Relationships. They are not easy. But they matter. A lot.
Teacher-student relationships are so vital to the learning in the classroom. According to John Hattie, teacher-student relationship had a .72 effect size on student achievement (An effect size of .4 and above is highly significant for student achievement). Strong teacher-student relationships shape the way children think and act in school. Strong teacher-student relationships have a larger effect size than socio-economic status. Relationships matter and are worth the time and energy it takes to nurture them.
When students are under stress such as a poor or weak student-teacher relationship, our bodies react in many ways. One way would be chronic elevated cortisol levels, the stress hormone. This can shrink or kill brain cells and hurt memory skills. Under stress, we are more likely to stay in lower-level thinking versus higher-level thinking. We also have a decreased desire to learn when in a poor relationship.
On the positive side, when we build relationships with students there are positive effects on our bodies as well. Oxytocin, a hormone that also acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain, is directly linked to bonding and increased trust. When we create a positive relationship with students, more oxytocin is released contributing to a better relationship and better effects on student achievement.
Working to create positive relationships with our students does not have to be hard. Bring joy to the classroom. Laughter is highly contagious. Set high expectations and give specific feedback to the students in order to reach those high expectations. Believe in the students. The self-fulfilling prophecy showed that teacher expectations influence student performance. If we show the students that we think they can do it, they will! Build trust by giving second and third and fourth chances. Care.
Relationships are not always easy. But our students are depending on us. For some of them, we are all they got.
I have come to a frightening conclusion. I am the decisive element in my classroom. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess tremendous power to make my student’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or hurt, humor or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated, and my student humanized or de-humanized.
Adapted from Haim Ginott