Teaching isn’t just an intellectual activity or a set of tasks we can distinguish from emotions. As with all other domains of human thinking and doing, emotional response is irreducibly tied to our behavior.

This is no less true than in how we teach. In the dynamic interplay between students and teachers, emotions mix in ways that can be both helpful to and distracting from learning. The process of teaching itself comes with a series of ups and downs that gone unchecked can affect how we feel about our work and how we relate to students.

In one study, positive emotional responses were prevalent in teachers who were engaged with students’ behaviors and learning processes. However, teaching that was more weighted to transmission of knowledge alone was correlated with greater feelings of anxiety. This may point to a core element of effective teaching: better engagement with students will not only yield better learning outcomes, but will increase instructor satisfaction. There is a catch.

Do the approaches cause these emotional responses or do we start with the emotions, which then move us in the direction of certain instructional methods?

Be that as it may, we know that better teaching and a stronger sense of well-being while teaching involve stronger and closer relationships with what each of our students are doing in the course of their learning.

Perhaps this points to a fundamental aspect of what it means to be human. Robert Kegan in his book Out of Our Minds: The Mental Demands of Modern Life argues that it is our relationships that ultimately create our understanding of who we are. Maybe reducing the dualism between student and teacher is a pathway to deepen learning and create stronger communities in our learning environments – both online and face to face.

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