Children prefer teachers who build relationships, research shows

Children studying in alternative provision favour teachers who they think teach well, according to new research, a perception which significantly contributes to in-class behaviour.

Pupils were also found to prefer teachers who build strong and lasting relationships, according to research which studied young people across four alternative provision settings undertaken by Newman University in Birmingham.

Interviews with more than 200 young people showed they particularly liked teachers who had the ability to establish “high-quality and enduring ‘human’ connections”.

Being “more open and honest with pupils” is also advantageous, as is “recognising and renegotiating classroom power relations and expectations”.

In particular, dialogic teaching, in which teachers and pupils tackle work together as a group and share different ideas “without embarrassment or ridicule”, is a popular approach.

“What is most important in a teacher-student relationship is not whether one ‘likes’ or ‘dislikes’ the other, but the extent to which one is known to and by the other,” said Dr Rob Loe, the chief executive of research group the Relational Schools Foundation.

Trust in adults may be “very low” amongst children in such provision, while the experience of positive relationships may be “extremely impoverished” for some pupils. Feeling cared about therefore helps “achieve better academic outcomes”, he said.

Pupils also said they were aware of their own learning strategies, though the authors found no evidence of “preferred learning styles” which were maintained consistently over time.

In 2015, Schools Week reported on Professor Dylan William, who claimed the idea that pupils ought to be taught only in their preferred learning style had been “discredited” but that teachers should still “examine whether they are only teaching in the way they [the teacher] like to learn”.

The new research carried out four detailed “case study” evaluations over six years of alternative provision in four local authority areas. Researchers interviewed 200 young people and 30 staff from alternative provision units and  the schools which send them pupils, as well as parents, local authority governors and school governors. It will be presented today at the British Educational Research Association’s annual conference.


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  1. wayne Donley

    A connection is essential if we want our students to be risk takers in education. I am however surprised that we are still too blind to follow the successful model of some Scandinavian countries when it comes to things like homework! Lets face it, if the child doesn’t understand it in class, what chance have they got when they get home, except more anxiety. Is homework simply the teacher saying I can’t get through my curriculum? What purpose does it serve? No wonder mental health issues are on the rise in a big way. What adult wants to work all day and then do more at home? Not many that I know of!