“Students say best teachers relate to them, make them think.” Is this news?

As I was online looking through the local news about the record-breaking flooding in Binghamton, NY where I used to live, this unrelated headline from September 4, 2011 caught my eye.

Broome-area students say best teachers relate to them, make them think

‘It’s nice when you can talk to a teacher, when it’s interactive’

It seems with the first day of school approaching, a Binghamton Press reporter interviewed area high school students to get their perspective on what makes a good teacher.

They found that students agree with the American Psychological Association teaching module report, “Improving Students’ Relationships with Teachers to Supply Essential Support for Learning” and this quote from Sara Rimm-Kaufman, author of the APA module:

“Teachers who foster positive relationships with their students create classroom environments more conducive to learning and meet students’ developmental, emotional and academic needs.”

The APA module noted a positive student-teacher relationship shared these characteristics:

  • Teachers show their pleasure, that they enjoy their students.
  • Teachers interact in a responsive and respectful manner.
  • Teachers offer help by answering students’ questions in a timely manner and offering support that matches the children’s needs in achieving academic and social objectives.
  • Teachers help students reflect on their thinking and learning skills.
  • Teachers know and demonstrate knowledge about individual students’ backgrounds, interests, emotional strengths and academic levels.

Pair these positive relationship-based traits with exceptional instructional skills and knowledge of the content, and we have all we could ask for from a teacher.

Good teaching + Caring Relationships = Better Behaving Students + Higher Academic Achievement

I trust this is not news to most parents and educators. Specific personal and professional competencies are necessary for success in any field – sales, health care, construction, counseling, research, law enforcement, administration, running a restaurant. And beyond these field-specific skills and knowledge, success is a product of a strong work ethic and a commitment to continuous improvement, and depends on an ability to relate with your clients and co-workers. In teaching, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the relationship between teacher and student is the critical factor for success, the foundation for everything that happens in the classroom.

People commonly talk about the culture and climate of their workplace – the norms that drive behavior, the way they are treated, and how it feels to work there. Why? Because how we feel in a certain situation and with certain people matters a great deal to us. We feel more secure and work harder for those who respect and care for us and who have earned our respect.

When we apply this premise to students in a school, its meaning is magnified by the expectation of society and families for students to respect authority, and by the potential for abuse when you have such an age and power differential.  But it is also magnified by the beliefs and practices of the individual adults who work with our children. In no endeavor, other than parenting, is the relationship between the provider and recipient as critical and delicate as it is between teacher and student.

So to answer my question, no it isn’t news that students do better with teachers who relate to, respect, and challenge them, but it does bear repeating until every adult who interacts with children internalizes the message and molds their behavior accordingly.

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Posted on September 9, 2011, in Ideas to try, Perspectives and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Amen!

    This reminds me of the accolades I received once upon a time for welcoming a new student into my classroom with open arms–making her feel welcome by saying how wonderful it was that she was there because our classroom needed another girl, etc. I was horrifed that my warm reception of her–instigated by the school secretary who had delivered her to my room–was noteworthy to such a degree because of what it implied about the non-welcome of other new students by other teachers. Quality of relationships is the key to all human communication, and what is education if not communication?

  2. This is one of the reasons I get frustrated with the way we over complicate school improvement with new programs and fads that bypass the fundamentals of healthy relationships and student engagement. As you say, when the right thing to do is extraordinary, we are way off track. With a simple set of reflective questions that generate empathy and motivate honest self-evaluation, we could see what we need to do differently.

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