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Strong Teacher Relationships Can Help Children Overcome Impoverished Backgrounds, Author Says

March 16, 1999 -- Teachers who establish strong relationships with at-risk students can often reduce the failure and frustration the children experience, says the author of a new book.

Teachers who maintain personal, supportive relationships with young children positively influence the students' development, says Robert C. Pianta, a University of Virginia education professor, school psychologist and author of "Enhancing Relationships Between Children and Teachers." The book is published by the American Psychological Association.

Although relationships with teachers are an essential part of the classroom experience for all children, they are particularly important for young children in families experiencing emotional, physical and economic distress, Pianta asserts. In such families children may suffer additional risk from the adult relationships at home.

"Under such circumstances, relationships with teachers have the potential for making a difference in the child's development," said Pianta, who wrote the book based on his studies supported, in part, by the Office of Educational Research and Improvement's National Center for Early Development and Learning and from his experiences as a clinical child psychologist.

Many children are in families where adults, feeling the stress of their own lives, struggle to support their children's emotional and social development. These weakened social relationships can undermine the youths' potential for success in school. However, supportive relationships with adults at school can promote children's social and emotional development and academic progress, the author contends. "There is ample evidence that child-teacher relationships can help compensate for difficulties in a child's early history," Pianta says.

"Perhaps the single biggest error that educators make is assuming that a child's competence is simply a matter of ability. A child's relationship with adults has a direct tie to his or her ability to succeed," Pianta said.

Youth who have the support of caring teachers are less likely to drop out of school or engage in high-risk behaviors, notes Pianta, drawing on findings from school, clinical and developmental psychology. They are more likely to succeed academically and socially.

The author lays a strong case for school psychologists and counselors helping teachers understand the multiple factors involved in classroom relationships. Such personnel can assist teachers who may need help in developing an interactive style that would encourage relationship building, he says.

Contact: Ida Lee Wooten, (804) 924-6857.

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: please contact the Office of University Relations at (804) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (804) 924-7550.
SOURCE: U.Va. News Services


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