Building Effective Student-Teacher Relationships

Building Effective Student-Teacher Relationships
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The Editorial Team January 24, 2013

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In a day and age where students are turning more and more often to devices and having a harder time in the classroom, building student-teacher relationships is more important than ever. According to the American Psychological Association, students who have good relationships with their teachers are more likely to “become more trustful of that teacher, show more engagement in the academic content presented, display better classroom behavior, and achieve at higher levels academically.”

The main benefit of increasing effectiveness of student teacher relationships is better learning outcomes for the student, but there are other upsides as well. Students who are more engaged tend to foster such behavior in other students, inspire a healthier and more peaceful classroom environment, and feel less fear that detriments learning. Although aspects of teacher personality like a passion for the trade or innate calmness are great tools for fostering effective relationships, a teacher can take several more concrete actions as well.

Understand the Role of the Brain in Learning

Geoffrey and Renate Caine’s brain-based learning is predicated on the idea that the brain operates in certain ways that are unlikely to be changed by a classroom or any other environment. The teacher, therefore, can fight these innate tendencies or work with them. Working with them, however, tends to produce the positive outcome of much greater learning than trying to teach students to work around their natural modes of thinking.

There are many principles of brain-based learning, including:

  • Each brain is unique
  • Learning engages the whole physiology
  • Learning is enhanced by challenge and inhibited by threat
  • Learning involves both conscious and unconscious processes
  • The search for meaning is innate

These and other core principles of this pedagogical approach emphasize working with student physiology in the classroom. Respecting these aspects of the brain, moreover, tends to produce the additional outcome that students see their teacher as someone who respects and values them as they are, rather than trying to mold them to impossible ideals. Any time a student feels valued, they are bound to learn more than when they feel as though they’re being taken for granted or doing something wrong.

Contextualize Learning

Contextual learning is a very simple idea with astoundingly large implications. Unfortunately, according to the Center for Occupational Research and Development, often times subject material is not properly linked to its use outside the classroom. This can mean failing to help an eight-year-old see why he might need to understand basic fractions, or teaching students of color from subject material that only refers to white students. Any time a learner cannot see how a topic relates to his life, his buy-in to the subject is accordingly reduced and learning drops.

It is therefore up to the teacher to place learning in a context that students will understand. Curriculum materials that represent a student’s ethnic background will, for instance, help that student understand the place of that learning in their world. Equally, helping a young kid struggling with fractions by applying it to his daily diet or to a hobby he loves will help too. And when a teacher is seen as someone who understands the experience of the student, an effective relationship between the two can be built.

Make Student and Teacher Partners in Learning

Teachers and students are too often adversaries in today’s classroom environments. While the teacher sees the student as someone who must be corralled into necessary tasks, the student sees the teacher as a warden cutting into her free time and enforcing unpleasant busy work. If teachers turn this dynamic from one of controversy into one of partnered learning, the resulting relationship will induce learning much more easily.

One of the easiest ways to do this is to take student choice into account. Chosen activities are much more likely to interest a learner than forced ones, and a teacher who presents a variety of ways to learn is more likely to have students who like doing it. Offering choice also removes some of the authoritarian sting from a teacher’s role, allowing students to view their teachers as aids to education rather than enforcers of it.

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