It’s never been more important for your child to have a strong relationship with their teacher. Between the move to online learning and the ever-present anxieties surrounding the pandemic, COVID has triggered a drastic shift in classroom dynamics – and it could take a bit of nurturing, on your part, to rebuild your child’s connection with their teacher.
Educational psychology researcher Dr Rebecca Collie explains that caring, fair and attentive teacher-student relationships can help ease the uncertainty your children likely feel about COVID-19, and while it is still too early to know the exact impacts the pandemic will have in the classroom, it is possible to make educated guesses.
“In places where students are learning remotely, it can be hard for teachers to have time for one-on-one conversations with students,” says Dr Collie. “At the same time, there might be other cases, where the shared sense that ‘we’re going through this together’ may help forge stronger connections.”
Dr Collie has worked on a range of studies that look at the impact teacher-student relationships have on academic outcomes.
A recent 2019 study that Dr Collie conducted with Professor Andrew Martin, ‘Teacher-student relationships and students’ engagement in high school,’ surveyed 2,079 students from 18 different Australian high schools, asking them to rate the strength and positiveness of their relationships with five of their teachers over the course of a year.
Dr Collie found that the more positive a student’s relationship with their teacher was, the better their engagement in school.
“By engagement, we mean that we looked at their enjoyment of school, how much they participated in school, and what their future aspirations were,” Dr Collie says.
Based on this study, and others like it, Dr Collie believes that the same strategies that have worked to strengthen student-teacher relationships pre-COVID can likely be applied moving forward. Dr Collie identifies three main groups of strategies which are available to teachers…
1. Building relationships directly with students
“This is about taking time to interact with each student, expressing interest in students, getting to know them and what their hobbies are, and making students feel noticed and cared for by being attuned to their needs and directing resources to those needs,” Dr Collie says. “It’s about building that rapport.”
Applying these practices and some empathy in direct relationships therefore increases human connection, which Dr Collie says is essential for motivating students to stay engaged in school during COVID-19.
For parents: This could include developing your own relationship with your child’s teacher.
2. Academic and pedagogical support
Dr Collie explains that teachers can provide guidance and support to help students progress in their learning.
“This is about providing goals and expectations, so students know what to expect in their learning,” Dr Collie says. “Offering positive and constructive or task-focused feedback is also important to help students continue their learning journey.”
For parents: This might mean more detailed debriefing with your children about what they are learning at school, and how they are coping with the content and workload.
3. Promoting students’ ownership and self-initiation in their learning
Engaging students and encouraging them to take ownership of their learning also enables positive associations with schooling, Dr Collie says.
“This includes things like providing a meaningful rationale for what needs to be done, explaining to students why it’s important and offering choice and control over the tasks that students do, where possible,” she says. “It’s also about really listening to students and acknowledging their perspectives, and then inviting their input whenever you can in decision making in the classroom.”
For parents: This might look like asking your child’s teacher questions about set homework tasks, so that you can resolve any issues that come up together with your child.
Further research that looks at the impact of the 2011 Christchurch earthquake on teacher wellbeing in the years after the tragedy shows that teachers experienced a ‘burnout lag,’ “because they put in so much effort and worked so hard,” says Dr Collie.
“One thing we need to be aware of is making sure we are supporting teachers through this pandemic to keep those positive teacher and student relationships going,” explains Dr Collie. “They are going above and beyond to try and make sure students’ education is disrupted as little as possible.”