Student–teacher relationship quality and prosocial behaviour: The mediating role of academic achievement and a positive attitude towards school

Developing strong relationships with your students that are characterized by closeness and support can act as a protective factor for the students. Teachers can stimulate prosocial behaviours through this relational model, as well as help the child to feel included in and develop positive attitudes towards the school climate.

Key Takeaway: Developing strong relationships with your students that are characterized by closeness and support can act as a protective factor for the students. Teachers can stimulate prosocial behaviours through this relational model, as well as help the child to feel included in and develop positive attitudes towards the school climate.  —Ayla Reau

Previous research has already identified that a “good quality teacher–pupil relationship is a protective factor for the child’s development,” lowers the risk of victimization, and increases the chance for inclusion in the peer group. The authors of this study, Longobardi, Settanni, Lin, and Fabris, from the University of Turin’s Department of Psychology, wanted to further investigate whether teacher-pupil relationships are positively associated with students’ higher levels of prosocial behaviour. The study considered the perspectives of both the teacher and student in the perceived relationship. 

Longobardi et al. define prosocial behaviour as “actions aimed at favouring other people,” meaning behaviours that involve a cost for the self and result in benefits for others. Prosocial behaviours are especially important to develop since children with increased prosocial behaviours tend to have “more positive outcomes, both in the social domain (e.g. peer acceptance or peer victimization) and in the non-social domain (e.g. academic success).” 

The results of the study concluded that a teacher-student relationship that is characterized by closeness, affection, and support is positively associated with higher levels of prosocial behaviour in the student. This is likely the case as in these relationships teachers can become a reference adult, “offering relationship models that the child can acquire, develop, and replicate in peer interactions.” Teachers also play a role in mediating relationships between classmates, helping them manage conflict, encouraging correct behaviors, and discouraging incorrect behaviours. 

The authors also examined the mediating effects on teacher-student relationships and prosocial behaviours for the following two factors: attitude towards school and academic competence. They found that only attitude towards school was a predictor of prosocial behaviour. One possible explanation given was that “academic competence is not always associated with greater acceptance and popularity in the peer group.” On the other hand, attitude towards school was found to be a mediator, likely because meeting students’ needs of relatedness, competence, and autonomy, results in more positive attitudes towards school and more involvement in the school content. A teacher can help a student develop a positive attitude towards school, which in turn could facilitate the development of prosocial behaviours.

Ultimately, prosocial behaviours “tend to correlate negatively with aggression and the risk of victimization and predict greater student adaptation and more positive school outcomes.” These behaviours can be developed through a close relationship with a teacher. Teachers can offer a supportive relational model and help the student develop more positive attitudes towards school, which this study found is directly associated with the increase in prosocial behaviour. However, Longobardi, Settanni, Lin, and Fabris do warn us that we must exercise caution in the interpretation of their data as more research should be done on the causality and directionality of these relationships.

Summarized Article:

Longobardi, C., Settanni, M., Lin, S., & Fabris, M. A. (2021). Student–teacher relationship quality and prosocial behaviour: the mediating role of academic achievement and a positive attitude towards school. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 91(2), 547-562.

Summary by: Ayla Reau — Ayla believes that one-to-one conversations, through the MARIO Approach, are the key to understanding and unlocking a student’s potential.

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We are a dedicated group of learners that are constantly seeking to improve the lives of the children we care for. Whether you are a teacher, parent, assistant, or administrator, we give you free access to the most recent special education related research and practices available. Our twice monthly MARIO Memo summarizes and shares studies from peer-reviewed journals, while our learning letters provide insights from MARIO classrooms.

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