I’ve always thought or believed relationships are critical to the success of teachers in the classroom. Not only success in the classroom but life in general. When I was a teacher, I made a point to get to know my students in order to make a personal connection. I wanted to know how they learned based on the modalities of learning, previous experiences (success and failures) in earlier grades as well as individual motivation to learn or approach to life in general. I also wanted to know about their family life. My motivation was clear-I cared about all my kids and my students quickly determined this truth! I didn’t do it simply because it was my job. Kids always know when adults are not genuine thus the working relationship suffers or never materializes. When adults are just
“doing their job” students see right through it. If there is not a positive working relationship, the students will be reluctant to follow. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t able to connect with all my students but did with most. For some kids, it took more time and effort to make a connection but I never gave up. As a high school principal, I still work hard to create positive working relationships with all my colleagues, stakeholders and the students I serve. Not because its my job, but because it is who I am and what’s important to me!
According to John Hattie in his book Visible Learning, developing relationships requires skill by the teacher-such as the skills of listening, empathy, caring and having positive regard for others. As a school leader observing the personalities and skills of teachers, I believe most teachers have one or more of the skills mentioned. Unfortunately, educators I’ve encountered did not have any of those qualities and it showed in many ways. Students were not willing to follow them so they were ineffective teachers. How do you teach or train an adult to develop these skills? Some might argue-you either have people skills or you don’t! I do believe adults can improve and learn these skills with reflection, feedback and effort.
Hattie continues to discuss that classrooms with person-centered teachers, there is more engagement, more respect of self and others, there are fewer resistant behaviors, there is greater non-directivity (student-initiated and student-regulated activities), and there are higher achievement outcomes. Cornelius-White (2007) notes that most students who do not wish to come to school or who dislike school do so primarily because they dislike their teacher. His claim is that to “improve teacher-student relationships and reap their benefits, teachers should learn to facilitate students’ development by demonstrating that they care for the learning of each student as a person (which sends a powerful message about purpose and priority), and empathizing with students-see their perspective, communicate it back to them so that they have valuable feedback to self-assess, feel safe and learn to understand others and the content with the same interest and concern.”
John Hattie, through his research, ranks teacher-student relationships 11th out of 138 influences impacting student achievement. This research or meta analysis of studies concludes and affirms what I believe to be true. Relationships matter in education! I also have to ask in this day of economic disparity-what does it cost to be a good listener? Show you care? Or have empathy? It might cost a little time but it would be time well spent!
VISIBLE LEARNING-A SYNTHESIS OF OVER 800 META-ANALYSES RELATING TO ACHIEVEMENT BY JOHN HATTIE.
JOHN HATTIE is Professor of Education and Director of the Visible Learning Labs, University of Auckland, New Zealand.