Positive teacher-student relationships may lead to better teaching

We’ve known that a positive teacher-student relationship can lead to more learning. Actually, in John Hattie’s overview, it’s in the same range of effects of feedback. This new study by Xintong Li et al. looks at another perspective: what is the effect of such a relationship on how the teacher acts. The study uses archival data from an authentic teacher evaluation and should only allow for correlational conclusions. Still, the researchers used advanced statistical methods to allow for a causal relationship.

In short:

  • Positive teacher-student relationships promote complex teaching practices.
  • Teacher-student relationships more strongly affect teaching in higher grade levels.
  • Affectively engaging students may result in positive teacher-student relationships.

The study also found that there was a statistically significant positive main effect for grade level on teaching practices while controlling for other covariates.

That is, older students reported teachers more frequently used the complex, high-impact teaching practices studied here.

One thing to note is that the sample size for primary school teachers was rather small.

But what does this mean for daily practice?

Our results suggest that when TSRs (Teacher Student Relationships) are positive, teachers are more likely to engage in complex, high-impact teaching practices that are associated with increased student learning. Our results suggest that when schools aim to improve the quality of teaching practices, they would do well to attend to improving the quality of TSRs first. One way to improve TSRs may be to use teaching strategies that affectively engage students in the content. Effects are likely to occur for all students but may be strongest for secondary students.

Abstract of the study:

Substantial research literature indicates that positive teacher-student relationships (TSRs) promote students’ academic achievement. One explanation is that students are more motivated to learn when they have positive relationships with teachers (Urdan & Schoenfelder, 2006). However, another plausible explanation is that teachers engage in higher-quality teaching practices when they have positive relationships with students. This is important because research on school effectiveness consistently identifies high-quality instruction as one of the largest school-based contributors to students’ academic achievement (Scheerens, 2001; Thoonen et al., 2011). In the current study, we explored this alternative explanation. Fig. 1 depicts the relationships between TSRs, teaching practices, and student outcomes.

There is extant research evidence to support the bold arrows, which we briefly review next. Our study investigated the dashed arrow representing the bidirectionality between positive TSRs and high-quality teaching practices, which, to our knowledge, no study has investigated. We used archival data from an authentic teacher evaluation system in the United States.

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