Teacher-Student Relationships PDF
States, J., Detrich, R. & Keyworth, R. (2018). Teacher-student Relationships Oakland, CA: The Wing Institute. Retrieved from https://www.winginstitute.org/soft-skills-teacher-student-relationships
Sound teacher-student relationships are an important component of student success (Hattie, 2009; Klem & Connell, 2004). This overview examines the available research on the topic of soft skills (personal competencies) commonly linked to effective teacher-student relationships. Successful teacher-student bonds are frequently characterized as ones in which the teacher earns the student’s trust and in which the student feels emotionally safe, feels supported by the teacher, and is challenged to excel academically (Cornelius-White, 2007; Gregory & Ripski, 2008). It is a relationship that emphasizes constructive guidance sustained by praise rather than persistent criticism (Marzano, Marzano, & Pickering, 2003). Effective teacher-student relationships minimize disruptive conduct that interferes with instruction, consequently creating a climate favorable to learning for all students in the classroom (Alderman & Green, 2011; Parsonson, 2012). Such positive relationships reduce student anxieties that can lead to a desire to escape an environment perceived as aversive and to higher rates of absenteeism and academic failure (Miller, 2000; Moos, & Moos, 1978). Positive teacher-student relationships are associated with increases in student achievement and quality of life outcomes.
What soft skills have the ability to improve teacher-student relationships?
Studies reveal that students with positive and supportive interpersonal relationships with teachers report enhanced positive academic attitudes and values, and more satisfaction with school (Brophy & Good, 1984). Large effect sizes ranging from 0.72 to 0.87 have been reported for positive teacher-student relations improving student achievement (Cornelius-White, 2007; Marzano et al., 2003). Teachers who support students in learning can positively impact critical long-term success in life (Barile et al., 2012;Krane, Karlsson, Ness, & Kim, 2016).
On the other hand, the consequences of non-constructive teacher-student relationships on academic success are also significant and long lasting (Civil Rights Project, 2000). Relationships identified as negative or ineffective frequently result in increased disruptive behavior (Marzano et al., 2003). Students who exhibit disruptive behavior impede classmates as well as hinder their own learning opportunities. Students with severe behavior issues are more likely to be suspended, to be held back, and to drop out of school(Baker et al., 2001). These students lag behind peers in achieving important education milestones and perform more poorly on standardized tests (Arcia, 2006). Overcoming these serious impediments to academic success requires teachers to adjust unproductive practices to strategies associated with positive teacher-student relationships and with favorable outcomes for both students and teachers.
If we are to discover what is essential in establishing positive teacher-student relationships, it is necessary to empirically identify the specific skill sets that contribute to student success. It is not enough to understand that teachers who establish positive relationships experience fewer behavioral disturbances and have classrooms in which students learn more. Teachers need the tools to establish and maintain positive relationships. Positive teacher-student relationships happen when teachers create and nurture a classroom culture that expects and rewards excellence from all students; use explicit instructional practices; and monitor student performance frequently through formative assessment. Such practices allow teachers to more effectively adjust and adapt instructional practices to aid and support all students. When teachers master positive teacher-student relationships and implement the essential technical competencies and soft skills, both students and teachers prosper.
This overview examines a combination of five soft skills that offer practical steps teachers can adopt to ensure positive teacher-student relationships.
- Managing the Classroom
Wang, Haertel, and Walberg (1990) found that classroom management played a critical role in boosting student performance. Classroom management is how teachers control conduct and influence student behavior to create an environment conducive to learning. The primary aims of effective classroom management are to increase socially adaptive conduct (learned behavior that enable a student to function effectively in the classroom) and institute practices to minimize student misbehavior. Ineffective classroom management results in a chaotic classroom climate, disrupted instruction, and damage to teacher morale (Marzano et al., 2003). When instructional control is poor, neither teacher nor student wins. A substantial body of research supports the power of evidence-based behavior management to improve student academic performance with an overall positive effect size of 0.52 (Hattie, 2012; Marzano et al., 2003).
The question is, How can teachers develop a teacher-student relationships designed to enhance effective classroom management? Teachers can employ an array of practices to establish the desired classroom climate conducive to learning (Simonsen, Fairbanks, Briesch, Myers, & Sugai, 2008; States, Detrich, & Keyworth, 2017). Effective strategies include:
a) Classroom structure and predictability (rules and procedures)
b) Proactive management procedures
c) Effective and stimulating instructional practices
d) Procedures to deal with disruptive behavior
- Communicating High Expectations
There are two primary questions about teacher expectations: Do teacher expectations have an impact on student achievement. If so, how do you teach high expectations to teachers?
Research attempting to answer the first question goes back more than 40 years. A meta-analysis by Rosenthal and Rubin (1978) reported an effect size of 0.70 for self-fulfilling prophecies. Teachers were more likely to have students meet expectations regardless of the accuracy of these expectations based on a student’s past history. In a meta-analysis, Harris and Rosenthal (1985) reported an effect size of 0.26 associated with student sex, age, and ethnicity as factors in influencingteacher expectations about how a student would perform academically. Smith (1980) reported that when teachers were provided data depicting a student’s abilities, the teacher reliably rated student ability, achievement, and behavior.
Another factor influencing teacher expectations is student attractiveness. Teachers who perceived a student to be attractive consistently graded that student with higher scores. The effect size for attractiveness and student performance was found to be 0.30 (Dusek & Joseph, 1983). A Swiss study (Batruch, Autin, Bataillard, & Butera, 2018) found that when student achievement was identical, evaluators placed students labeled with a lower socioeconomic status (SES) in a lower track and students labeled with a higher SES in a higher track.Fuchs, Fuchs, Mathes, Lipsey, and Roberts (2002) found an effect size of -0.61 for reading achievement when the teacher was informed that a student had a disability as opposed to when no label was provided to the teacher. Rubie-Davies, Hattie, and Hamilton (2006) found that a teacher’s negative expectation for one student generalized to lower expectations for the entire classroom. Whether consciously or unconsciously, teachers form expectations about a student’s abilities or skills. These biases have a significant impact both positively and negatively on student achievement (Rubie, 2003; Rubie-Davies, 2008).Hattie (2009) found an overall 0.43 effect size for a teacher’s positive expectations about student achievement.
Despite a growing knowledge base about associations between high teacher expectations and student learning (e.g., Rubie-Davies, 2008; Weinstein, Gregory, & Strambler, 2004), more experimental studies and replication research need to be conducted. Regardless, teacher preparation (pre-service) programs and school administrators have a responsibility to address the issue by examining the best available evidence as the basis for designing programs and training teachers to minimize negative biases and to maximize high expectations for all students.
The available strategies for communicating high expectations include:
a) Incorporating high expectations into teacher preparation (pre-service) programs.
- Establish expectations for high standards and control for bias (Teaching Tolerance Anti-Bias Framework).
- Implement recruitment best practices and enrollment protocols that will identify and enroll candidates who do not exhibit explicit bias. Although implicit attitude assessments have been developed to identify multicultural bias, the validity of such assessments remains in question (Hofmann, Gawronski, Gschwendner, Le, & Schmitt, 2005; Oswald, Mitchell, Blanton, Jaccard, & Tetlock, 2013).
- Educate candidates about the importance of setting high expectations for all students and the risks associated with low expectations (Lumsden, 1997).
- Develop curricula targeted at remediating explicit and implicit bias. (Lin, Lake, & Rice, 2008).
- Provide instruction to candidates on how to recognize and avoid negative attitudes based on common biases (Devine, Forscher, Austin, & Cox, 2012;Van Hook, 2002; Wasson & Jackson, 2002).
b) Making high expectations for all students a priority at each school.Setting high expectations starts at the top with the school board, superintendent, and principal.
- Adopt a districtwide and school philosophy and cultural values that are complementary with the philosophy and promote equitable treatment of all students and combat bias. Such value statements along with concrete examples should be operationalized and clearly communicated to staff and parents (Gilbert, 2007).
- Align school policies and procedures with the stated values. Communicate in clearly expressed, behaviorally based terms the roles of teachers and other personnel in establishing high expectations and avoiding explicit and implicit bias.
c) Providing ongoing teacher professional development. School administrators should develop and implement training to foster appropriate teacher conduct regarding explicit and implicit bias (Aguado, Ballesteros, & Malik, 2003). Training should be designed to raise awareness and to change behavior in the classroom.
- Train teachers to identify bias and to implement an evidence-based curriculum that increases teacher tolerance and focuses on maintaining high expectations for all students (Cantor, Kester, & Miller, 2000).
- Offer teacher training in methods to increase high expectations and avoid common pitfalls (McDonald et al., 2016).
- Provide training opportunities that go beyond didactic presentations and include coaching in actual classroom settings (Cleaver, Detrich, & States, 2018; Knight, 2009).
d) Assessing teacher performance. Formal and informal assessment of teacher performance should occur throughout the school year. Incorporate evidence-based assessments that include teacher-student interactions as well as student outcome performance data as key components of teacher assessment (Allen et al., 2013).
- Adopt an assessment tool for evaluating teacher performance (Pianta, La Paro, & Hamre, 2008). Conduct formative assessment of teachers utilizing teacher observation, performance feedback, and performance improvement training.
- Include setting high expectations into formal teacher evaluation instruments. Research suggests that evaluation systems that include student input on teacher-student relationships can have a positive impact on outcomes (Barile et al., 2012).
- Develop and implement a schoolwide key indicator reporting system that includes critical process and outcome measures for high expectations and bias (Celio, 2011).
- Showing Empathy and Cultural Sensitivity
Empathetic behavior has been seen as a desirable trait for educators (Hattie, 2009). It has also been linked to the effectiveness of teachers working with students of differing cultural backgrounds (McAllister & Irvine, 2002). Being able to recognize and comprehend the feelings of another is at the heart of empathy.Behaving empathetically is taking the perspective of another. This is important in an ethnically and culturally diverse society in which teachers must look beyond their own cultural values to effectively understand and respond to the perspectives of a diverse study body (Gay, 2000).
For more than 50 years, key education performance data including achievement scores, graduation rates, special education placement, school discipline, and juvenile justice consistently have shown lower outcomes for students from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds (Hegedus, 2018; Keyworth, 2015; Orfield et al., 2004; U.S. GAO, 2018). Differences between home and school cultures likely contributed to these outcomes (Sugai et al., 2012). Being culturally responsive can help to mollify this picture. This requires incorporatingcultural characteristics, experiences, and perspectives of ethnically diverse students (Gay, 2002). When knowledge and skills being taught are positioned within the experiences of a student, instruction becomes more meaningful, more relevant, and more interesting, and thus students are more motivated to excel and achieve (Gay, 2002). Because culture strongly influences the attitudes, values, and behaviors that students and teachers bring to the instructional process, cultural sensitivity and empathy have been linked (Bruneau et al., 2017).
Empathy has an important role to play in bridging the tenacious achievement gap for students from ethnic, socioeconomic, and racial populations that differ from the Eurocentric culture predominant in the United States (Aghion et al., 1999; Lipka et al., 1998; Moses & Cobb, 2001). Discrimination is deeply embedded in U.S. culture. It is present in the labor market, policing, the courts, and education (Bertrand et al., 2005; Greenwald, & Krieger, 2006; Jost, et al., 2009; Kang et al., 2011; Quillian et al., 2017). Explicit and implicit ethnic, racial, and cultural biases affect the way students are taught and decrease the likelihood of their long-term life success.
Teacher preparation programs should train teachers to show more empathy and offer strategies, through curricula and instruction, to address racial, ethnic, and cultural issues. To increase cultural sensitivity in teachers, it is important to increase knowledge of the diverse cultures teachers will encounter in the classroom. Teacher preparation should be charged with instructing candidates on maintaining high expectations for all students and on the impact of bias. Training should focus on how to build a classroom climate that is conducive to and supports a culturally diverse student population. Teachers should be proficient in methods of opening cross-cultural communication among the students they will encounter in the classroom. This type of teacher preparation requires a knowledge of the specific cultures of ethnic groups, how these cultural values impact learning, and how to adjust curriculum and instruction in a way that respects and values our differences as people (Gay, 2002).
A combination of strategies are designed to mitigate the impact of implicit and explicit bias. These include stereotype replacement, counterstereotype imaging, individualization, perspective taking, increasing opportunities for positive engagement of people outside the teacher’s culture, and feedback when bias is observed (Devine et al., 2012; McGlone, & Aronson, 2007). Strategies to teach empathy include role playing, modeling, teaching point of view, perspective taking, reading emotions in others, practicing kindness, collaboration, and instruction in active listening (Borba, 2018; Wilson & Conyers, 2017). As of 2018, there is a dearth of high-quality studies and replication research to guide teacher preparation programs and schools in designing empathy training. Because of the importance of empathy, it is essential that educators examine the best available evidence in developing training, implementing practices, and monitoring performance for adjusting practices that have not proven effective based on a school’s key indicator data.
- Motivating Students
Motivating students is essential if the primary goal of education is to prepare students for success in life. Having a positive teacher-student relationships is an important ingredient in effective teaching (Marzano et al., 2003). A meta-analysis of six studies found that motivation had an effect size of 0.48 on student achievement (Hattie, 2009). As a rule, teachers should maintain a ratio of four or five positive interactions for every negative interaction if they are to sustain positive relationships with students (Gable, Hester, Rock, & Hughes, 2009; Kalis, Vannest, & Parker, 2007).
Students who are motivated tend to excel and, conversely, students who are not motivated tend to perform more poorly (Hattie, 2009; Schiefele, Krapp, & Winteler, 1992). Fundamentally, we can infer students are motivated to participate when they engage in an activity and are motivated to escape if they avoid engaging in an activity. The key is to understand what specifically motivates each child and then to increase the child’s motivation to engage and reduce his or her motivation to escape engagement. Student motivation in a subject is highest when the student is competent in the requisite skills, has autonomy to act, and receives affirmation for having successfully accomplished a task (Dörnyei, 2001). A student who consistently fails, encounters public embarrassment, and does notexperience positive acknowledgment for his or her effort will most likely not develop a long-term interest in the subject. Building positive relationships with students is one way to motivate students.
It is important for teachers to employ practices that increase a student’s motivation to succeed academically while reducing motivation to escape instruction. Methods for using extrinsic motivation to maximize learning exist; however, despite a preponderance of research supporting the use of extrinsic motivation, not all educators are in agreement. The value of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation has been debated for more than 50 years (Deci, 1971; Skinner, 1953). By 1970, hundreds of studies within the behavioral tradition established that extrinsic rewards can influence behavior. Still, many have argued that extrinsic reinforcement has a negative impact on student development. Some have even described extrinsic reinforcement strategies as bribery (Kohn, 1993). Despite this clash, ample data in the fields of psychology and economics since the 1960s support the use of external rewards (Cameron & Pierce, 1994; Gibbons, 1998; Lazear 2000). Various studies show that extrinsic rewards not only are not harmful but, when used appropriately, can increase intrinsic motivation (Cameron & Pierce, 1994; Eisenberger & Cameron, 1996), although some studies show mixed results (Gneezy, Meier, & Rey-Biel, 2011). A 1992 meta-analysis on extrinsic motivation (Wiersma, 1992)suggests that in many of the reviewed studies, the procedures were poorly operationalized and the results problematically interpreted. This is important as a study’s outcomes are dependent on clearing describing the intervention’s procedures as well as how effectively the intervention is implemented. It is not surprising that vaguely defined interventions produce ambiguous results and are extremely challenging to reproduce.
Ultimately, teachers are mandated to work with all students, even those who are not excited or inspired.Not all students are equally motivated by the subjects mandated in education standards. To be successful, teachers need evidence-based methods to engage these students. Having constructive and encouraging interactions is a powerful first step in building a positive relationship. Best practices indicate that extrinsic reinforcement programs should be time limited, with the goal of scaling back tangible reinforcement (awards, activities, stickers, token economy, edibles, etc.), and moving to social praise as students achieve success in the lesson being taught (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 1987).
- Communicating Clearly
Anecdotally, teachers spend much of the day communicating with students through verbal and written instructions. Research suggests that clearly communicating lessons along with explicitly announcing expectations has a positive impact on student performance (Fendick, 1990). In a survey of student opinions on what characterizes an effective teacher, the top three words used to characterize teachers were “interesting,” “approachable,” and “clarity” (Feldman, 1988). Clarity is the process by which an instructor is able to effectively transfer the desired meaning of lessons and processes to students through the use of appropriately structured vocal and non-vocal messaging (Chesebro & McCroskey, 1998). It is how a teacher facilitates the intended lesson using a precise selection of terms and in the way he or she organizes the presentation of the content, offers examples to support the intended lesson, provides guided practice, and assesses the effectiveness of the instruction by sampling student learning (Fendick, 1990).
Teachers need to be fluent in the course material and have the communications skills to convey the knowledge and skills to students (Okoli, 2017). The results from two meta-analyses confirm that teacher clarity has a moderate effect on student affective and cognitive learning (Titsworth, Mazer, Goodboy, Bolkan, & Myers, 2015). Another meta-analysis examining the impact of teacher clarity on student achievement gains found an effect size of 0.35 (Fendick, 1990). Hattie (2009) reported a 0.75 effect size for teacher clarity on achievement. When teachers are not clear, students can become anxious and frustrated, and their acquisition of material and skills is reduced (Chesebro & McCrosky, 1998). It is not surprising that vaguely communicated lessons produce poorer results and explicit, clear instruction benefits learning. To maximize the impact of clarity of communication, teacher and principal preparation programs need to incorporate these skills into their curricula. It is important to establish clear and objective standards for clear communication. Additionally, effective communication training strategies should be adopted, and reliable and valid tools employed to assess teacher clarity (Bolkan, 2017; Chesebro & McCroskey, 1998; Dörnyei, 1995).
To be a clear and effective communicator, a teacher must converseconcisely, precisely, and accurately; provide ample opportunities for students to acquire the information; and assess student acquisition and understanding of what has been communicated. A clear communicator needs to be:
- Concise Minimize the number of ideas in each sentence to ideas that are critical to the lesson. Keep the message simple, stick to the point, and keep it brief. Eliminate filler words such as “you know,” “um,” “like," “literally,” "basically," or "I mean” (Mancuso & Miltenberger, 2016).
- ConcreteResearch suggests that ideas are easier to remember when they are specific, definite, and vivid rather than vague and general. To be concrete in communication is to present information and instructions in an objective manner that makes it possible for two or more people to identify and understand what is being communicated. Concrete communication uses specific facts and figures. When presenting a theory, provide explicit examples to elaborate, give substance, and add depth to the topic (Heath & Heath, 2007).
- CoherentDeliver lessons that are consistent, logical, and orderly. Teacher lessons must havecoherence, scope, and sequencing (Wiley & Waters, 2005). Information that is not coherent will confuse students and make them unsure of the message being communicated.
- Complete Provide sufficient information or instructions so that students have everything they need to be fully informed and to complete assignments. The verbal or non-verbal communication must include presentation of lesson content (or where to find the information), who is responsible for completing an assignment, to what standards the student’s effort is to be held accountable, and when work must be submitted.
- Responsive to student feedback Teachers need to effectively use questions and active responding as valuable sources of feedback for increasing the clarity of instruction. Questions from students can help teachers better understand how effectively they are communicating. Questions also give students the chance to ask for clarification and let teachers know if they are achieving the goals and objectives of a lesson.Permitting students to ask questions increases student participation. Active responding lets teachers sample student understanding, and increases student engagement and acquisition of material or skills being taught (Barbetta & Heward, 1993; Hattie, 2009; Schroeder, Scott, Tolson, Huang, & Lee, 2007).
- Reiterative A clear communicator needs to increase the frequency that students are exposed to lessons. Repetition is important to mastery and fluency of material being taught. Learning is increased when mastered material is reintroduced in subsequent lessons to ensure that learning is retained. (Gijselaers & Schmidt, 1995; Wang et al., 1990).
Research supports the importance of positive teacher-student relationships. Teachers foster positive bonds with students by creating a constructive classroom climate, treating students with respect, having high expectations for all students, and maximizing success for each student. Positive relationships between teachers and students enhance student receptivity to instruction. Negative relationships have the opposite impact, increasing the likelihood that students who feel uncomfortable or threatened by a teacher will attempt to escape or avoid lessons. Teachers who adopt classroom management strategies are more likely to have a classroom climate conducive to instruction and to avoid learning environments where chaos reigns and learning is elusive. Teachers who adopt, master, and maintain the technical and soft skills of clear communication, set high expectations for all students, avoid explicit and implicit biases, motivate students, and show empathy will significantly increase student success and their own job satisfaction (Collie, Shapka, & Perry, 2012; Þorkelsson,2018;Skaalvik, & Skaalvik, 2011). Although much more experimental research on this topic needs to be performed, it is clear that, given the best available evidence, specific strategies and practices currently available to teacher preparations programs, school systems, and teachers will leverage positive teacher-student relationships to maximize student outcomes.
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