Inclusive and emotionally supportive classrooms pivotal in supporting positive student-teacher relationships during school transition

April 27, 2022

Key Takeaway: School leaders, educators and teachers will benefit greatly from professional development in relation to “(i) creating environments that are high in emotional support, (ii) fostering children’s ability to develop, practice and enhance self-regulation skills, and (iii) promoting children’s oral language development in the early years” (Walker And Graham, 2021). —Matt Barker

Walker and Graham (2021) (Queensland University of Technology) present findings from the first year of a longitudinal project following 240 students in a primary school serving disadvantaged communities. The study aims to investigate relationships between “child characteristics, classroom interactions, and the quality of the teacher-student relationship.”

The authors identify that child characteristics, including gender, the ability to self-regulate, and language competence, impact teacher-child relationships. Specifically, “(i) girls, (ii) children who are better able to self-regulate, and (iii) children who are less hyperactive were more likely to have a close relationship with their teachers.”

The findings of the study suggest that children with higher language scores clearly correlate with “school readiness, self-regulation, both child and teacher-rated relationship quality, and [fewer] problem behaviours.” Children with lower language scores correlate with “fewer school readiness skills, poorer self-regulation, more problem behaviours and less close and more conflictual relationships with teachers.” The authors suggest that underlying language difficulties could also drive less positive relationships between students and teachers.

The authors note that a child’s attitude towards their teacher has a greater influence on teacher-student relationships than a child’s attitude towards school. Moreover, “the quality of classroom interactions, in particular emotional support, enhanced the development of close teacher-student relationships. A lack of positive emotional support contributed significantly to conflictual teacher-student relationships.”

The authors’ findings support those of Buyse et al. (2008)1 in identifying a link between child behavior issues and teacher-student conflict. The authors additionally note that “classroom climate is also linked with teacher-student relationship quality.” Of note, classes with high instructional support have more teacher-student conflict. The authors speculate that children who are at high risk are “likely to enter school with lower self-regulatory and language skills and may therefore be less able to respond to the greater intellectual and linguistic demand that is associated with higher levels of instructional support, leading to higher rates of teacher-student conflict.”

Schools and classrooms that have high emotional support have the following characteristics:

  • Little conflict between teachers and peers
  • No shouting/punitive management measures

In addition, teachers:

  • Are responsive to the emotional and learning needs of students
  • Are warm and calm
  • Smile and laugh
  • Provide effective individualised support
  • Soothe students as needed
  • Engage socially with genuine interest
  • Provide opportunities for independence and responsibility
  • Create learning activities that harness students’ interests
  • Provide choice

To support the development of self-regulation skills, teachers can provide opportunities “to engage in repeated practice of activities which develop the core components of self-regulation such as working memory, cognitive flexibility and problem-solving.”

To support the development of a child’s oral language, teachers can use a rich vocabulary in “elaborative social and instructional conversations.” This is supported by the modelling of “conceptually and intellectually rich instructional language,” where the teacher takes time to both pause and explain the vocabulary.

Summarized Article: Walker, S., & Graham, L. (2021). At-risk students and teacher-student relationships: student characteristics, attitudes to school and classroom climate. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 25(8), 896-913.

Summary by: Matt Barker—Matt loves how the MARIO Framework empowers learners to make meaningful choices to drive their personalized learning journeys.

Additional References:

1. Buyse, E., Verschueren, K., Doumen, S., Van Damme, J., & Maes, F. (2008). Classroom Problem Behavior and Teacher-Child Relationships in Kindergarten: The Moderating Role of Classroom Climate, Journal of School Psychology, 46 (4), 367–391. doi:10.1016/j.jsp.2007.06.009.

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