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Predicting Early Student-Teacher Relationships. Kathleen Cranley Gallagher Kirsten Kainz Kelley Mayer Lynne Vernon-Feagans Targeted Reading Intervention Network National Research Center for Rural Educational Support University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The Problem.

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Predicting early student teacher relationships l.jpg

Predicting Early Student-Teacher Relationships

Kathleen Cranley Gallagher

Kirsten Kainz

Kelley Mayer

Lynne Vernon-Feagans

Targeted Reading Intervention Network

National Research Center for Rural Educational Support

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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The Problem

  • Student-teacher relationships are important for children’s academic success and social competence in school (Hamre & Pianta, 2001; Peisner-Feinberg et al., 2001; Pianta, Steinberg, & Rollins, 1995).

  • Less is known about characteristics and processes involved in the quality of relationships between students and teachers.

  • Virtually no research has examined these issues with populations of students and teachers living in rural communities.

  • Furthermore, little is known about the mechanisms associated with the development of teacher-student relationships over the course of the school year.

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Theory suggests…

  • According to an ecological perspective, daily interpersonal interactions (proximal processes) drive the child’s development and may mediate the influence of child and context on outcomes over time

    • (Bronfenbrenner & Morris, 1998).

Context the targeted reading intervention l.jpg
Context: The Targeted Reading Intervention

  • National Research Center for Rural Education Support (NRCRES): longitudinal study of children and teachers in rural settings

  • RCT intervention for teacher professional development, targeting children identified as struggling readers

  • Teachers work with individual struggling readers using a diagnostic/prescriptive approach to reading instruction

  • Present study includes only control schools

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Predicting student-teacher relationships

Child and teacher characteristics


  • Gender

    • (Birch & Ladd, 1997; Hamre & Pianta, 2001; Kesner, 2000; Murray & Murray, 2004).

  • Ethnicity

    • (Hughes et al., 2005; Hughes & Kwok, 2007; Saft & Pianta, 2001; Murray & Murray, 2004).

  • Teaching experience

    • (Mashburn, Hamre, Downer, & Pianta, 2006).

  • Behavior

    • (Howes, Hamilton, & Matheson, 1994).

  • Reading abilities

    • (Foorman & Torgesen, 2003).

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Research Questions: Predicting closeness and conflict

  • How are child and teacher characteristics associated with teachers’ perspectives of the student-teacher relationship over the course of the school year, beyond teachers’ early perspective of the relationship?

    • Child Gender

    • Child Ethnicity

    • Teacher’s years experience in the classroom

  • Do child-classroom processes mediate the association child and teacher characteristics on teachers’ perspectives of the relationship?

    • Student problem behavior

    • Student reading abilities

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  • 2 rural school districts

  • 20 teachers

    • Female

    • 2/3 White; 1/3 African-American

  • 199 kindergarten and 1st grade students

    • 48% boys

    • 31% White; 46% African-American; 17% Native American; 6% Other

    • 50% “below grade level” in reading

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  • Maternal education.

  • Child demographics: gender and ethnicity (minority status).

  • Teacher experience.

  • Child behavior. The Classroom Behavior Inventory (Schaefer, Edgerton, & Arson, 1977)

  • Child reading abilities. Letter-Word Identification(WJTA, III) (Woodcock, Mather, & Schrank, 2004)

  • Student-TeacherRelationship. Student Teacher Relationship Scale - Short Form (Pianta, 2001)

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Analytic Procedures

  • Series of mixed models (SAS PROC MIXED)

    • Model 1 estimated the quality of the student-teacher relationship at the end of the school year as a function of the quality at the beginning of the school year.

    • Model 2 addressed whether student gender and minority status, and years of teacher experience accounted for change in the student-teacher relationships over the year, controlling for maternal education.

    • Model 3 examined whether child behavioral and literacy competence:

      • 1) accounted for change in student-teacher relationships, and

      • 2) mediated the relation between student and teacher characteristics and change in the student-teacher relationship.

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Predicting closeness:

  • Teachers’ reports of close relationships with their students in spring were predicted only by Model 1, relationship closeness in fall.

  • No child or teacher characteristics in Models 2 or 3 were associated with change in student-teacher closeness across the academic year, beyond initial reports of closeness.

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PredictingStudent Teacher Closeness

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Predicting Conflict

  • Teachers reported more conflict with boys and students from racial and ethnic minorities at the end of the year, even after controlling for initial conflict levels with these students.

  • With the addition of children’s behavior and reading skills in the model, gender was no longer was significant

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Formal test of mediation (Pituch, Stapleton, & Kang, 2006)

Student-teacher relationship



a*b ≠ 0

(-.16; 95% C.I. = .30, -.04)




problem behaviors

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  • Relational conflict may be more operant (than closeness) in the child’s experiences and competence in school.

  • Boys may have a relationship disadvantage in early education, in that teachers perceived more conflict in their relationships with boys than with girls. However, we expanded on previous studies, accounting for mediating processes implicated in boys’ disadvantage.

  • Children of Color may have a relationship disadvantage in early education; the mechanisms for which remain unclear.

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Implications: Gender

  • Boys may be particularly susceptible to the influence of their relationships with teachers.

    • Girls demonstrated more relatedness to teachers than boys. However, the association between relatedness to teachers and academic engagement was stronger for boys, such that boys benefitted more from good relationships with teachers (Furrer & Skinner, 2003).

  • We need to learn more about being “ready” for boys in our classrooms – how can we improve relationships and engagement?

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Implications: Ethnicity

  • Since ethnic minority students may reap more academic benefits than White students from positive relationships with teachers (Burchinal, Peisner-Feinberg, Pianta, & Howes, 2002)

  • We need to investigate mechanisms that account for teachers’ perceptions of relationship conflict with ethnic minority students.

  • It is no stretch to imagine that the sociocultural mismatch between White teachers and children of Color leads to relationship challenges that teachers are ill-prepared to address (Ladson-Billings, 1994).

  • We need to examine teachers’ beliefs about the cultures and families of the children they teach, and how teachers’ beliefs may impact their perceptions of and relationships with racial and ethnic minority children.

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Future directions

  • Teacher-student match

  • Broader understanding of relationship quality

    • Student perceptions

    • Observed interactions

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Special thanks…

  • TRI Research Team

  • Teachers and students of the TRI study