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Emotional Involvement with Students

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In a recent TLN article, elementary school teacher Ellen Holmes explained how an emotional connection with her student, whose mother had committed suicide, improved her teaching practice. Learning about the student's background helped her understand why she was doing so poorly in school. "My lesson to all new teachers is this: relationships with students and their families are far more important than any other benchmark or learning target," Holmes said.

How emotionally involved should teachers be with their students, particularly with the heightened focus on test scores? Should there be a varied level of involvement depending upon the age and needs of a student? Do relationships with students cross a boundary or lessen your authority?

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In my opinion, the answer to the question is an overwhelming, "Yes!" All the research I have seen indicates that students must be motivated and believe that they are valued as people first, and as competent learners, if they are to succeed academically and socially. Bonnie Benard's research on resiliency identified three essential protective factors that build resiliency in at-risk children when operating in their home, school and community environments. These include caring relationships, high expectations, and opportunities to participate and contribute. Furthermore, Ms. Benard's research revealed that these protective factors in one environment could make up for deficits in another environment. For children living in empoverished neighborhoods and/or troubled families, caring relationships in their school environments can make all the difference in their future. By simply showing an interest in their feelings, hopes and dreams, a teacher can build an emotional attachment with a student that has the power to motivate and inspire. I have personally witnessed this power many times over the course of my tenure as an educator.

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