Recently we have discussed the notion that teachers often act as muses, motivating students to find and pursue and long-term passions. Teachers are often considered positive figures in the lives of their students due to their abilities to both teach and inspire. Teachers can be quite encouraging. This concept, which comes as a surprise to no one, has only recently gained the scientific data to back it up!
In a recent study published in the Research in Higher Education journal, Benjamin Alcott of the University of Cambridge quantifies the significance of teacher encouragement, particularly in its role in promoting students’ educational progress. The study also includes data on whether parental education influences the effects of teacher encouragement. Brenda Isavoli of EdWeek, discusses the highlights of Alcott’s findings, concluding that teacher-student relationships are “real engines for social mobility” (Alcott, 2017).
Alcott found that students who received encouragement from teachers are more likely to continue their education than those who report not receiving encouragement from teachers. The study also finds that the effect of encouragement on a student continuing their education also depends on the extent to which their parents were educated.
The reported encouragement rates of students whose parents lacked a formal education were lower than the overall reported rates; however, Alcott’s study found encouragement to be more impactful to this group than to students whose parents received a formal education.
“Positive feedback from teachers didn’t matter quite as much for students of parents with university degrees. For these students, encouragement from teachers increased the likelihood of continuing education by only 6 percentage points and had no impact on the pursuit of a college degree.
Yet advantaged students were more likely to report that teachers encouraged them to continue with schooling, the study found. For instance, 22 percent of students who said they received teacher encouragement had a parent with a university degree, compared with 15 percent of those who did not. What’s more, students who did not report encouragement were a third more likely to have an unemployed parent (12 percent as opposed to 9 percent)” (Iasevoli, 2017).
Alcott also noted that there were potential sources of bias in interpretation of interactions with teachers that could influence the measurements, some of which could be due to students’ different backgrounds. As Alcott notes below, attitude towards school is imperative.
“For example, students who are more confident may be more likely to interpret the same interaction with a teacher as encouragement, and also more likely to progress to university. (Alcott, 2017).”
Alcott continues by noting that Students who enjoy school, or at least approach school with the right attitude may be more likely to report instances of teacher encouragement than might those students who feel more disillusioned about school. This supports our belief that differing attitudes to school and work transitions are also likely to be linked to progress through earlier stages of university and then work!
This study was conducted over the course of seven years, between 2003 and 2010, and comprised of 4,300 students in England. Participants began the study at age 13 and completed detailed questionnaires annually. Once they reached the last year of their compulsory education- tenth grade- students were asked if they had been encouraged by a teacher to continue their education to advanced high school (A-level) or a university degree course (Alcott, 2017).
“Students who reported encouragement from teachers continued their education after they turned 16 at a rate of 74 percent. Students who said they did not receive encouragement continued school at a rate of 66 percent.
When it came to students with parents who lacked a formal education, those who reported encouragement from a teacher continued with their studies after age 16 at a rate of 64 percent. Those who lacked encouragement pursued further studies at a rate of only 52 percent” (Iasevoli, 2017).
The data from this study provides positive reinforcement for encouraging teachers, as the effects of their efforts are now quantifiable. The results also help teachers identify which of their students they can benefit the most by developing relationships. Alcott’s work provides the factual support for the already unanimous notion that teachers have the power to inspire and motivate their students.
Alcott, B. (2017). Does Teacher Encouragement Influence Students’ Educational Progress? A Propensity-Score Matching Analysis. Research in Higher Education. doi:10.1007/s11162-017-9446-2
Iasevoli, B. (2017, March 31). Study: A Teacher’s Encouragement Gives Students a Lasting Boost. Retrieved April 04, 2017, from http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/teacherbeat/2017/03/post_3.html
The child who is ‘left behind’ most is the one who leaves school without transition readiness.