Think about a teacher who had a positive influence on you. You may have pursued a career because of the subject they taught. You might have expanded on your reading, thinking, travelling, belief system, or values because of them.

Or you might have got something even bigger--you might have experienced secure attachment for the first time.

Attachment theory was first articulated by psychologist John Bowlby who studied the effects on children who were separated from their caregivers in the 1940s-50s.

In 1969, he detailed his theory in Attachment and Loss. American/Canadian psychologist Mary Ainsworth worked closely with Bowlby through her field research using a test she devised called The Strange Situation. The test puts an infant through a variety of experiences with and without their mother and a stranger.

The infant is assessed on how they play in an unfamiliar room, react to their mother's departure, interact with the stranger, and behave upon the return of their mother. It is this last reaction that most vividly shows the infant's attachment schema: secure, anxious-avoidant, anxious-ambivalent, or disorganized (the last three demonstrating different forms of insecure attachment).

In 2013, the American psychologist Louis Cozolino linked attachment theory to teachers in his book The Social Neuroscience of Education: Optimizing Attachment & Learning in the Classroom. He argues that due to neuroplasticity (the brain's ability to create new pathways), a child who has developed an insecure attachment schema can nevertheless experience secure attachment with a teacher.

The key is that the teacher needs to know how to identify the manifestations of insecure attachment and how to help those students reach a state of equilibrium.

A child with insecure attachment is usually stressed since they don't have a stable and safe environment at home with a caregiver who is consistently emotionally available. Teachers can reduce students’ stress levels (and consequently make their brains more open to learning) through strategies such as providing clear boundaries, emotional sensitivity, and compassionate feedback.

Sometimes a classroom is the only place a child experiences reliable consistency where they are intentionally seen and heard by their teacher. Who wouldn't remember someone like that?

Cara Naiman