Empathetic Teachers Enhance Children's Motivation for Learning

Empathetic teachers enhance children’s motivation and academic skills, according to the ongoing Finnish First Steps study at three universities — the University of Eastern Finland, University of Jyväskylä, and University of Turku.

The research underscores the significance of empathy and a warm attitude in the classroom — and that the interaction between the teacher and the pupil is more important for learning outcomes than structural factors such as educational materials and class sizes.

According to Senior Lecturer of Early Education Martti Siekkinen of the University of Eastern Finland, leader of the research group, the early years 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 against social exclusion by 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,” says Siekkinen.

Siekkinen also noted that his group is currently studying to what extent the teacher-pupil relationship in the upper grades can be linked to Finland’s excellent reading scores in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).

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 motivation during their first school years, and on the counseling practices and forms of cooperation of parents and teachers.

The findings were published in Contemporary Educational Psychology and Early Education and Development. This summary came from a University of Eastern Finland press release.