April 14, 2018

Media attention regarding our teacher-child relationships paper

The following journal article has been profiled by Charles Sturt University's media department this week:

Wang, C., Harrison, L. J., McLeod, S., Walker, S., & Spilt, J. L. (2018). Can teacher–child relationships support human rights to freedom of opinion and expression, education and participation? International Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 20(1), 133-141. doi:10.1080/17549507.2018.1408855

It is freely available (open access) here:

The CSU media release is here: http://news.csu.edu.au/latest-news/education/teacher-education/early-teacher-child-relationships-vital-to-a-childs-ability-to-effectively-communicate-in-life

Cen (Audrey) has been interviewed about the journal article here:
The article and media release also has received attention on social media too:

Here is Audrey's summary of our findings that she presented on the radio (and available at Kudos https://goo.gl/uAZzMD):
Communication is a fundamental human right. We believe it is important for children, especially children with speech and language difficulties to have the ability to express themselves and debate in the public domain. Therefore, we wanted to study what factors are helpful for children with speech and language difficulties to overcome these challenges. In this particular research, we studied teacher-child relationships. We all remember or know teachers who made us feel valued, loved, warm and safe. We are more likely to share our feelings/experience with them and have a warm affectionate relationship. This positive relationship provides children a wonderful language context to freely express themselves and develop language skills. This can be especially important for children with speech language difficulties.

We analysed the data from a government collected dataset called Growing Up in Australia: The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children. It is a study that spanned a number of years. In this study, we were able to examine teacher-child relationships when children were 4-5 years, then  6-7 years, then again 8-9 years and finally 10-11 years. The total number of participants is over 4000.

We found a few interesting findings:
  1. First of all, we have good news.  For both children with speech language difficulties and children without speech language difficulties, the majority had consistently higher levels of closeness and consistently lower levels of conflict with their teachers over time.
  2. However, children with speech and language difficulties tend to have slightly higher levels of conflict and lower levels of closeness with their teachers over time, compared to children without speech language difficulties.
  3. An important and interesting finding is that children with speech and language difficulties who had positive relationships with teachers did better on all the outcomes compared to children who had NO speech language difficulties but had negative relationships with their teachers. This suggests that teacher-child relationship quality matters and a positive relationship is an important buffer against the negative effects associated with speech and language difficulties. The outcomes we examined in this study include children’s literacy and language skills, their sense of school belongingness, their peer relationship quality and their school engagement.
There are a few suggestions for teachers, parents and schools:
  1. Forming positive relationships need to start early. This is because early close relationships with teachers can put children at a low conflict trajectory with their teachers; equally importantly, it helps children who started school with moderate/high initial levels of conflict to be on a trajectory of decreasing conflict.
  2. One aspect to note is that children with speech language difficulties may have difficulties expressing themselves, understanding concepts and social cues. They have also been shown to have reduced capacity to understand their emotional experiences, express their needs effectively, and regulate their behaviours. Therefore, some of these children may appear more disruptive and show behavioural issues in the school environment. It is important to look beyond the behaviour issues and investigate whether the underlying cause could be speech and language difficulties. There are certain tools out there for teachers and family to make this identification.  My colleagues Prof. Sharynne McLeod and Prof. Linda Harrison have developed a very short, easy to use checklist, called Intelligibility in Context scale to help with early identification. This scale can be found at CSU’s website: http://www.csu.edu.au/research/multilingual-speech/ics
  3. There are free speech pathology services provided at local hospitals and community health centres that families can access. Families and schools can also go to the Speech Pathology Australia website to type in their postcode to locate local speech pathology service.