Empathetic teachers enhance children’s motivation and academic skills, such as reading, writing and arithmetic, according to findings from Finland’s ongoing First Steps study
The researchers from the University of Eastern Finland (UEF), the University of Jyväskylä and the University of Turku say that while the significance of teacher empathy remains an understudied phenomenon, studies show it is more important for learning outcomes than structural factors such as educational materials and class sizes.
Furthermore, while research has found teacher empathy is significant during the early school years, there are indications it’s also important later, when academic challenges increase and the protective teacher-pupil interaction can be less intensive.
‘We are currently studying to what extent the teacher-pupil relationship in the upper comprehensive school (Grades 7-9) 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. 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 standardised testing to a bare minimum.
Siekkinen says the first years of the lower comprehensive school (Grades 1-3) 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 reduces the risk of social exclusion by their fellow pupils.
‘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 10-year follow-up study gathering data on children’s early study paths, on the development of children’s reading and writing skills, and their motivation when they begin school and during their first school years. It also encompasses the counselling practices and forms of cooperation of parents and teachers.
Its findings have been published in Contemporary Educational Psychology and in Early Education and Development.