The teacher was clearing the piles of books on a back counter and a young student was helping her. No other students were in the room, and their conversation was lively, animated.
I had stopped by unannounced, to briefly touch on a curriculum matter, so I waited for a few minutes. When the teacher paused to speak to me, the girl continued the work, but she soon made it clear that I was an intruder.
“Miss?” the girl focused all her attention on the teacher.
“Miss?” she insisted, interrupting our conversation. The teacher tried to hold her off, first with a head nod….then, with a hand held up.
“Miss?” the girl persisted.
I recognized the student had no question, really.
What she was telling me was, “This is MY time with the teacher…Go away!”
I had interrupted something valuable.
I knew I had to leave.
In retrospect, I considered that what I had just witnessed may have been that student’s most important lesson of the day, an exercise that was helping to build a positive teacher/student relationship.
The research on the importance of positive teacher/student relationships is clear. Teachers and students spend 1200 hours (average 6.64 hours X 180 days) together in school annually. Every day there is an informal blend of academic and social-emotional learning. And while the time for academic learning is clearly spelled out in prescribed blocks or periods (ex: English period 2, 9:40-10:30), the time designated for developing the social-emotional learning is less so.
There are the formal strategies for developing a teacher/student relationship at any grade level, for example, conferencing with a student or using small groups. Then there are the informal ways, such the minutes spent while a teacher and her student work together and talk as they clear a counter of books. And data show those minutes pay off.
John Hattie, researcher and author of Visible Learning, analyzed the results of multiple studies. He used the results from meta-analyses to calculate a “pooled estimate” or measure of an effect on student learning. He then ranked 195 of the results according to the size of the effect.
His conclusion? The number one influencer for student achievement is a “teacher estimates of achievement” an effect that he calculated at four times (1,62) the effect of the average influencer. Average influencers, in this case, include inquiry-based instruction (,35), computer-assisted instruction (,45), or school size (,27)
“It is teachers who have created positive teacher student relationships that are more likely to have the above average effects on student achievement.”
The studies that Hattie used in his analysis indicate that the teacher’s knowledge of students in his or her classes can determine the kinds of classroom activities and materials used as well as the difficulty of the tasks assigned. The effect of a teacher’s estimate on student achievement could be felt in the student groupings used in class, as well as the kinds of questions or instructional strategies selected.
Of course, the inverse could also be true if a teacher developed a negative teacher/student relationship. A negative relationship could likely have a disproportionately negative effect on student achievement.
Should that teacher/student relationship be based on low expectations, socially or academically, the year’s 1200 school hours would yield less positive results. While it is important to state that negative teacher/student are rarely born in malice, all teachers should be made aware of the potential damage to student achievement in setting low expectations by claiming that “students can’t”.
“Can’t,” however, was not what I witnessed in the exchange between the teacher and her student, unless it was the message “you can’t interrupt.”
Teachers who consider Hattie’s findings and use the 1200 hours available in every school year to develop positive teacher/student relationships, academically and socio-emotionally, in and outside of the classroom, will see a result in something more than an estimate, a result in actual achievement.
Just be aware that there are times when you can’t interrupt.