Empathetic Teachers Boost Kids' Academic Scores, Motivation to Learn

Warm teachers who express empathy in the classroom boost students’ academic skills, such as reading, writing, and arithmetic skills. A positive atmosphere created by the teacher also safeguards and increases children’s motivation for learning, according to the Finnish First Steps study currently being conducted at the University of Eastern Finland, the University of Jyväskylä and the University of Turku.

There have been few studies on the significance of empathy and a warm disposition in classroom. However, research has shown that the interaction between the teacher and the pupil is more important for learning outcomes than structural factors such as educational materials and class sizes.

Prior research has found that the interaction between a teacher and student is a significant factor during the early school years, but there are indications of this interaction playing an important role also later, when the academic challenges become greater and the protective teacher-pupil interaction can be less intensive.

The success of the Finnish education system is often attributed to a high regard for the teaching profession and highly qualified teachers, equality in education, and keeping standardized testing to a bare minimum.

“We are currently studying to what extent the teacher-pupil relationship in the upper comprehensive school, i.e. in grades seven to nine, can be linked to Finland’s excellent reading scores in the Programme for International Student Assessment, PISA,” says Senior Lecturer of Early Education Martti Siekkinen of the University of Eastern Finland, leader of the UEF research group in the First Steps study.

According to Siekkinen, the first years of the earlier grades (first to third) are a critical period during which the child needs to have a safe relationship with his or her teacher. The teacher’s empathetic attitude not only protects children’s image of themselves as learners, but also acts as a protective factor if a child is excluded by classmates.

“It is important that we learn about the mechanisms that inspire children to become active members of their school community, motivate them to study and set goals — in other words, to believe in their abilities to achieve these goals.”

The First Steps study is a ten-year follow-up study that focuses on the development of children’s reading and writing skills as well as what motivates them in those first years. It also looks at a variety of counseling practices and forms of cooperation of parents and teachers.

The findings are published in the journals Contemporary Educational Psychology and Early Education and Development.

Source: University of Eastern Finland

Empathetic teacher photo by shutterstock.