Bonds with teachers boost interest in math class

Having a healthy bond with a teacher might have academic perks, according to new research.

A new study finds that when a teacher believes they have a positive association with a student, that student may be more likely to agree that they have a positive connection, as well as a higher interest and greater confidence in mathematics.

“While it might not be surprising that better student-teacher relations have benefits, it is interesting to see that both students and teachers generally agree on the state of their bond,” says Sara Prewett, a postdoctoral fellow in the College of Education at the University of Missouri.

“…’small’ investments in students make a difference.”

“If a student and a teacher can both agree that they have room to build a better connection, then that’s an important first step in helping a student succeed.”

Prewett’s team investigated more than 330 middle school students’ relationships with their math teachers to discover how their interactions impacted their feelings about math. The researchers found that the more prosocial classroom behaviors and social-emotional support activities a teacher exhibited, the more likely a student was to believe their teacher supported them.

Some examples of prosocial behavior include sharing supplies with students who need them or encouraging students to work through problems together. Social-emotional activities help to emotionally support students; one example is actively listening to students who need to get something off their chest.

“This study emphasizes how deeply positive experiences can impact students,” Prewett says.

“A student who needs a pencil and is given one by his or her math teacher feels supported. A student who struggles with his or her math homework and receives extra help feels validated. These ‘small’ investments in students make a difference.”

Prewett says that any teacher can practice using prosocial classroom behaviors and social-emotional support techniques to set students up for success. Some of her suggestions include:

  • Encourage students to share supplies when needed and work together to solve hard problems.
  • Keep a stash of emergency school supplies for students who might need them, or encourage students to share if they are able.
  • Actively listen to students’ concerns or frustrations, and refer them to others who can help.

The research appears in School Psychology International.

Source: University of Missouri