Empathetic teachers enhance children's motivation for learning

Empathetic teachers enhance children's motivation and academic skills, such as reading, writing and arithmetic skills. A positive atmosphere created by the teacher also safeguards and increases children's motivation for learning, according to the Finnish First Steps study currently ongoing at the University of Eastern Finland, the University of Jyväskylä and the University of Turku.

The significance of empathy and a warm attitude in classroom remains an understudied phenomenon in educational sciences. However, research has shown 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. Furthermore, earlier studies have found the teacher-pupil interaction to be a significant factor during the early school years, but there are indications of this interaction playing an important role also later, when the academic challenges become greater 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, i.e. in 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.

According to Siekkinen, the first years of the lower comprehensive school, i.e. 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 against 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 findings were published in Contemporary Educational Psychology and Early Education and Development.

The First Steps study is a ten-year follow-up study gathering data on children's early study paths, on the development of children's reading and writing skills and motivation when they begin school and during their first school years, and on the counselling practices and forms of cooperation of parents and teachers. The study focuses on children, their parents and teachers. The First Steps study includes researchers from the University of Eastern Finland, the University of Jyväskylä and the University of Turku.

For further information, please contact:
Senior Lecturer Martti Siekkinen, martti.siekkinen(at)uef.fi, tel. +358 50 442 3505

Original articles:

Pakarinen, E., Aunola, K., Kiuru, N., Lerkkanen, M.-K., Poikkeus, A.-M., Siekkinen, M., & Nurmi, J.-E. (2014). The cross-lagged associations between classroom interactions and children's achievement behaviors. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 39, 248-261. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cedpsych.2014.06.001.

Siekkinen, M., Pakarinen, E., Lerkkanen, M.-K., Poikkeus, A.-M., Salminen, J., Poskiparta, E., & Nurmi, J.-E. (2013). Social competence among 6-year-old children and classroom instructional support and teacher stress. Early Education and Development, 24, 877-897. doi: 10.1080/10409289.2013.745183.


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The University of Eastern Finland, UEF, is one of the largest universities in Finland. The activities of the UEF underscore multidisciplinarity, and the university is especially strong in research related to forests and the environment, health and well-being, and new technologies and materials. The UEF offers teaching in more than 100 major subjects. In addition to the high standard of teaching, the university offers its students a modern study environment, which is under constant development. The university comprises four faculties: the Philosophical Faculty, the Faculty of Science and Forestry, the Faculty of Health Sciences, and the Faculty of Social Sciences and Business Studies. The university’s campuses are located in the heart of beautiful eastern Finland in Joensuu, Kuopio and Savonlinna. The UEF is home to approximately 15 000 students and nearly 2 800 members of staff.


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