New meta-analysis shows how teachers can strengthen their relationship with their students

We’ve known the importance of a good solid relationship between teachers and students or pupils for a long time now, but how can you work on that relationship? A new meta-analysis by Kincaid et al tries to answer that question by examining what successful programs have in common:

Of the proactive direct practices, the most common practices seen across effective programs were praise (n = 8), teachers demonstrating respect (n = 5), spending 1:1 time with students to build relationships (n = 5), coaching and validating emotions (n = 5), objective observations to change teachers’ inter- nal representations of SRs (n = 5), getting to know students personally (n = 5), positive to negative ratio of interactions (n = 3), check-ins throughout the day (n = 3), reflective and supportive listening (n = 3), positive greetings at the door (n = 2), expressing care (n = 2), and child-led activities (n = 2).

But there is more:

The most common proactive, indirect practices were as follows: establishing clear, predictable classroom rule and routines (n = 8); parental involvement (n = 5); student choice and empowerment (n = 4); clearly established transitions and down time (n = 3); peer-assisted learning strategies (n = 3); sending a positive note home to parents (n = 2); giving students a sense of responsibility (n = 2); teachers using scaffolding skills (n = 2); class-wide meetings (e.g., morning meeting; n = 2); and organizing the physical layout of the classroom to facilitate relationships (n = 2).

Additionally, teachers can proactively teach and bolster skills within students. If teachers instruct students on how to improve their social skills, self-regulation, and overall emotion understanding, this could affect interactions between stu- dents and teachers, which ultimately improves relationships. The following teach- ing content was found within the programs in this common elements procedure: teaching problem-solving skills (n = 8), social skills (n = 5), self-regulation/ control (n = 5), emotion understanding (n = 4), emotion expression (n = 3), self- monitoring skills (n = 2), self-esteem (n = 2), and goal-setting (n = 2).

Last, teachers can utilize consequent strategies after a student behavior to change student behavior in the future and to repair STRs that have been damaged. Ways to change student behavior could include positive discipline strategies (n = 7), feedback (n = 6), incentives/rewards (n = 5), time-out (n = 4), daily report cards (n = 3), and behavior contracts (n = 2). One of the most interesting strate- gies proposed across these programs is how to repair relationships between stu- dents and teachers (n = 2). If teachers have interpersonal conflict with their students, they must take time to repair the relationship. The types of strategies proposed could include the teacher taking ownership of the problem, the teacher and the student working together to find a win-win solution, the teacher showing effort to understand the student’s perspective, and the teacher suggesting a “fresh start” and/or stating care for the student.

Abstract of the meta-analysis:

Past research has shown student-teacher relationships (STRs) are associated with student outcomes, including improvements in academic achievement and engagement and reductions in disruptive behaviors, suspension, and risk of dropping out. Schools can support STRs universally and systematically by implementing universal, school-wide, and class-wide programs and practices that aim to facilitate high-quality STRs. This study applied meta-analytic and common element procedures to determine effect sizes and specific practices of universal approaches to improving STRs. The universal programs with the largest effects were Establish-Maintain-Restore and BRIDGE. Other programs demonstrated moderate effects in one study, with combined effect sizes revealing smaller effects. The common elements procedure identified 44 practices teachers can implement to promote positive STRs, with 14 proactive and direct practices. Programs with the largest effects, in general, contained the most proactive and direct practices for improving STRs. Implications of these findings and future research recommendations are discussed.

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