Positive teacher-student relationships lead to better teaching, according to a new study.
Previous research has shown positive teacher-student relationships promote student academic achievement, such as better grades and test scores.
The new findings emphasize the importance of teachers demonstrating “soft” skills, or prosocial behaviors, in the classroom. Soft skills include kindness, compassion, and caring for others—compared to solely teaching students the traditional “hard” skills of reading, writing, and arithmetic.
“Students are more likely to learn when they feel cared for and valued by their teacher,” says Christi Bergin, a research professor at the University of Missouri College of Education and Human Development and senior author of the study in Learning and Instruction.
“One reason for that is students tend to be more motivated to learn and be engaged in the classroom when their teacher likes and cares about them. Positive teacher-student relationships change student behavior, and in this study, we found building those positive relationships actually leads to better teaching, too. It changes teacher behavior.”
For the study, Bergin analyzed survey data from the Network for Educator Effectiveness, a teacher growth and evaluation system that more than 280 school districts across Missouri use.
The survey asked students in grades four through 10 to evaluate their teachers on four teaching practices highly linked with student academic achievement: sparking cognitive engagement, critical thinking, and problem solving, helping students follow along from one topic to the next, and making curriculum interesting and relevant.
Other, “relationship-building” survey questions asked the students if they believed their teacher cared about them, was accessible to other students in class, and if they enjoyed learning from the teacher.
Bergin found the students who reported having more positive relationships with their teachers also reported that their teachers used more high-impact teaching practices linked with student academic achievement.
These high-impact teaching practices are often hard to implement, as they take a lot of effort and do not happen frequently in classrooms, she says. The study provides evidence that one way to activate high-impact teaching practices is to promote caring teacher-student relationships.
“I became interested in prosocial behavior because research shows it leads to all kinds of positive school and life outcomes, including better grades and test scores, happier relationships, being liked more by peers, and feeling more accepted at school,” Bergin says.
“Our overall objective is to promote behaviors that help children grow up to be the people you want to work with, live next to, and have your kids marry. Teachers play a key role in children’s development not only by teaching them how to excel in school subjects, but also by teaching them how to be prosocial human beings.”
Source: University of Missouri