At East Woods School, we have just completed our first round of parent conferences for the academic year. Our teachers talked with parents about each student’s academic progress, of course, but in most cases, also discussed social-emotional learning and development.
Gone are the days of treating students as disembodied brains. All the recent brain research of the last fifteen years has underscored the importance of emotional and social connection in promoting learning.
We know now, for instance, that if stress or anxiety activates a child’s amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for the “fight or flight” reaction, activity in the prefrontal cortex comes to a near standstill, making it impossible to learn. This is why a child’s social-emotional wellbeing is so important for academic success.
For this blog post, I wanted to home in on one specific, important aspect of social-emotional classroom learning: the relationship between a teacher and student.
A positive relationship between a teacher and a student will help a child adjust to school, build stronger social skills, and increase academic success and resilience (Battistich, Schaps, & Wilson, 2004; Birch & Ladd 1997; Curby, Rimm-Kaufman & Ponitz, 2009; Ewing and Taylor, 2009; Hamre & Pianta, 2001; Rudasill, Reio, Stipanovic, & Taylor, 2010). Upper elementary and middle school students report being more engaged with mathematical thinking and problem-solving when they felt emotionally supported in the classroom (Rimm-Kaufman, Baroody, Larsen, Curby & Abry, 2014). Kindergarteners who said they knew their teachers cared about them performed better on tests of early academic skills (Birch & Ladd, 1997).
A strong, positive teacher-student relationship is marked by little conflict, a sense of support and caring, and specific teacher strategies to increase independence, rather than dependence. Over and over again, in the literature, it is clear that a sense of “closeness and support” is necessary. At East Woods, we focus not only on the advantages of a small class in which students receive constant feedback and attention (quantity), but also on the quality of those interactions. Teachers make sure they get to know every child very well. They celebrate their successes and help them through challenges. They pay attention to building each child’s sense of happiness and security in the classroom.
East Woods teachers are always striving to engender in students three beliefs:
• Competence – A sense of “I can do it!”
• Autonomy – A feeling of “I can make decisions.”
• Relatedness – A sense of “I have social connections in this learning environment.”
One way parents can help our teachers is by relaying information immediately if the child is struggling socially or emotionally. Teachers are people too, and sometimes unwittingly they might have a miscue, a statement, glance, or word the child might interpret as the teacher not liking him or her. This is where you as the parent can help. The sooner such information can be shared, the faster the teacher can correct the situation and assure the student that “Yes, I care about you and I want you to succeed!"
Source: American Psychological Association