COLCHESTER, United Kingdom — Growing up, most students encounter a wide variety of teaching styles and personalities in the classroom. Some teachers tend to be pushovers, while others can strike fear in their students with nothing more than a glance. Interesting new research, however, makes a strong case for all teachers to take a kinder approach. Scientists say that “strict-sounding” teachers are worse at inspiring their young students in comparison to nicer educators.
This groundbreaking psychological research project, a joint effort between the Universities of Essex and Reading, encompassed hundreds of students. Ultimately, the study concludes that “controlling sounding voices” don’t actually spark cooperation from students until they were between 10 and 16 years-old.
Moreover, kids dealing with a strict teacher are usually more likely to rebel, display changes in well-being, and are generally less likely to reveal they are facing a problem at school — like bullying. Why? The team says students feel incapable of expressing themselves when dealing with a teacher who has a harsher, more controlling tone. Meanwhile, a kinder, supportive-sounding voice fosters a stronger student-teacher connection and a greater likelihood of cooperation.
“We often think about what teachers say to their students, but we rarely talk about how they say it,” says study co-author Professor Silke Paulmann, Head of the Department of Psychology at Essex, in a university release. “But the tone of voice teachers use really matters and the way we modulate our voice can have profound effects on listeners.”
Students put less trust in strict teachers
The research team played pre-recorded voices of teachers to 250 children. Then, the kids had to articulate how each tone affected them. Participating students also had to rate how the teacher’s tone would affect factors such as competence, emotions, trust, and their intention to cooperate.
The students reacted much more positively to supportive voices, but controlling tones resulted in the children’s self-esteem dropping and the teachers being perceived as less trustworthy. Study authors hope their findings help shape teacher training protocols moving forward, and perhaps even boost tangible classroom results. The team says future studies should leave the laboratory behind and investigate the impact of teacher tone in a real world, classroom setting.
“Tone of voice is a powerful way to convey teachers’ caring, understanding, or openness. It’s easy to forget when we are stressed or tired, but teachers can provide a positive learning environment when they are thoughtful in how they use their tone of voice,” Prof. Weinstein concludes.
The findings appear in the British Journal of Educational Psychology.