Student-Teacher Relationships = Greater Student Success

John Hattie, the founder of visible learning, has research that supports a very important message: what teachers do matters, especially those who teach in an attentive and reflective way. These instructors teach in thoughtful and meaningful ways to change the direction of learning in order to achieve the desired goals. I was surprised that student-teacher relationships ranks 11th on the list of highest influences on student achievement, and upon learning this, I reflected on ways I can create relationships with my students in my own teaching experiences.
I was initially very surprised that student-teacher relationships have such a huge impact on student achievement. Other factors such as gender, psychological variables, instruction styles, motivation, and teacher training and knowledge expertise – which I had thought were important – ranked far below student-teacher relationships in their impact on learner success (Hattie, 2012). When I entered the teaching profession, I didn’t consider that I would be creating relationships with the students. Of course I assumed that I would get to know some of them throughout the course, but I hadn’t thought that in doing this I could help them to achieve higher successes in the course. Through the ‘visible learning’ discussion forum, the importance of being a visible learner and teacher became instantly clear, as I immediately recognized that I need to evaluate my own teaching and how I am creating student-teacher relationships to help my learners be successful.
As a new instructor, I have discovered yet another area to improve upon – the building of relationships with my students. In a webpage link shared by a PIDP 3250 colleague, blogger Jon Gordon writes about building positive relationships with the students. He states: “educators realized they needed to focus less on rules and invest more in their relationships. The result was a dramatic increase in teacher and student performance, morale and engagement” (Gordon, 2013). To develop positive student-teacher relationships, Gordon suggests that instructors “need to enhance communication, build trust, listen to them, make time for them, recognize them, show them you care through your actions and mentor them” (Gordon, 2013).
In all of the post-secondary experiences I have had, the ones in which I learned and retained the most are those where it was evident that the instructor made an effort to make a connection with their learners. The instructors did this in various ways: learning our names, finding out about our work/life/educational background, asking about our hopes and expectations for the course, etc. The proof that they were invested in the relationship was that they referred back to our responses in their teaching activities, examples, and feedback. By them doing this, it felt as though they were making the effort to personalize the course for each of us, and this helped boost my motivation to do well in the course.
The best educators stand out by showing their students and colleagues that they care about them. How can I create my own unique way to show my students and colleagues that I care about them? Micari and Pazos (2012) suggest three areas an instructor can help learners to feel comfortable in creating a teacher-student relationship: sense of instructors’ approachability, instructor accessibility, and respect for students. In regards to approachability, I feel that learning each student’s name is essential. I believe that providing icebreaker activities helps build a connection among the students and also the instructor. Particularly it would be important that the instructor also participates, which equalizes them with the students. Having the personal sharing reciprocated by the instructor indicates that the instructor is also a willing participant in the student-teacher relationship. Additionally, using the information the students share, the instructor can personalize the lessons (with relevant examples or anecdotes) to show an interest in the students as people. In regards to approachability, I feel that offering the learners a variety of options for personal communications will build the relationship. This could be through office hours, availability via email or phone, or even virtual office hours. By making myself available to my students, and by encouraging them to take advantage of these opportunities, I would be demonstrating a genuine interest in helping them learn.
One other way that I feel might help create a connection with my students would be to bring myself to the classroom. I can do this by sharing personal anecdotes, talk about my own nursing experiences, and talk with the students about their personal interests and experiences. Of course, I must be conscious to do this in moderation, as it would probably turn-off the students if I only ever talked about myself. I never hope to be the “expert” in my classroom, but I feel that offering this personal touch in a lesson will help to develop a more personal relationship with my students. Doing this will also help me to feel more positive myself, and will help develop positive learners who will hopefully go on to create a more positive world. I believe that in creating a positive relationship with my students, I will help them to become active, passionate and engaged learners, all of which will help them to achieve greater success in their studies.

References
Gordon, J. (2013, July 15). The power of a positive educator. In Developing Positive Leaders, Organizations and Teams. Retrieved from http://www.jongordon.com/blog/the-power-of-a-positive-educator/
Hattie, J. (2012). Visible learning for teachers: Maximizing impact on learning. London and New York: Routledge.
Micari, M. & Pazos, P. (2012). Connecting to the professor: Impact of the student-faculty relationship in a highly challenging course. College Teaching, 60(2), 41-47.

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