, warmth, and positivity (Hamre & Pianta, 2001). Students who have positive relationships with their teachers use them as a secure base from which they can explore the classroom and school setting both academically and socially, to take on academic challenges and work on social-emotional development (Hamre & Pianta, 2001). This includes, relationships with peers, and developing self-esteem and self-concept (Hamre & Pianta, 2001). Through this secure relationship, students learn about socially appropriate behaviors as well as academic expectations and how to achieve these expectations (Hamre & Pianta, 2001). Students in low-income schools can especially benefit from positive relationships with teachers (Murray & Malmgren, 2005).


4 thoughts on “Teacher-student relationships

  1. Hi Emma, I think this the “elephant in the room” we are confronting as we move to larger collaborative spaces. Part of the issue is the pressure I think we are often feeling- to focus so much on driving the learning and make the most of academic learning time. The luxury of taking time just to relate in non pressured ways is so much harder with so many more children. Staff here are lamenting and grieving the same thing. We all know that the foundation of learning is happy children and I believe that good relationships are the cornerstone to this. We are using the home group concept to try and address this- but as we become more creative in how we allow children to work flexibly, this is put under pressure. This issue needs more thought and innovative thinking 🙂 Thanks for raising it.

  2. Thanks Emma for raising this. I am teaching this year with one other colleague and we have established an MLE. It has taken a huge part of the year to set up the learning environment and to get the students to a stage where they are more independent and self-monitoring. I am wondering if holding on to these students for one more year would enable us to build these deeper relationships you are talking about.

    1. Hi Karen,
      Yes, I have been told by other staff members that, after 2 or 3 years with the same students, you get to know them really well. I just wonder if this is too long to wait.

  3. Hi Emma
    In all of my study I have been doing over the last three years, the one consistent thing that raises its head is “relationships”. This is with community, colleagues, families and learners. So your niggle about this is certainly worth investigating further. Do you have an opportunity to converse with your colleague and share what you do know about each student? The Inquiry time allowances that would be part of the new education policy would be a great thing to enable this to happen. The BES effective pedagogy in Social Sciences refers to establishing productive teacher-student relationships to sustain that learning community. Knowing your students well can assist them to develop motivation also because if they know that you care about them ( eg. you know about their sport and family) this assists their intrinsic motivation. It will be great to hear how your learning community decides to tackle this issue.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s