Study Confirms the Power of Student-Teacher Relationship in Academic Performance

Newton Hall, Kents Hill School

Newton Hall, Kents Hill School

As the foundation for student growth in the boarding school world, it’s fascinating to see the student-teacher relationship recognized, and affirmed, as the basis for student growth- especially in light of the constant pressure, and quixotic promises, of technology which often seem designed to bypass, or even negate, student-teacher relationships in our ongoing desire to improve and equalize educational quality.

NPR’s Shankar Vendantam reported on a study done by researchers at the University of Vienna and the Technical University of Dresden that establishes a relationship between how a student feels about a teacher and student achievement.

Speaking to NPR Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep, Vedantam explained,

“…researchers find that kindergarteners subliminally seeing pictures of teachers whom they like solve problems faster than kindergartners who don’t see pictures of the teachers they like.

INSKEEP: Wow, what’s going on here?

VEDANTAM: Well, I think the study points to the idea that, I think, the relationships between students and teachers can actually make a big difference in the performance of students. When you’re confronting something difficult, a challenge, it really helps to know that you have a sympathetic figure at the back of your mind.

INSKEEP: I’m thinking about why that would be in the mind of a kindergarten kid. The kid might feel more comforted, might feel more secure, might feel more focused – any number of things that would have nothing to do with actual teaching technique of the teacher.

VEDANTAM: Yeah, I think that’s right, Steve. And, again, I think at one level, this is sort of obvious. I think we all know that relationships between students and teachers matter. But when we talk about education policy and reform, we often start by talking about what’s in the curriculum and what’s in the textbook instead of focusing on the relationship between student and teacher because that’s where learning might actually begin.”(NPR)

I know that skeptical readers might be saying ‘hey, this study included only kidergarteners.’ But, keep mind this isn’t the first study to indicate the importance of the faculty-student relationship in learning success; it’s just a recent example.

Ask almost any boarding school alumnus about the most important part of his, or her, educational experiences; the answer will almost always begin or end with teacher.

Ask a boarding school admission officer about the most important piece of their school, and to-a-T, almost everyone will talk about an engaged connected faculty.

Perhaps great education begins with a relationship, not a thing.

Brian Fisher

A product of both private and public education, Brian Fisher served as a teacher, coach, dorm parent, and administrator at three different boarding schools. Brian also fills the role of Director of Development at Wolfeboro, The Summer Boarding School, in NH along with being a partner at AdmissionsQuest.

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