Happy Teacher, Happy Students

App-based EMA helps show that the teacher can set classroom “climate.”

This means that you might have felt like your soul is slowly decaying in a class like Ben Stein’s in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

Or that you literally can’t survive in a class like Professor Snape’s in Harry Potter.

Or feel totally inspired in a class like John Keating’s, in Dead Poets Society.

Or joyously relieved (yet somewhat concerned) to be in a class like Dewey Finn’s in School of Rock.

While we might not have had a class with the extremes of these fictional teachers, we have all had classes that have had a serious impact on our emotional state. We know that teachers can influence a classroom’s “vibe,” and now a study by Becker et al. (2014) has shown this intuition to be (pretty much) true, using app-based EMA.

Students were given iPod touches with an EMA app that notified the student and asked them to record the degree of their current emotions (anger, anxiety, and happiness), then rate their perception of their teacher having the same three emotions. Further, they were asked to report on the teacher’s instructional style (i.e. “At the moment, my teacher explains things in a comprehensible way”) to see if the teacher’s instructional behavior had an impact on the student’s emotions.

At the end of the study, they found that both teacher emotion and instructional style effected student emotions, but teacher emotion had a stronger pull.

These results are interesting in light of a neural network called mirror neurons. This system is thought to help us imitate other people because it mediates a connection between the eyes and the motor-controlling areas of the brain. So, when you watch someone do something, your motor areas are prepared to do what the other person is doing. And if you’re watching a teacher be enthusiastic, you’re prepared to be enthusiastic as well.

Also, this study was exciting because

…This is the first time that teachers’ emotions and instructional behavior, and their influence on students’ emotions are contrasted in one study. Clearly our study documents the “power of emotions” in academic contexts. 

And important because

Given that “in the first two decades of most people’s lives, educational settings are one of the most important sources of affective experience” (Fiedler & Beier, 2014), it is especially important to identify possible sources of emotional experiences in the classroom.

Ultimately, this study helps remind us to be mindful of the power our emotions wield. They effect more people than just ourselves.

According to Haim Ginott, a teacher and child psychologist,

“I have come to a frightening conclusion. I am the decisive element in the classroom. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather….”

To see how LifeData fits into the world of education, click here.


Becker, E.S. et al. (2014). The importance of teachers’ emotions and instructional behavior for their students’ emotions – An experience sampling analysis. Teaching and Teacher Education. 43: 15–26

Keysers, C., and Gazzola, V (2014). Hebbian learning and predictive mirror neurons for actions, sensations and emotions. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 369.1644: 20130175


Want to Learn More?