Research corner

`Transactional links between teacher-child relationship quality and perceived versus sociometric popularity: a three-wave longitudinal study' by De Laet, S, Doumen, S, Vervoort, E et al

Child Development, 854: 1647-62, January 2014 (Wiley)

What makes a student cool or well-liked? Researchers from the University of Leuven in Belgium have attempted to grapple with this intractable question by looking at whether teacher-child relationships have an impact on a pupil's popularity, and vice versa.

The researchers focused on two types of popularity: sociometric popularity (children who are well-liked by their peers) and perceived popularity (children who are seen as popular by their peers).

The study followed more than 500 children from 32 classes in 24 elementary schools in the Flemish community of Belgium. The students were tracked throughout grades 4-6 (ages 9-12) and asked to rate their peers on a number of factors including the other person's behaviour and their feelings towards them. They also nominated fellow students in categories such as "Who likes to help other children?"

When looking at teacher behaviour, the researchers opted to assess the levels of support and conflict found in the teacher-student relationship.

They found that students who were generally well-liked (sociometrically popular) tended to have a greater level of teacher support, which in turn boosted their popularity among their peers as they progressed through school.

Conversely, students who were thought of as popular were more likely to come into conflict with their teachers, leading to increases in both their perceived popularity and the level of conflict with their teachers as they grew older.

Sarah Cunnane

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