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Teacher-student relationships are an enduring relationship that students must depend on for at least twelve years of their lives. According to Joseph A. Devito, author of The Interpersonal Communication Book, “the way you communicate, the way you interact, influences the kind of relationship you develop” (5). From experience, I know that the relationship between a teacher and student either aid or diminish academic motivation, however, I am curious to know if it is the only factor in academic success. I researched how effective that relationship can be on academic success. More specifically, how does teacher-student communication affect academic efficacy.
From the division of Social Sciences at University of California, Santa Clara, Martin Chemers, Li-tze Hu, and Ben Garcia conducted a study in 2001 on the academic self efficacy and performance seen in first-year college students. They studied a variety of factors that affect student performance in the first year of college such as optimism, stress, health, and commitment to a higher education. The researchers used something called a “challenge-threat” evaluation on the previously mentioned factors. This measured how students viewed their encounter with academics as either a challenge or as a threat. They found that students who had higher self-efficacy were also higher on challenge-threat evaluations. Efficacious students saw the demanding academic workload to be a challenge as opposed to a threat and were more successful. These students who believed in themselves were able to push themselves to perform better in the academic setting. Students who reported more optimistic attitudes were also reported as having higher academic expectations, higher self-efficacy, and, in turn, higher challenge-threat evaluations. “Self-efficacy was strongly related to students’ perceptions of their capacities for responding to the demands of college life, and optimism also had a significant, although weaker, relationship” (Chemers, Hu, and Garcia 62). The confidence that the students obtained led them to a successful academic career on their own. Although this study does not refer to teacher-student communication, it does show that it is possible for a student to find success in academics on their own, without relying on a good relationship with their instructor.
The research in this study was taken on by Robert J. Sidelinger, an Associate Professor of Communication and Journalism at Oakland University. He was assisted by three Oakland Communication graduate students, Meghan C. Nyeste, Janice Pollak, and Jon Wilkinson and Paul E. Madlock who is a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of Business at Cleveland State University. This study essentially looked at how instructors’ ineffective communication changed student satisfaction. The researchers based their question off of Communication Privacy Management theories. These are rules society deems as inappropriate and appropriate in communication (DeVito, 50). The investigation had two parts. The first being the relationship between teachers’ ineffective communication habits and student communication satisfaction. The second part of the study looked at student’s positive perceptions of instructors’ inappropriate conversation if the instructor fostered an environment of nonverbal immediacy. The researchers point out how important it is for instructors to maintain a relationship with students while also being “aware of the interpersonal boundaries that exist in the classroom” (Sidelinger, 570). Inappropriate disclosure from instructors typically arises from anger, poor choice of humor, use of vulgar language, and use of verbal aggression (Sidelinger, 570). Sidelinger goes on to mention how effective boundary management in the classroom may lead to satisfactory instructor-student relationships (574). If the instructor is able to create a classroom environment that creates student satisfaction, research has found that it is directly associated with student retention and, in turn, a positive educational outcome. In terms of nonverbal immediacy used by teachers, Sidelinger found that it is an “integral component to effective teaching and student learning” (576). When an instructor is able to create a sense of togetherness in the classroom, students will respond positively to that. Research found that if an instructor is able to use nonverbal immediacy it will mediate between instructor communication and student learning outcomes (Sidelinger, 577). In conclusion, instructors should only disclose to students if it is related to material that is being taught in the classroom and will further their education. If students see disclosure as unrelated, they will deem it inappropriate. Instructors must maintain a balance in order to increase positive student perception which will result in better educational outcomes.
At New York University, Elise Cappella, Erin E. O’Connor, Meghan P. McCormick, Ashley R. Turbeville, Ashleigh J. Collins, Sandee G. McClowry conducted research in 2015 on a teaching practice called INSIGHTS. INSIGHTS is a universal social-emotional learning intervention for early elementary grades. Each woman has obtained a PhD in either applied psychology, human development and family studies, or early childhood education. They sought out to investigate the practices of INSIGHT by observing teacher practices and student behaviors. This study focused on young classrooms of both first grade and kindergarten. They found that “Young children in classrooms with high levels of teacher warmth, responsiveness, and organization gain more in reading and math than children exposed to classrooms with less effective teaching practices” (McClowry, 218). The researchers are very adamant about the fact that teaching practices are related to student success. The practice of INSIGHTS is different from other universal teaching practices because it focuses on temperament and is refined to fit the needs of low-income schools (McClowry, 220). INSIGHTS focuses on three parts of child management. The first is the 3R’s: recognize unique qualities a child has, reframe demands of a situation, and respond knowing that temperament can not change but responses can. (McClowry, 220). The second part is “Gaining Compliance” which match the temperament of a child to different strategies. The third part is “Giving Control” which supports children who are facing a challenging situation. Whether that is giving them help or allowing them to push themselves. The main key in practicing INSIGHTS is that the parents are able to perform this outside of the classroom setting. Children need to be exposed to this behavior all the time in order for it to be effective. This study is the first of it’s kind to be testing the effects of INSIGHTS on the entire classroom as opposed to individual students. Previous research has found that INSIGHTS practices significantly reduced disruptive behavior in students who exhibited this behavior prior to the intervention of INSIGHTS. When looking at the entire classroom, the researchers found that INSIGHTS varied by grade. Kindergarteners were found to be more academically engaged than those in an attention-control classroom setting. The researchers noted that classwide engagement results in individual academic success (McClowry, 235). In first grade classrooms, INSIGHTS classwide off-task behavior. “when children’s emotional and behavioral needs are met, children are better able to self-regulate” (McClowry, 235). The effects of this study was not only changing the behavior of the students, but also the teachers. Teachers engaged in more emotional support and created a warm environment for their students. Even though the effects of INSIGHTS was only minor, in the end it will influence students academic motivation from a young age.
In Taiwan, Tzu Ling Lai, a professor of psychology at Ming Chuan University, studied how the alignment of values between students and teachers can have an effect on students academic performance. Lai acknowledges that racial congruence also plays a factor in forming a successful teacher-student relationship but there is more to it than that. The reason he chose to look into a value based study is because “values shape our lives, influence our actions, and give expression to our underlying beliefs, within and beyond national boundaries and cultural contexts” (Lai, 1425). This study focused on Chinese High School students, specifically. Values were based off of demographic characteristics, behavioral orientation, physical and mental health, school and life experiences, peer relationships, educational and occupational aspirations, and other student perceptions. In the research results on educational values, Lai found that extrinsic education values correspond to achievement values (1432). Lai admits that this study may be skewed because the Chinese culture is so academically oriented that everyone values educational success (1432). Finally, Lai admits that student-teacher relationships are important, however, they are not the only effect on academic success (1433). He mentions that other factors such as individual characteristics and motivations are also essential in student efficacy.
In this article by Amy L. Housley Gaffney and Deanna P. Dannels they review how learning has changed in the classroom and why teachers must reclaim affective learning techniques. Amy L. Housley Gaffney received a PhD in 2010 and is an Assistant Professor in Instructional Communication and Research at the University of Kentucky. Deanna P. Dannels received her PhD in 1999 and is Associate Dean of Academic Affairs and Professor of Communication at North Carolina State University. Gaffney and Dannels indicate that there are three areas of learning that need to be focused on. The first is how to articulate student learning outcomes involving affect (Gaffney and Dannels, 500). The second is how to structure courses and engage in interactions such that these learning outcomes are met (Gaffney and Dannels, 500). The third area of education that needs to be focused on is assessing learning outcomes (Gaffney and Dannels, 500). The authors really emphasize the importance of behavior on academic efficacy. Gaffney and Dannels want to see teachers not only asking students what they want out of learning but asking what they actually valued out of the course materials. Gaffney concludes by stating that “attention to affective learning could—instead of only teaching students
what to know—teach students how to recognize, be aware of, respond to, value and enact with the world around them” (501). She wants to see teachers giving students real life skills through teacher-student communication as opposed to just simply teaching course material.
In San Bolkan’s article, he reveals the importance of affective experience in the classroom. San Bolkan received his PhD in 2007 and is now an Associate Professor in the Department of Communication Studies at California State University, Long Beach. Bolkan begins by emphasizing the importance of discipline and construct in the classroom (502-503). Beyond that, Bolkan believes that “positive affective experiences are important in the class-
room insofar as they serve as motivational factors that mediate learning through the facilitation of cognitive engagement” (503). Many researchers have found that affective outcomes in the classroom is the central mediator between student teaching behaviors and student learning. Bolkan mentions a study done by himself in 2015 that found humorous teachers were able to meet their students’ basic needs in the classroom. Fulfilling basic needs was found to be essential in promoting learning and academic achievement. When instructors promote a positive learning environment they foster a genuine enthusiasm for learning (Bolkan, 503). Bolkan concludes by stating that assessing students’ affective learning in the classroom is an important part of instructional communication and it will remain that way in the future.
Upon entering this research question, I had no doubt in my mind that teacher-student communication plays a role in academics. What I did not know is how directly it does affect academic efficacy. I was immediately very interested in the first study, “Academic Self Efficacy and First-Year College Student Performance and Adjustment” by Chemers, Hu, and Garcia, and how they did not find teacher-student communication extremely essential to academic success. They found that these first-year college students had adapted to their new environment with either a challenge-threat lens. They approached their struggle in higher education as either a challenge that they can overcome or a threat they must flee from. This study was especially interesting to me because I am a college student and can see that challenge-threat lens on myself and my peers. I agree with Chemers, Hu, and Garcia that, in a sense, every student is in charge of their own academic fate and can not just rely on the instructor to guide them through their academic success.
I saw this same theme with Tzu Ling Lai’s study in China. Lai found that his research was not valid because he did not account for personal factors within each student. Things such as personality, individual characteristics, and personal motivation played a large role in a student’s academic success. Another interesting point Lai found was how culture played a huge role in student achievement. Since Lai performed his study in China, a culture that values education almost more than anywhere else in the world, this played a huge factor in each student’s academic success. Lai found that almost all students were academically motivated regardless of how their values aligned with their instructor. Although Lai was able to connect some parts of the value alignment theory, a lot of his study had to be discarded because of these factors he did not account for. Yet again, this shows that teacher-student communication is not the only factor in a student’s academic success. I find it interesting how individual goals can overcome something as important as teacher-student communication.
The study by Robert Sidelinger titled “Instructor Privacy Management in the Classroom: Exploring Instructors’ Ineffective Communication and Student Communication Satisfaction” was able to prove the teacher student communication is very delicate. Sidelinger shows that teachers must approach their communication with the students in mind. I related to this study on a personal level because I have had far too many teachers that engage in unnecessary disclosure that makes all of the students uncomfortable and begin to think less of that instructor. My accounting teacher, for example, always goes off on tangents that are not related to the material that is being covered and sometimes begins to share personal information about her life. Although she seems like someone who is great outside of the classroom, I have lost respect for her as my instructor. This could be playing a part in why I have a lower grade in that class than I do in my other classes. This balance in the classroom is so delicate because students want to see their instructors as both an authority figure but also someone they can approach with a problem.
The NYU study on the practice of INSIGHTS that studied a classroom as a whole was interesting because it began with such a young and impressionable age. I thought the most crucial part of this study is how they continued the practice of INSIGHTS past the classroom and into the home life. At a young age, it is important to have consistency in communication with authority figures. It also made sense for dealing with students from a low income school, they need emotional support and a warm environment in the classroom because they may not recieve that elsewhere. Although it is supposed to carry over to the classroom, in some situations it does not. When an instructor is practicing INSIGHTS within the classroom, their communication changes and connects with the students more. This was proved by the NYU study showing that entire classrooms were engaging in behavior that showed academic success for the future.
I found the whole idea of student affective learning to be very interesting in terms of academic efficacy. Both Amy L. Housley Gaffney and Deanna P. Dannels and San Bolkan studied how affective learning can change academic success. Gaffney and Dannels made an interesting point when they mentioned how teachers should be communicating. Instead of just asking students what they learned, instructors need to find out what they truly valued from their time in the classroom. This is important for teachers to grow and become better instructors. Bolkan made the point that students simply need to have basic needs fulfilled in the classroom. Proving that both the teacher and the student are capable of finding academic success for the student.
There are now many ways I am able to answer the question: how does teacher-student communication affect academic efficacy. I now know that teacher-student communication is a delicate process that must be handled properly in order to foster a healthy learning environment. The relationship between a teacher and a student is fragile but if handled correctly could make a positive change in a student’s academic success. On the other hand, I also learned that teacher-student communication is not the only pathway to a student’s success. Each individual student is able to challenge themselves to be successful in school. They are not only affected by their instructors but by their environment, their personality, individual characteristics, and self motivation. These factors combined with healthy teacher-student communication is that leads students to have the optimum amount of academic efficacy.
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