In part one of our series on the power of peer connections, we scrutinized some research on ‘peer effects’ – what exactly is this phenomenon and how can they affect our children? Here, we will examine the effects of student-teacher relationships and how they too can influence our children’s education.
The power of positive relationships in school isn’t just confined to student peer relationships. Research shows that teacher-student relationships are just as equally important.
Hoxby’s research found that “peer effects may even operate through the ways in which teachers or administrators react to students”. For instance, “if teachers believe that less should be expected of minority children, then they might lower their academic standards when confronted with a classroom that has a high share of black or Hispanic students”. According to Hoxby, “the other students in such a classroom would experience negative peer effects, not due to the minority students’ influence, but because of the teacher’s assumptions”.
Studies also show that teachers have the unique opportunity to support students’ academic and social development at all levels of schooling. In an article for the Applied Psychology Opus at NYU, Emily Gallagher writes how “positive teacher-student relationships enable students to feel safe and secure in their learning environments and provide the groundwork for important social and academic skills”. Gallagher explain how “teachers who support students in the learning environment can positively impact their social and academic outcomes, which is important for the long-term goals and effects of school and eventually employment and career choices”.
In an interesting paper by Hamre and Pinata in 2001 at NYUs Department of Applied Psychology, researchers found that when teachers formed positive bonds with students, “classrooms become supportive spaces in which students can engage in academically and socially productive ways”.
The bottom line: students who have positive relationships with their teachers use them as a secure base from which they can explore the classroom and school setting both academically and socially, to take on academic challenges and work on social-emotional development (Hamre & Pianta, 2001). Through this secure relationship, students learn about socially appropriate behaviors as well as academic expectations and how to achieve these expectations (Hamre & Pianta, 2001). Gallagher also points out that “students in low-income schools can especially benefit from positive relationships with teachers”.
For tutoring, the connection between the tutor and student is so important for optimal learning to take place, just as it is in the classroom. Making the tutoring session fun and engaging with each other creates a positive atmosphere in which to learn.
How can we encourage students and children to engage in positive peer relationships? What can parents and teachers do to model good peer interactions and behaviour?
In part 3 of our series on peer connections, we will offer some tips on how to promote positive peer connections both at school and at home. Stay tuned!