How Do Grades Affect Our Emotions?

Jul 22, 2020NCEA, Parent advice

The conversation around mental health and wellbeing has never been more active than it is today.

There’s no denying that emotional health has an impact on your teenager’s academic performance. When they’re in such a crucial stage of development, it’s important to understand how you can help your child’s educational journey. Let’s talk about emotional health, academic performance, and how a student’s grades could be affected by their teachers’ emotional wellbeing.

Emotional Health

Students need to be mindful of their emotional health, and this can be achieved with the help of their parents. Emotional wellbeing is the ability to recognise emotions and to process them when they appear. For instance, a student might be disappointed about a mark they received for an internal. Good emotional health would look like:

    • The student recognises that the disappointment is because of the mark they received, and;
    • The student is able to process this emotion either by setting goals to avoid the low mark in the future or to reflect on why they feel disappointed with their mark.

Parents can help this function by allowing students to approach them without fear of judgement. Research states that teens, especially if they’re 17 or 18, have more positive social behaviour when they have secure attachments to their parents or caregivers. This means that parents should:

    • Provide open spaces for communication.
    • Encourage kids to talk about their emotions without shame.
    • Teach kids how to process their emotions.
    • Help their kids understand how to empathise with others.

When parents incorporate these strategies in their adolescent’s upbringing, it can help students understand where their positive and negative reactions stem from. This can make a world of difference for students who are navigating their schooling careers at a young age, setting them up for future success in the workplace.

When students understand how to process emotions that stem from academic performance, it means that they:

    • Have more clarity or awareness of how their academic performance affects them.
    • Know how to regulate reactions to disappointments, in particular, that they might have in response to their academic performance.

Negative emotional health can actually have adverse effects on children. Sometimes, negative emotional health can lead to physical illness or can aggravate mental health issues. For example, the effects of COVID-19 worsened emotional wellbeing in China by about 74%. People who had more information about how to tackle COVID-19 were more likely to have more control over their emotional wellbeing.

Academic Performance

One of the biggest pressures on students is their ability to do well at school. Academic performance (or academic achievement) is a measured ability to do well in schooling environments. This is measured by tests, exams, and assessments that take place throughout the year. The result of academic achievement is often, if not always, graduating high school and/or university, achieving a certificate, or passing a level.

Here’s how academic performance and emotional health come into play, and why it’s important to link the two concepts together.

Attributional Styles

An “explanatory” or “attributional” style is a term used in psychology to describe how people process events that happen to them, regardless of whether or not the outcome or effect was good or bad. People often fall into two categories here:

    • Optimistic attributional style: people are more inclined to process events with a more positive slant. This means that they’re more likely to attribute bad experiences to bad luck or extrinsic influences, or consider that negative experiences are only temporary and won’t overly influence their lives (which helps them overcome challenges).
    • Pessimistic attributional style: people are more inclined to process events with a more negative outlook. People with this explanatory style may think that bad experiences are due to personal faults or intrinsic influences (feeling like they’re the reason why bad things happen to them), or may even think that events with negative outcomes will never end.

This study found that students with optimistic attributional styles were more likely to do well at school and maintain good grades. Students with pessimistic attributional styles were more likely to approach their studies with hostility or fear of failing.

School Engagement and Results

There’s no doubt that results, at any time of the year, can have adverse impacts on a student’s academic performance. One of the best predicting factors of high-achieving results is school engagement, or how involved a student is in school-related activities.

This study found that university students, in particular, were “more emotionally engaged” when they were achieving high grades. Likewise, secondary school students tended to do better if they attended school regularly, participated in class more often, and had an emotional investment in their work.

The study also found that the biggest shift in grades happened just after Year 7 — usually smack bang during the onset of puberty. This change was attributed to the shift in academic expectations for students on the verge of going to high school. They also found that students were more likely to work towards better results if they thought their classmates were working towards higher grades, too.

So How Can We Foster Emotional Wellbeing to Improve Academic Performance?

    • Encourage positive attributional styles in students: When students maintain positive attitudes towards schooling, their attitudes become more like a self-fulfilling prophecy. When they believe they can do well, their mentalities will shift to allow them to extend their goals.
    • Keep them engaged in their work: Help them link their studies to something tangible in the real world. Skills in Maths could help them budget their money in the future; skills in English could help them improve their critical thinking.
    • Help them understand that extrinsic influences might affect their grades, but doesn’t determine their worth: Sometimes, bad experiences can affect grades and results, which will throw their emotional wellbeing into turmoil. The point to emphasise here is that the bad grades aren’t an indication of their failure; rather, it’s an opportunity to flex those emotional reflective skills.

Teaching Performance

Over the past few years, researchers have also been trying to evaluate emotional wellbeing from a teacher’s perspective. The issue has gotten so big that there’s a term specifically for teachers under work duress: “teacher burnout”. Unsurprisingly, this can have detrimental effects on multiple people, including students.

What is “Teacher Burnout”?

This relates to the term “burnout”, meaning that people who suffer from “burnout syndrome” face higher levels of emotional exhaustion, depersonalisation, and less personal achievement. Symptoms of burnout include chronic headaches and stomach aches, fatigue, a disrupted sleep pattern, and even chronic irritability, anxiety or depression.

In teachers, this can result in lower job satisfaction, higher incentives to leave the teaching profession, and poor physical health. It can also affect the relationship the teacher has with their classes, and the way they interact with students on a daily basis.

How Does This Affect a Student’s Grades?

Teachers with low job satisfaction, or with symptoms of burnout, may have low emotional wellbeing. As a result, this study found that teachers tend to mark with more bias depending on their emotional state. That meant that if teachers were in a more negative emotional state, they tended to grade harsher than usual, which impacted their students’ overall grades.

Burnout can also affect a teacher’s classroom management abilities. “Classroom management” is a term that describes how teachers are able to keep their teaching on track while managing the behaviours and attitudes of their students during class. This study found that emotional exhaustion, for example, made teachers less adept at classroom management, and affected their motivation to teach work. Because of this, students were more rowdy and disruptive during class, impacting everyone’s ability to learn during class.

How Can I Tackle Teaching Performance Issues?

It’s important to note that teaching performance is only a piece of the puzzle, not the solution in its entirety. If you think a student’s academic performance is impacted by the quality of teaching in the classroom, it’s important to:

    • Talk to the student to understand what the day-to-day classroom environment is like.
    • Try to get in contact with the teacher in question.
    • Monitor the student’s results over time to see if there is a change.
    • Ask the teacher in question if they have any feedback or comments to offer about the student’s academic performance or behaviour in class.
    • Listen to the student if they are complaining about the same teacher consistently.

The answers to the abovementioned steps may help you deduce if a student’s academic performance may have been affected by teaching performance in particular. In general, it’s a good idea to establish a relationship with a student’s teachers to gain a better understanding of how they’re doing at school, both academically and emotionally.

Happy Lives, Happy Results

A lot of students fall into the trap that they have to get good grades or punish themselves for bad grades to do well at school. In reality, the secret to academic success often lies in spheres outside of school. Success really depends on a student’s ability to:

    • Regulate their emotional wellbeing with adult support structures.
    • Process emotional responses to academics.
    • Monitor their classroom environment and involvement.

This process is always fluid and dynamic, depending on the student’s progress through school. With these skills in their classroom toolkit, they’ll be more than prepared to tackle the challenges the classroom throws at them.



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