The importance of relationships in education.

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For a student, the end of the academic year is always a time of mixed emotions. Excitement and relief that the year is finally over, yet with some fear and trepidation of what the future holds. Irrespective of whether a student is moving onto higher education after Year 12 or moving into the next year level, these emotions always bring a particular challenge to the later months of the year.

As an educator, seeing students develop and progress through their learning journey brings me great pride – it is one of the key reasons that I became a teacher.

The importance of a good relationship and rapport with students cannot be overstated. If the classroom is truly to be a place of learning, students must feel that they are respected, heard and safe. Without these conditions, many students will fail to thrive.

Academic research has shown time and again that the achievement of students is positively affected by the strength and quality of the relationship that they have with their teacher (Midgley et al. 1989, Decker, Dona & Christenson 2006, Skinner & Belmont 1993). For students in low socio-economic areas and for students with dysfunctional home environments, this relationship is particularly valuable in making them feel valued and secure.

In his meta-analysis of over 800 educational studies, John Hattie found that some of the biggest effects on student outcomes were from what teachers do in the classroom. Hattie’s ideas are well known and I don’t wish to detail them here other than to say that the key improvement strategies that he proposes require a respectful relationship with the student as a foundation. Without this mutual trust and respect, the value of feedback  is limited, a safe environment where errors are allowed is not created and knowing when each student is successful is almost impossible.

It must be said that some students – and some teachers – are able to exist within the school environment without a strong focus on the relationships that they are constructing with those around them. These students are often those that will benefit the most from the extra effort they require to develop a positive relationship with a teacher.

As we begin a new teaching year (in Australia, at least!), what better opportunity do we have to remind ourselves of the ‘soft-skills’ that we require as educators to make a real difference in our students’ lives? I challenge you to articulate to yourself how you are planning on ensuring that the environment that you create in your school is fostering positive, respectful and powerful relationships.

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