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Study: Positive teacher-student relationships necessary to raising achievement

Wednesday, July 8, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 9:55 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 8, 2009
Neal Blackburn, a language arts teacher at Gentry Middle School, explains a task given to his sixth-grade summer school class. The students were asked to draw about the things they liked and did not like in a pictorial collage form. Blackburn explains his collage by writing what one would infer from his drawings on the Smartboard.

COLUMBIA — Neal Blackburn believes in creating positive relationships with his students.

Improving teacher-student relationships

The following are tips for teachers on how to have positive relationships with their students:

  • Increase sensitivity and have positive interactions with students.
  • Be well-prepared for class and hold high expectations for students.
  • Be responsive to students and provide choices whenever possible.
  • Use induction rather than coercive discipline. Induction means explaining the reason for rules and pointing out the consequences of breaking them. Coercive discipline involves using threats, imposing the teacher's superior power and taking advantage of the teacher's ability to control student resources.
  • Help students be kind, helpful and accepting of one another.
  • Repair relationships where there are high levels of conflict and the adult has been controlling and dominating.

Source: Christi Bergin and David Bergin


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That's why the Gentry Middle School language arts teacher makes a point of not only teaching material to his students, but showing them that he cares about their well-being.

“If you look at your teacher as a figurehead that doesn’t care about the (student), you are not going to put the effort in,” Blackburn said.

A new article called "Attachment in the Classroom" published in Educational Psychology Review found that enhancing teacher-student relationships is necessary to raising student achievement.

The article was written by MU researchers Christi Bergin, an associate research professor at the Assessment Resource Center, and David Bergin, an associate professor in the Department of Educational, School and Counseling Psychology.

In general, schools put too much emphasis on cognitive ability when the social and emotional well-being of students also has a powerful effect on achievement, Christi Bergin said.

Blackburn said he agrees with the findings.

“It’s not just what goes on in the classroom, but in the hallways and into the classroom,” he said.

Children with conflicted teacher-student relationships feel stress, which interferes with learning, Bergin said. Blackburn addresses that issue by paying attention to students and their individual situations when they act out.

“It completely depends on the person," he said. "If I know they are coming to school with a lot of baggage, I will deal with it in the hallway.”

With other students, a snapping gesture or giving a student a pat on their back will direct their focus back to the classroom, he said.

The MU researchers developed 12 recommendations for teachers and schools that outline how each can improve the learning environment for students. One of the recommendations encourages teachers to be well-prepared for class and have high expectations for students.

Understanding a child’s emotional well-being also needs to be more at the forefront of educators’ agendas, Christi Bergin said.

“One of the most critical things we need to do in colleges of education is emphasize studying the development of children,” she said.

For teachers to create positive relationships and environments for their students, they must be emotionally stable themselves.

“Teachers need to be cared for and given conditions in which they can meet children's social and emotional needs,” Christi Bergin said.

Adam Sperber, who will be a senior at Hickman this fall, said he agrees relationships with teachers are important in influencing student success.

“Reputation always helps,” Sperber said. “A lot of it goes down by the demeanor in which they teach. If they respect the students, the students will respect them. They gotta find the happy medium in the manner in which they teach.”

Having a positive attitude and outlook, along with occasionally joking with students, helps teachers be more likeable to students, he said.

“I find that the teacher affects the course just as much as the course affects the students,” Sperber said.


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Comments

Ida Fogle July 8, 2009 | 9:31 a.m.

I believe almost any parent can verify this is true. My son had a horrible time in science with a teacher who had little patience, belittled him and used scapegoating techniques to keep the children in line through fear. He didn't learn much science that year. The next year he had a science teacher who found something worthy of praise in each student, showed compassion for the kids and generally just cared. My son came home every science day happily telling us what he learned.

I feel the schools often don't pay enough attention to the human needs of the students. They need to feel safe and cared for and have adequate opportunities for using the bathroom and eating. They are not just learning machines put in place to generate test scores; they are human beings.

(Report Comment)
Phil Overeem July 8, 2009 | 9:46 a.m.
This comment has been removed.
Phil Overeem July 8, 2009 | 9:58 a.m.
This comment has been removed.
Todd Rigler July 8, 2009 | 1:46 p.m.

I am a high school teacher at a suburban high school. This has been my philosophy since I started teaching. I remember when I was in school, the classes I that I enjoyed the most were the ones in which I received higher grades. I was comfortable with the teacher and the environment. I have many students with a not so pleasant home life or that see no value in education. I also have many of the opposite. I try to work with all of them and provide what they need. I a student needs social stability and support that is the first this that needs to happen before they will learn. A student that has a child at home and needs to go to work will have a hard time doing homework. I work with this student and get that student to understand that I care and I am not going to fail them if they are putting forth a good effort. That does not mean that I will just pass them but that I understand the challenges of life. Like I said earlier I remember what it was like in high school and the issues face by teenagers. I often wonder if my fellow teachers do.

(Report Comment)
Gail Poulin July 16, 2009 | 8:59 p.m.

Good thinking here. I recommend this text for reading up on developmental benchmarks and how students can fit into a 3 year range. <a href="http://www.yardsticks4-14.com/”>Yardsticks</a> can be found on the blog of the same name written by Chip Wood.

(Report Comment)
Gail Poulin July 16, 2009 | 9:00 p.m.

Good thinking here. I recommend this text for reading up on developmental benchmarks and how students can fit into a 3 year range. Yardsticks can be found on the blog of the same name written by Chip Wood. http://www.yardsticks4-14.com/

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith July 17, 2009 | 8:00 a.m.

The premise of the article appears both sound and obvious, but it raises a fundamental question. How far should a teacher be expected to go in acting as a substitute for poor or completely absent parenting?

The situation seems to be a further argument for the increase in private schools, where stipulations can be placed on who gets to be a student, and where students who arrive at school ready to learn are not being penalized by the presence those who are not.

Cruel? Possibly. Realistic? Definitely!

(Report Comment)

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