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).