Relationships Between Teachers and Children Research Paper

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Relationships between teachers and children have been a focus of educators’concerns for decades, although this attention had taken different forms and had been expressed using a wide range of constructs and paradigms. Over many years, diverse literatures attended to teachers’and students’expectations of one another, discipline and class management, teaching and learning as socially mediated, teachers’own self- and efficacy-related feelings and beliefs, school belonging and caring, teacher-student interactions, and the more recent attention to teacher support as a source of resilience for children at risk (e.g., Battistich, Solomon, Watson, & Schaps, 1997; Brophy & Good, 1986; Eccles & Roeser, 1998). In many ways, these literatures provided the conceptual and scientific grounding for the present focus on child-teacher relationships, and in turn, a focus on relationships provides a mechanism for integrating these diverse literatures into a more common language and focus. In fact, one of the goals of this research paper is to advance theory and research in these many areas by changing the unit of analysis and focus to relationships between teachers and children. This new framework has potential for integrating what,up to this point, has been a large array of findings involving how teachers and students relate to one another that has been spread among sources and outlets that often have little contact and overlap. This integrative, crosscutting perspective, utilizing the more holistic, molar unit of analysis of relationship, is consistent with modern views of human development in which the developmental process is viewed as a function of dynamic, multilevel, reciprocal interactions involving person and contexts (Bronfenbrenner & Morris, 1998; Lerner, 1998; Magnusson & Stattin, 1998).

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It is the broad aim of this research paper to summarize historic trends in the emergence of research on child-teacher relationships and to further advance theoretical and applied efforts by organizing the available work on child-teacher relationships currently residing across diverse areas of psychology and education.

Child-Teacher Relationships: Historical Perspectives and Intersections

Relationships, detailed in a subsequent section, involve many component entities and processes integrated within a dynamic system (Hinde, 1987; Magnusson & Stattin, 1998). Components include expectations, beliefs about the self or other, affects, and interactions, to identify a few (Eccles & Roeser, 1998; Pianta, 1999; Sroufe, 1989a; Stern, 1989). In a school or classroom setting, each of these components has its own extensive literature, for example, on teacher expectations or the role of social processes as mediators of instruction (see Eccles & Roeser, 1998). Therefore, the study of child-teacher relationships traces its roots to many sources in psychology and education.

Educational psychology, curriculum and instruction, and teacher education each provide rich sources of intellectual nourishment for the study of relationships between teachers and children. From a historical perspective, early in Dewey’s writing (Dewey, 1902/1990) and in texts by Vygotsky (e.g., 1978), there are frequent Bibliography: to relationships between teachers and children. Social relations, particularly a sense of being cared for, were considered an important component in Dewey’s conceptualization of the school as a context, and certainly Vygotsky’s emphasis on support provided to the child in the context of performing and learning challenging tasks was a central feature of his concept of the zone of proximal development.

Based on the exceptionally detailed descriptions of human activity and interaction undertaken by Barker and colleagues (see Barker, 1968), extensive observational research on classroom interactions involving teachers and children was conducted, with refinement and further development of methods and concepts culminating in the foundation studies on childteacher interactions by Brophy and Good (1974).

Somewhat parallel to the focus of Brophy and Good on classroom interactions was the emergence of the broad literatures on interpersonal perception that took form in research on attribution and expectation, notably studies by Rosenthal (1969) on the influence of expectations on student performance. These studies strongly indicated that instruction is something more than simply demonstration, modeling, and reinforcement, but instead a complex, socially and psychologically mediated process. Work on student motivation, selfperceptions, and goal attainment has documented strong associations between these child outcomes and school contexts, including teachers’ attitudes and behaviors toward the child (see Eccles & Roeser, 1998). More recently, research and theory on the concept of students’ help-seeking behavior (Nelson-Le Gall & Resnick, 1998; Newman, 2000) actively addresses the integration of emotions, perceptions, and motivations in the context of instructional interactions, pointing again to the importance of the relational context created for the child.

At the same time, there has always been anecdotal and case study evidence for child-teacher relationships in the clinical psychology and teacher training literatures. These anecdotes typically describe how a child’s relationship with a particular teacher was instrumental in somehow rescuing or saving that child and placing the child on the path to success and competence in life (e.g., Pederson, Faucher, & Eaton, 1978; Werner & Smith, 1980). Such stories often provide compelling evidence for attempts to harness the potential of these relationships as resources for children.

Developmental psychology and its applied branches related to prevention provide considerable conceptual and methodological underpinnings to the study of child-teacher relationships (see Pianta, 1999). The study of human development has contributed a scientific paradigm for studying relationships, conceptual models that advance ideas about how contexts and human development are linked with one another, and scores of studies demonstrating the value of relationships for human development in other arenas (see Bronfenbrenner & Morris, 1998).

In part because of the extensive and long-standing empirical and theoretical work on marital and parent-child relationships, core conceptual and methodological frameworks and concepts for understanding and studying interpersonal relationships have emerged (Bakeman & Gottman, 1986; Bornstein, 1995). These scientific tools form a foundation, or infrastructure, that can be applied to the study of children and teachers (e.g., Howes, Hamilton, & Matheson, 1994; Pianta & Nimetz, 1991). Clearly, the work of Bowlby (1969), Ainsworth (e.g., Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters, & Wall, 1978), and Sroufe (1983; Sroufe & Fleeson, 1988) on attachment between children and parents provides some of the strongest theoretical and empirical support for the influence of relationships between children and adults on child development. It was largely the concentrated focus on understanding child-mother attachment that helped to advance the idea of child-adult relationships as systems and to identify the component processes and mechanisms.

In addition to work on child-parent attachment, developmental psychologists were involved in research on early intervention and day care experiences as they contribute to child development, which identified relational or interactional aspects of those settings (e.g., quality of care and caregiver sensitivity) that were related to child outcomes (Howes, 1999, 2000a). Furthermore, this line of inquiry also described how structural aspects of settings (e.g., child-teacher ratios and teacher training and education) contributed to the social and emotional quality of interactions between child and teacher (see NICHD Early Child Care Research Network [NICHD ECCRN], 2002). Developmental methodologists interested in child-parent interactions, peer, and marital interactions as well as those working from a comparative or ethological framework contributed substantially to the study of child-teacher relationships by describing the functions and processes of relationships (Bakeman & Gottman, 1986; Hinde, 1987). Finally, recent work on motivation and the development of the child’s sense of self and identity provides compelling evidence that teachers are an important source of information and input to these processes (Eccles & Roeser, 1998).

Over the last two decades, as developmental psychology, school psychology, and clinical psychology have formed convergent interests (Pianta, 1999) and as the more integrative paradigm of developmental psychopathology emerged (Cicchetti & Cohen, 1995), relationships between children and adults have received much attention as a resource that can be targeted and harnessed in prevention efforts. Paradigms for prevention and early intervention in the home environment, as well as intervention approaches focusing on parent-child dyads in which the child demonstrates serious levels of problem behavior (e.g., Barkley, 1987; Eyberg & Boggs, 1998), have focused on improving the quality of child-parent relationships. That work has resulted in a fairly large body of knowledge concerning how relationships can be changed through intentional focus on interactions, perceptions, and interactive skills (Eyberg & Boggs, 1998). These studies have provided a strong basis for extensions into school settings (McIntosh, Rizza, & Bliss, 2000; Pianta, 1999).

In more recent years the focus on prevention that has arisen from this nexus of overlapping interests among scientists, policy makers, and practitioners has viewed school settings as a primary locus for the delivery and infusion of resources that have a preventive or competence-enhancing effect (Battistich et al., 1997; Cowen, 1999; Durlak & Wells, 1997). Schoolbased mental health services, delivery of a range of associated services in full-service schools, reforms aimed at curriculum and school management, and issues related to school design and construction frequently identify child-teacher relationships as a target of their efforts under the premise that improving and strengthening this school-based relational resource can have a dramatic influence on children’s outcomes (see Adelman, 1996; Battistich et al., 1997; Durlak & Wells, 1997; Haynes, 1998). Finally, it has also been suggested that one by-product of such efforts to enhance relationships between teachers and children is an improvement in teachers’ own mental health, job satisfaction, and sense of efficacy (e.g., Battsitich et al., 1997; Pianta, 1999).

Although diverse areas of psychology address issues related to relationships between teachers and children, extending back in time nearly 80 years, the study of childteacher relationships has not, until the last decade, been an area of inquiry unto itself. This lack of focus has been due to the widely scattered nature of its intellectual roots and a tendency toward insularity among disciplines, problems with the use of different terminology and languages, seams between research and practice and between psychology in education and psychology in the family or laboratory, and the lack of theoretical models that adequately emphasize the role of multiple contexts in the development of children over the life span (Lerner, 1998). Perhaps one of the strongest conceptual advances contributing to the last decade of work on child-teacher relationships has been the developmental psychopathology paradigm, with its emphasis on integration across diverse theoretical frameworks and its embrace of a developmental systems model of contexts and persons in time (see Cicchetti & Cohen, 1995).

The present focus on child-teacher relationships reflects this integration and interweaving of theoretical traditions, methodologies, and applications across diverse fields. This area of inquiry, understanding, and application is inherently interdisciplinary. Yet the organizing frame for such work— although different areas have evolved from different traditions—is best found in current models of child development (Bronfenbrenner & Morris, 1998; Cairns & Cairns, 1994; Lerner, 1998; Magnusson & Stattin 1998; Sameroff, 1995). In these models, development of the person in context is depicted as a function of dynamic processes embedded in multilevel interactions between person and contexts over time. Developmental systems theory (Lerner, 1998) forms the core of an analysis of child-teacher relationships.

Developmental Systems Theory

In the last two decades, views that embrace the perspective that the study of development is in large part the study of living systems and is therefore informed by the study of systems have been adopted as the primary conceptual paradigm in human development (see Lerner, 1998, for example). As noted by Lerner (1998), “a developmental systems perspective is an overarching conceptual framework associated with contemporary theoretical models in the field of human development” (p. 2). General systems theory has a long history in the understanding of biological, ecological, and other complex living systems (e.g., Ford & Ford, 1987; Ford & Lerner, 1992) and has been applied to child development by Ford and Lerner (1992) and Sameroff (1995) in what is called developmental systems theory (DST). DST can be applied to the broad array of systems involved in the practice of psychology with children and adolescents (Pianta, 1999). The principles of DST help integrate analysis of the multiple factors that influence young children, such as families, communities, social processes, cognitive development, schools, teachers, peers, or conditions such as poverty. This analysis of child-teacher relationships draws heavily on developmental systems perspectives for principles and constructs that guide inquiry, understanding, and integration of diverse knowledge sources.

For the purposes of this discussion, systems are defined as units composed of sets of interrelated parts that act in organized, interdependent ways to promote the adaptation and survival of the whole. Families, classrooms, child-parent and child-teacher relationships, self-regulatory behaviors, and peer groups are systems of one form or another, as are various biologic systems within the organism. These systems function at a range of levels in relation to the child—some distal and some more proximal (Bronfenbrenner & Morris, 1998). They are involved in multiple forms of activity involving interactions within levels and across levels (Gottlieb, 1991) that form a pattern, or matrix, of reciprocal, bidirectional interactions that varies with time. In the case of child-teacher relationships, this perspective is reflected in analysis of the ways that school policies about child-teacher ratios affect student-teacher interactions that in turn are related to students’ and teachers’perceptions and affects toward one another. It is important to note that one must recognize the vertical as well as lateral interactions across and within levels and associated systems. The concept of within- and across-level interactions among systems is a key aspect of DST as applied to childteacher relationships; for example, just as these relationships are influenced by the interactions of two individuals, they are in turn affected (and affect) classroom organization and climate.

Principles Influencing the Behavior and Analysis of Developmental Systems

The behavior of developmental systems is best understood in the context of a number of general principles. These principles apply across all forms of living systems (Magnusson & Stattin, 1998).

Holism and Units of Analysis

Because of the preponderance of rich, cross-level interactions, interpretation and study of the behavior of systems at any level must take place in the context of activity at these other levels. Behavior of a “smaller” system (e.g., children’s self-regulation in a classroom) should be understood in relation to its function in the context of systems at more distal levels (e.g., child-teacher relationships) as well as more proximal or micro levels (e.g., biological systems regulating temperament) and vice versa. The rich, reciprocal interconnections among these units promote the idea that a relational unit of analysis is required for analysis of development (Lerner, 1998). From this perspective, noted Lerner (1998), the causes of development are relationships among systems and their components, not actions in isolation. This is highly similar to the perspective advanced by Bronfenbrenner and Morris (1998), who argued that the primary engine of development is proximal process—interactions that take place between the child and contexts over extended periods of time. Bronfenbrenner and Morris cited interactions with teachers as one course of proximal process. For several developmental theorists, acknowledging the existence of multilevel interactions leads directly to the need for research that has these interactions and relationships as their foci.

Magnusson and Stattin (1998) approached the issue of holism from a somewhat different perspective. They noted that most psychological (and educational) research and theory are variable-focused—that is, a construct of interest is the sole focus of measurement and inquiry, inasmuch as variation in that construct relates to other sources of variation. This approach, argued Magnusson and Stattin, yields a science that examines selective aspects of the person but misses large sectors of experience that may hold descriptive and explanatory power. Behavior is better viewed in terms of higher order organized patterns of relations across different components of the system.

The developing child is also a system. From this point of view, motor, cognitive, social, and emotional development are not independent entities on parallel paths but are integrated within organized, dynamic processes. Psychological practices (assessment or intervention) that focus solely on one of these domains (e.g., cognition, personality, attention span, aggression, or reading achievement) can reinforce the notion that developmental domains can be isolated from one another and from the context in which they are embedded. Taking a developmental systems perspective, many argue that child assessment should focus on broad indexes reflecting integrated functions across a number of behavioral domains as they are observed in context (e.g., Greenspan & Greenspan, 1991; Sroufe, 1989b). Terms such as adaptation have been used to capture these broad qualities of behavioral organization, and although fairly abstract, they call attention to a focus on how children use the range of resources available to them (including their own skills and the resources of peers, adults, and material resources) to respond to internal and external demands.

In terms of this analysis of child-teacher relationships, holism means that to understand the discipline-related behavior of a teachers in their classrooms, one must know something about the school, school system, and community in which the teachers are embedded, their experiences, and their own internal systems of cognition and affect regulation in relation to behavioral expectations in the classroom. From the perspective of holism, the whole (i.e., the pattern or organization of interconnections) gives meaning to the activity of the parts (Sameroff, 1995).

Reciprocal, Functional Relations Between Parts and Wholes

Systems and their component entities are embedded within other systems. Interactions take place within levels (e.g., beliefs about children affect a teachers’beliefs about a particular child; Brophy, 1985) and across levels (e.g., teachers’beliefs about children are related to their training as well as to the school in which they work; Battstitch et al., 1997) over time. It is a fundamental tenet of developmental systems theories that these interactions are reciprocal and bidirectional. Gottlieb (1991) refered to these interactions as coactivity in part to call attention to the mutuality and reciprocity of these relations. Similarly, Magnusson and Stattin (1998) and Sameroff (1995) emphasized that in multilevel, dynamic, active, moving systems, it is largely fictional to conceptualize “cause” or “source” of interactions and activity. Again, this view has consequences for considerations of child-teacher relationships when examining the large number of components of these relationships as well as the multilevel systems in which they are embedded (Eccles & Roeser, 1998).

Motivation and Change

Systems theory offers alternative views of the locus of motivation and change. Within behavioral perspectives, change and motivation to change are often viewed as derived extrinsically—from being acted on by positive (or negative) reinforcement, or reinforcement history. Maturationist or biological views of change posit that the locus of change resides in the unfolding of genetic programs, or chronological age. From both perspectives the child is a somewhat passive participant in change—change is something that happens to the child, whether from within or without.

In developmental systems theory the motivation to change is an intrinsic property of a system, inherent in that system’s activity. Developmental change follows naturally as a consequence of the activity of interacting systems. That children are active can be seen in the ways they continually construct meaning, seek novelty and challenges, or practice emergent capacities. Furthermore, the child acts within contexts that are dynamic and fluid. Motivation, or the desire to change, is derived from the coaction of systems—of child and context (Bronfenbrenner & Morris, 1998). That relationships play a fundamental role as contexts for coaction between child and the world is supported by Csikszentmihalyi and Rathunde’s (1998) proposition that relationships with parents are foundational for establishing the rhythm of interaction between the child and the external world.

Maturationist or biological views of the motivation for developmental change tend to rely on characteristics of the child as triggers for developmental experience and can result in practices and policies that neglect individual variation or notions of adaptation. Strongly behavioral views of motivation focus solely on contingencies while failing to acknowledge the meaning of target behaviors and contextual responses to the child’s goals, leading to a disjunction between how the child perceives his or her fit in the world and how helpers may be attempting to facilitate change. Views of motivation informed by systems theory lead to a developmental interactionism (Magnusson & Stattin, 1998) that focuses attention on issues of goodness of fit, relationships, and related relational constructs. As Lerner (1998) acknowledged, because of relationism, an attribute of the organism has meaning for psychological development only by virtue of its timing of interaction with contexts or levels.

Developmental change occurs when systems reorganize and transform under pressure to adapt. Development takes place, according to Bronfenbrenner and Morris (1998), through progressively more complex reciprocal interactions. Change is not simply a function of acquiring skills but a reorganization of skills and competencies in response to internal and external challenges and demands that yields novelty in emergent structures and processes (Magnusson & Stattin, 1998).

Competence as a Distributed Property

Children, as active systems, interact with contexts, exchanging information, material, energy, and activity (Ford & Ford, 1987). Within schools, teacher and children engage within a context of multilevel interactions involving culture, policy, and biological processes (Pianta & Walsh, 1996). The dynamic, multilevel interactionism embodied in the principle of holism also suggests that children’s competence is so intertwined with properties of contexts that properties residing in the child (e.g., cognition, attention, social competence, problem behaviors) are actually distributed across the child and contexts (e.g., Campbell, 1994; Hofer, 1994; Resnick, 1994). Cognitive processes related to attending, comprehending, and reasoning (Resnick, 1994); emotion-related processes such as emotion regulation and self-control; helpseeking; and social processes such as cooperation are all properties not of the child but of relations and interactions of the child in the context of the classroom: They reflect a certain level of organization and function (Magnusson & Stattin, 1998).

The concept of affordance (see Pianta, 1999, for an explanation of this construct as applied to classrooms) embodies the idea that contexts contain resources for the child that can be activated to sustain the child’s adaptation to the demands of that setting. It is important to note that the affordance of a context must be accessed by interactions with the child. From the perspective of developmental systems theory, competence (and problems) in a classroom setting cannot be conceptualized or assessed separately from attributes of the setting and the interactions that features of the child have with those setting attributes (and in turn how these interactions are embedded in larger loops of interaction). At the level of social and instructional behavior between teachers and children, understanding these interactions may require a moment-by-moment analysis of behavioral loops, whereas understanding how the teacher’s behavior in these loops is a function of her education and training may require a much wider time frame (Pianta, La Paro, Payne, Cox, & Bradley, 2002). The coordination of these temporal cycles of interaction within and across levels is critical to understanding behavior within the specific setting of interest.

Centrality of Relationships in Human Development

In the context of all these multilevel and multisystem interactions, enduring patterns of interaction between children and adults (i.e., relationships) are the primary conduit through which the child gains access to developmental resources. These interactions, as noted earlier, are the primary engine of developmental change. Relationships with adults are like the keystone or linchpin of development; they are in large part responsible for developmental success under conditions of risk and—more often than not—transmit those risk conditions to the child (Pianta, 1999).

Our focus here is primarily on school-age children and their relationships with teachers in classroom settings. There is virtually no question that relationships between children and adults (both teachers and parents) play a prominent role in the development of competencies in the preschool, elementary, and middle-school years (Birch & Ladd, 1996; Pianta & Walsh, 1996; Wentzel, 1996). They form the developmental infrastructure on which later school experiences build. Childadult relationships also play an important role in adaptation of the child within the context in which that relationship resides—home or classroom (e.g., Howes, 2000b; Howes, Hamilton, et al., 1994; Howes, Matheson, & Hamilton, 1994). The key qualities of these relationships appear to be related to the ability or skill of the adult to read the child’s emotional and social signals accurately, respond contingently based on these signals (e.g., to follow the child’s lead), convey acceptance and emotional warmth, offer assistance as necessary, model regulated behavior, and enact appropriate structures and limits for the child’s behavior. These qualities determine that relationship’s affordance value.

Relationships with parents influence a range of competencies in classroom contexts (Belsky & MacKinnon, 1994; Elicker, Egeland, & Sroufe, 1992; LaFreniere & Sroufe, 1985; Pianta & Harbers, 1996; Sroufe, 1983). Research has established the importance of child-parent (often childmother) relationships in the prediction and development of behavior problems (Campbell, 1990; Egeland, Pianta, & O’Brien, 1993), peer competencies (Elicker et al., 1992; Howes, Hamilton, et al., 1994), academic achievement, and classroom adjustment (Pianta & Harbers, 1996; Pianta, Smith, & Reeve, 1991). Consistent with the developmental systems model, various forms of adaptation in childhood are in part a function of the quality of child-parent relationships.

For example, a large number of studies demonstrate the importance of various parameters of child-parent interaction in the prediction of a range of academic competencies in the early school years (e.g., de Ruiter & van IJzendoorn, 1993; Pianta & Harbers, 1996; Pianta et al., 1991; Rogoff, 1990). These relations between mother-child interaction and children’s competence in mastering classroom academic tasks reflect the extent to which basic task-related skills such as attention, conceptual development, communication skills, and reasoning emerge from, and remain embedded within, a matrix of interactions with caregivers and other adults. Furthermore, in the context of these interactions children acquire the capacity to approach tasks in an organized, confident manner, to seek help when needed, and to use help appropriately.

Qualities of the mother-child relationship also affect the quality of the relationship that a child forms with a teacher. In one study, teachers characterized children with ambivalent attachments as needy and displayed high levels of nurturance and tolerance for immaturity toward them, whereas their anger was directed almost exclusively at children with histories of avoidant attachment (Motti, 1986). These findings are consistent with results in which maltreated and nonmaltreated children’s perceptions of their relationships with mothers were related to their need for closeness with their teacher (Lynch & Cicchetti, 1992), as well as to the teachers’ ratings of child adjustment (Toth & Cicchetti, 1996). Cohn (1990) found that boys classified as insecurely attached to their mothers were rated by teachers as less competent and more of a behavior problem than were boys classified as securely attached. In addition, teachers reported that they liked these boys less. This link between the quality of child-parent relationships and the relationship that a child forms with a teacher confirms Bowlby’s (1969) contention that the mother-child relationship establishes for the child a set of internal guides for interacting with adults that may be carried forward into subsequent relationships and affect behavior in those relationships (Sroufe, 1983). These representations can affect the child’s perceptions of the teacher (Lynch & Cicchetti, 1992), the child’s behavior toward the teacher and the teacher’s behavior toward the child (Motti, 1986), and the teacher’s perceptions of the child (Pianta, 1992; Toth & Cicchetti, 1996). On the other hand, there are limits to concordance and stability in mother-child and teacher-child relationships as children move from preschool to school (Howes, Hamilton, & Phillipsen, 1998).

In sum, there is no shortage of evidence to support the view that—particularly for younger children, but also for children in the middle and high school years—relationships with adults are indeed involved centrally in the development of increasingly complex levels of organizing one’s interactions and relationships with the world. In this view, adultchild relationships are a cornerstone of development, and from a systems perspective intervention involves the intentional structuring or harnessing of developmental resources (such as adult-child relationships) or the skilled use of this context to developmental advantage (Lieberman, 1992). This is inherently a prevention-oriented view (Henggeler, 1994; Roberts, 1996) that depends on professionals’ understanding the mechanisms responsible for altering developmental pathways and emulating (or enhancing) these influences in preventive interventions (e.g., Hughes, 1992; Lieberman, 1992).

In conclusion, a developmental systems perspective draws attention to this child as an active, self-motivated organism whose developmental progress depends in large part on qualities of interactions established and maintained over time with key adult figures. Such interactions, and their effects, are best understood using child-adult relationships as the unit of analysis and then embedding this focus on relationships within the multilevel interactions that impinge on and are affected by this relationship from various directions.

Conceptual-Theoretical Issues in Research on Child-Teacher Relationships

This section updates and extends Pianta’s (1999) model of relationships between children and teachers and reviews research related to components of this model. The model is offered as an integrative heuristic. It draws heavily on principles and concepts of systems theory, positing that by focusing at the level of relationships as the unit of analysis, significant advances can be made in understanding the development of child-teacher relationships and in their significance in relation to child outcomes. Considering the wide-ranging and diverse literatures that currently address, in some form or another, the multiple systems that interact with and comprise child-teacher relationships, a model of such relationships needs to be integrative. As suggested by the examples used in the previous discussion of developmental systems theory, this model must incorporate aspects of children (e.g., age or gender), teachers (experience, efficacy), teacher-child interactions (discipline, instruction), activity settings, children’s and teachers’ perceptions and beliefs about one another, and school policy (ratios) and climate (Battistich et al., 1997; Brophy, 1985; Brophy & Good, 1974; Eccles & Roeser, 1998).

It is our firm belief that greater understanding of the developmental significance of school settings can be achieved by this focus on child-teacher relationships as a central, core system involved in transmitting the influence of those settings to children. Narrow-focused examinations of one or two of the factors just noted, as they relate in bivariate fashion to one another, are unlikely to yield a comprehensive understanding of the dynamic, multilevel interactions that take place in schools, the complexities of which have frustrated educational researchers and policy makers for years (Haynes, 1998). In many ways, a focus on the system of child-teacher relationships as a key unit of analysis may provide the kind of integrative conceptual tool for understanding development in school settings that a similar focus on parent-child relationships provided in the understanding of development in family settings (Bronfenbrenner & Morris, 1998; Pianta, 1999).

Hinde (1987) and others (e.g., Sameroff, 1995) describe relationships as dyadic systems. As such, relationships are subject to the principles of systems behavior described earlier; they are dynamic, multicomponent entities involved in reciprocal interactions across and within multiple levels of organization and influence (Lerner, 1998). They are best considered as abstractions that represent a level or form of organization within a much larger matrix of systems and interactions. The utility of a focus at this level of analysis is borne out by ample evidence from the parent-child literature as well as studies examining children and teachers using this relational focus (Howes, 2000a). For example, when the focus of teachers’ reports about children is relational rather than simply a focus on the child’s behavior, it is the relational aspects of teachers’ views that are more predictive of longterm educational outcomes compared with their reports about children’s classroom behavior (Hamre & Pianta, 2001). Evidence also suggests that teachers’ reflections on their own relational histories, as well as current relationships with children, relate to their behavior with and attitudes toward the child more than do teacher attributes such as training or education (Stuhlman & Pianta, in press). Coming to view the disparate and multiple foci of most research on teachers and children using the lens or unit of child-teacher relationships appears to provide considerable gain in understanding the complex phenomenon of classroom adjustment.

A relationship between a teacher and child is not equivalent to only their interactions with one another, or to their characteristics as individuals.Arelationship between a teacher and a child is not wholly determined by that child’s temperament, intelligence, or communication skills. Nor can their relationship be reduced to the pattern of reinforcement between them. Relationships have their own identities apart from the features of interactions or individuals (Sroufe, 1989a).

A Conceptual Model of Child-Teacher Relationships

A conceptual model of child-teacher relationships is presented in Figure 10.1. As depicted in Figure 10.1, the primary components of relationships between teachers and children are (a) features of the two individuals themselves, (b) each individual’s representation of the relationship, (c) processes by which information is exchanged between the relational partners, and (d) external influences of the systems in which the relationship is embedded. Relationships embody features of the individuals involved. These features include biologically predisposed characteristics (e.g., temperament), personality, self-perceptions and beliefs, developmental history, and attributes such as gender or age. Relationships also involve each participant’s views of the relationship and the roles of each in the relationship—what Bowlby (1969) and Sroufe and Fleeson (1988) called the members’representation of the relationship. Consistent with evidence from the literature on parent-child relationships (Main, Kaplan, & Cassidy, 1985; Sroufe & Fleeson; 1986), representational models are conceptualized not as features of individuals but as a higher order construct that embodies properties of the relationship that are accessed through the participants. Note that this is an advance from the model presented by Pianta (1999) in that the current model places more emphasis on the partners’ representations of the relationship as distinct from characteristics of the individuals.

Relationships Between Teachers and Children Research Paper

Relationships also include processes that exchange information between the two individuals and serve a feedback function in the relationship system (Lerner, 1998).These processes include behavioral interactions, language, and communication. These feedback, or information exchange, processes are critical to the smooth functioning of the relationship. It is important to recognize that these relationship components (individual characteristics, representational models, information exchange processes) are themselves in dynamic, reciprocal interactions, such that behaviors of teacher and child toward one another influence representations (Stuhlman & Pianta, in press), and attributes of the child or teacher are related to teachers’ perceptions of the relationship (Saft & Pianta, 2001) or interactive behaviors (Pianta et al., 2002).

In turn, these relationship systems are embedded in many other systems (schools, classrooms, communities) and interact with systems at similar levels (e.g., families and peer groups). Finally, it is important to emphasize that adult-child relationships embody certain asymmetries. That is, there are differential levels of responsibility for interaction and quality that are a function of the discrepancy in roles and maturity of the adult and child, the balance of which changes across the school-age years (Eccles & Roeser, 1998).

Features of Individuals in Relationships

At the most basic level, relationships incorporate features of individuals. These include biological facts (e.g., gender) and biological processes (e.g., temperament, genetics, responsivity to stressors) as well as developed features such as personality, self-esteem, or intelligence. In this way developmental history affects the interactions with others and, in turn, influences relationships (Fonagy, Steele, & Steele, 1991; Zeanah et al., 1993). For example, a teacher’s history of being cared for can be related to how he or she understands the goals of teaching and, in turn, can relate to the way he or she interprets and attends to a child’s emotional behavior and cues (Zeanah et al., 1993).

Characteristics of Teachers

In contrast to what is known about parents in relation to their interactions with children, virtually nothing is known about teachers. Despite a general recognition that teacher characteristics and perceptions influence the practice of teaching, little is known about how individual teacher characteristics and perceptions impact the formation of their relationships with children. Some have suggested that due to the importance of the social climate of the classroom, teaching may require more personal involvement than most other professions:

The act of teaching requires teachers to use their personality to project themselves in particular roles and to establish relationships within the classroom so that children’s interest is maintained and a productive working environment is developed. The teacher relies on his personality and his ability to form relationships in order to manage the class and ensure smooth running. (Calderhead, 1996, p. 720)

When questioned about their relationships with teachers, children acknowledge that teachers’ abilities to access this more personal part of themselves is an important component of creating a feeling of caring between teachers and children (Baker, 1999). By providing emotional support and asking children about their lives, teachers may enable children to feel more comfortable and supported in the school environment.

Teachers, like all adults, vary in their ability and desire to become personally involved in their work. In a series of case studies logging the thoughts of several student teachers over the course of training, Calderhead and Robson (1991) discussed teachers’ images of themselves as educators and provided examples of several very different perspectives on what it means to be a teacher. Some student teachers emphasized their role as emotional supporters of children, whereas others tended to speak more about the importance of efficiency and organization of the classroom. It is likely that these different orientations and associated styles of behavioral interaction are related in important ways to the types of relationships that teachers tend to form with students. Brophy (1985) suggested that teachers view themselves primarily as instructors or socializers and that these different perceptions impact the way in which they interact with students. Instructors tend to respond more negatively to students who are underachievers, unmotivated, or disruptive during learning tasks, whereas socializer teachers tended to act more negatively toward students they viewed as hostile, aggressive, or those who pushed away as teachers attempted to form relationships (Brophy, 1985). Although there is some preliminary evidence that teachers do vary in the pattern of relationships they form with children (Pianta, 1994), connections between these patterns and other teacher characteristics have yet to be elucidated.

How do teachers form this image of themselves as teachers? Several of the teachers in Calderhead and Robson’s (1991) study consistently referred to experiences with previous teachers as essential to their own ideas about teaching. The student teachers’ perceptions of past teachers ranged from very negative (intolerant, impatient, unsympathetic) to very positive (caring, attentive, friendly), and the students linked these perceptions to their thoughts about what it means to be a good or bad teacher. For example, one student teacher vividly recalled being ridiculed and embarrassed as a child by teachers who failed to take the time to explain things to her. She also remembered one teacher who took the time to help her understand. This student teacher described having patience with children as being extremely important to her own work as a teacher. Teachers’ images of their roles as teachers develop in part from their own experiences in school.

Additionally, teachers may rely on past experiences with other important people in their lives to help form their image of themselves as a teacher. Kesner (2000) gathered data on student teachers’ representations of attachment relationships with their own parents and showed that beginning teachers who viewed their relationships with their parents as secure were also those who formed relationships with students characterized as secure. In a related study, Horppu and Ikonen-Varila (2001) showed that beginning teachers’ representations of attachment with their parents related to their stated motives for their work and their beliefs about a kindergarten teacher’s work and goals in the classroom. Beginning teachers classified as having a secure-autonomous relationship with their parent(s) were more likely than those classified as insecure to express motives that were child-centered as well as centered on goals for the self. Teachers classified as secure also described more complex conceptions of a teacher’s work (involving social, emotional, and instructional components) and were more likely to view relationships with students as mutually satisfying (Horppu & Ikonen-Varila, 2001). Teachers’own personal histories of relationship experiences with parents and their representations of those experiences were associated with their current views about teaching, the degree to which they viewed teaching as involving a relational component, and their comfort with that relational component, demonstrating the extent to which multiple aspects of the teacher’s own representational system and belief system are interrelated and related to other components of the child-teacher dyadic system.

In a case-based extension of these ideas, Case (1997) suggested that one instance in which teachers’early relationships may be particularly important to their own classroom philosophy is in the case of othermothering in urban elementary schools. She described othermothering as “African American women’s maternal assistance offered to the children . . . within the African American community” (p. 25). Othermothering constitutes a culturally held belief in women’s responsibility for the raising of other mothers’ children, which for some women is enacted through the role of a teacher. Case (1997) described two African American teachers working in urban districts in Connecticut. Both of these women related the connections they made with children in the classroom to the experiences that they had with their own mothers as children. Describing her early experiences in rural North Carolina, one of the teachers stated,

At an early age, it was all self-esteem, believing in yourself. But one of the things that we valued most as a family was the way that we must treat other people. We must look to the values from within and realize that everybody’s human: They’re going to make mistakes, they’re going to fall flat on their faces sometimes, but you pick yourself up and say, “Well, I’ve learned from this.” (p. 33)

As this teacher describes her first day of teaching, the connection between these early experiences and her view of her role as a teacher becomes apparent:

When I first had this class, their faces were hanging down to the floor. . . . I had never seen such unhappy children. I felt as if they had no self-worth. I just couldn’t believe the first couple of days. They were at each other’s throats. I found that many of them thought that school was a place to come and act out, and now they are in cooperative groups, they share. It’s just that you start where they are. . . . I think it’s about empathy. You look at them and say, “It’s going to be a better day” and they say, “How did you know?” (pp. 34–35)

These findings (Case, 1997; Kesner, 2000; Horppu & Ikonen-Verida, 2001) suggest mechanisms by which teachers develop styles of relating to all of the children in their classrooms. Beyond a global relational style, teachers bring with them experiences, thoughts, and feelings that lead to specific styles of relating to certain types of children. Research in this area is scant, but there is a general recognition that the match or mismatch between teachers and students can be important to children’s development as well as to teachers’job satisfaction (Goodlad, 1991).

Teachers also hold beliefs about their efficacy in the classroom and associated expectations for children that are related to experiences with children and their own success and satisfaction. Teachers who believe that they have an influence on children can enhance student investment and achievement (Midgley, Feldlaufer, & Eccles, 1989). When teachers hold high generalized expectations for student achievement, students tend to achieve more, experience a greater sense of selfesteem and competence as learners, and resist involvement in problem behaviors during both childhood and adolescence (Eccles, 1983, 1993; Roeser, Eccles, & Sameroff, 1998; Rutter, 1987; Weinstein, 1989). Furthermore, teachers who view self improvement and effort as more important than innate ability are more likely to have children who not only are more motivated but also report more positive and less negative affective states (Ames, 1992).

These studies, just a selective part of a much larger literature on teacher beliefs and student motivation (see Eccles & Roeser, 1998), call attention to the extent to which teacher beliefs, experiences, and expectations are involved within a model of child-teacher relationships. These beliefs, experiences, and expectations are closely intertwined with teachers’and students’behaviors toward one another. They change with developmental time and with experiences with specific children and stimulate loops of interaction in which changes in student motivation and achievement feedback on teacher beliefs in confirming or disconfirming ways.

In addition to psychological aspects of teachers as individuals as described earlier, other attributes of teachers warrant discussion in terms of their roles in a model of child-teacher relationships. These include teacher gender, experience and education, and ethnicity. Although the teacher workforce is overwhelmingly female, particularly at the younger grades (Goodlad, 1991), there is sufficient variability in teacher gender to examine its consequences for child-teacher relationships. By and large, this evidence is sparse, and the topic has not been a focus of dedicated study. However, anecdotal and survey data do suggest that teacher gender plays a role in the extent of children’s use of the teacher as a role model; not surprisingly, this is particularly true for male children and teachers (Goodlad, 1991; Holland, 1996). Male teachers, who are found more frequently in the older grades, are reported by children to provide role models and are described as important sources of support.

Holland (1996) suggested that, particularly for African American boys, an African American male teacher plays a key role in organizing male students’adoption of educational goals and behaviors.The extent to which thisfinding—as well as others involving the match between African American male students and teachers—is related to gender or race is at this time unknown and unexamined. In a related finding, teacher ethnicity appears to play a role in teachers’ perceptions of their relationships with students, particularly as their ethnicities interact with student ethnicities (Saft & Pianta, 2001). African American teachers (nearly all female) report more positive relationships (less conflict) with their students (of all ethnicities) than do Caucasian teachers, and they are particularly more positive (than White teachers) about their relationships withAfricanAmerican children.

Teacher experience, in and of itself, has shown little relation to teachers’own reports about the qualities of their relationships with children in the elementary grades (Beady & Hansell, 1981; Stuhlman & Pianta, in press). Battistich et al. (1997) reported that in a large sample of upper elementary school students there were no significant associations between child-reported or teacher-reported perceptions of the school as a caring community (which included an index of teacher emotional support) and teacher age, number of years teaching, education, or ethnic status. However, these data were aggregated within schools and related to each other at the school level, so they may mask significant associations for individual teachers and children.

In a study that elicited teachers’ representations of their relationships with specific students using an interview procedure (Stuhlman & Pianta, in press), the extent to which teachers’ reported negative emotional qualities in the relationship were related to their negative behaviors toward the children varied as a function of teacher experience.Teachers who were more experienced were more likely to have their represented negativity reflected in their behavior than were teachers with fewer than 7 years of experience. The extent to which the less experienced teachers held negative beliefs and experienced negative emotions in their relationship with a specific childwasnotrelatedtotheirnegativebehaviorwiththatchild. These data suggest some type of emotional buffering mechanism that may wane with more years in the profession.

Characteristics of Children

From the moment students enter a classroom, they begin to make impressions on a teacher, impressions that are important in the formation of the relationships that develop over the course of the school year. Though it is likely that a wide variety of child characteristics, behaviors, and perceptions are associated with the development of their relationships with teachers, our understanding of these associations is limited and derived in part due from inferences about how these characteristics function in relationships. Some characteristics, such as gender, are both static and readily apparent to teachers, whereas others are more psychological or behavioral in nature.

Young girls tend to form closer and less conflictual relationships with their teachers, as noted in studies using teacher (Hamre & Pianta, 2001) and child (Bracken & Crain, 1994; Ryan, Stiller, & Lynch, 1994) reports on the quality of the relationship as well as in studies in which trained observers rated relationship quality (Ladd, Birch, & Buhs, 1999). Even as late as middle school, girls report higher levels of felt security and emulation of teachers than do boys (Ryan et al., 1994).

These gender differences may be related in part to the fact that boys typically show more frequent antisocial behaviors, such as verbal and physical aggression. These behaviors are, in turn, associated with the formation of poorer child-teacher relationships, as rated by trained observers (Ladd et al., 1999). It is important to note, however, that the majority of teachers in primary grades are females and that there are no existing data to suggest how male teachers may relate differentially to boys and girls in the primary grades. There is some evidence that as children mature, gender matching may be important in the formation of closeness with teachers. In one study, 12th-grade girls reported that they perceived greater positive regard from female teachers whereas the boys in the study perceived more positive regard from male teachers (Drevets, Benton, & Bradley, 1996). However, this gender specificity in children’s perceptions was not reported by the 10th- and 11th-grade students in this study.

Another child characteristic that is apparent to teachers is ethnicity. As with the findings on gender, there are preliminary indications that the ethnic match between teacher and child is associated with more positive relationships (Saft & Pianta, 2001). Caucasian children tend to have closer relationships with teachers, as indicated in studies using reports by teachers (Ladd et al., 1999) and students (Hall & Bracken, 1996). Unfortunately, teachers in most of these studies are Caucasian, so it is difficult to make any clear inference about the impact of a child’s ethnicity on his or her ability to form a strong relationship with teachers and other school personnel.

Other child characteristics that may be linked to the relationship that children develop with teachers include their own social and academic competencies and problems (Ladd et al., 1999; Murray & Greenberg, 2000). In a large sample of elementary school children, Murray and Greenberg reported that children’s own reports of feeling a close emotional bond with their teacher were related to their own and their teachers’ reports of problem behavior and competence in the classroom. Similarly, Pianta (1992) reported that teachers’ descriptions of their relationships with students in kindergarten were related to their reports of the child’s classroom adjustment and, in turn, related to first-grade teacher reports. A cycle of child behavior and interactions with the teacher appeared to influence (in part) the teachers’relationship with the child, which in turn was independently related (along with reports of classroom behavior) to teacher reports of classroom adjustment in the next grade. Ladd et al. (1999) suggested that relational style of the child is a prominent feature of classroom behavior.

Also important to the formation of the child-teacher relationship, though less visible to teachers, are the thoughts and feelings of their students, including their general feelings about the school environment and about using adults as a source of support. Third through fifth graders from urban, at-risk schools who reported the highest levels of dissatisfaction with the school environment reported less social support at school and a more negative classroom social environment than did their more satisfied peers (Baker, 1999). Similarly, elementary school children who report an emotionally close and warm relationship with their teacher view the school environment and climate more positively (Murray & Greenberg, 2000). Clearly, one issue in sorting out associations (or lack thereof) of children’s judgments of school climate and the quality of child-teacher relationships is the experiential source of these judgments. Given the much greater weight on classroom experience in young children’s judgment of school climate, it is likely that these findings demonstrate the influence of childteacher relationships on children’s judgments of climate and social support in the broader school environment. Whether and how this relation changes with development, such that school climate plays a relatively greater role in judgments of the relational quality of classroom experiences over time, is at this time unknown.

Just as teachers make judgments about when to invest or not invest in a relationship, children, especially as they grow older, calculate their relational investment based on the expected returns (Muller, Katz, & Dance, 1999). Urban youths (largely African American males) enrolled in two supplemental programs near Boston reported investing more with teachers who show that they care yet are also able to provide structure and have high expectations for students progress.

Clearly, these child characteristics, behaviors, and perceptions are not independent of one another. As suggested earlier, boys tend to act out more in primary grades, and this behavior, rather than simply gender itself, may account for the conflict they have with teachers. Similarly, there is evidence linking child factors such as socioeconomic status, ethnicity, and disability classification, and the associations between these factors and the quality of the child-teacher relationship are likely to be complex. Nevertheless, what the child brings into the classroom each day is an important piece of the child-teacher relationship.

Representational Models

An individual’s representational model of relationships (Bowlby, 1969; Zeanah et al., 1993) is the set of feelings and beliefs that has been stored about a relationship that guides feelings, perceptions, and behavior in that relationship. These models are open systems: The information stored in them, while fairly stable, is open to change based on new experience. Also, representational models reflect two sides of a relationship (Sroufe & Fleeson, 1988). A teacher’s representational model of how children relate to teachers is both the teacher’s experience of being taught (and parented) and his or her own experience as a teacher.

Representational models can have an effect on the formation and quality of a relationship through brief, often subtle qualities of moment-to-moment interaction with children such as the adult’s tone of voice, eye contact, or emotional cues (Katz, Cohn, & Moore, 1996), and in terms of the tolerances that individuals have for certain kinds of interactive behaviors. Therefore, adults with a history of avoidant attachment, who tend to dismiss or diminish the negative emotional aspects of interactions, will behave differently in a situation that calls for a response to an emotionally needy child than will adults whose history of secure attachment provides support for perceiving such needs as legitimate and responding to them sensitively.

In Pedersen et al.’s (1978) case study, adults were asked to recall experiences with a particular teacher who had a reputation as exceptional. This was an attempt to examine (retrospectively) the features of experience associated with an influential teacher. These recollections describe the impact of a teacher who formed relationships with students that, according to their reports, made them feel worthwhile, supported their independence, motivated them to achieve, and provided them with support to interpret and cope with environmental demands. Students’ representations of their relationships with a specific teacher appeared to be a key feature of their experience in relationship with that teacher.

Teachers’ representations have been examined only recently. Based on interview techniques developed for assessment of child-parent relationships, Stuhlman and Pianta (in press) gathered information from 50 teachers of kindergarten and first-grade children. Teachers of first graders had relatively higher levels of negative emotion represented in relationships with students than did the kindergarten teachers. For both groups of teachers, representations of negative emotion were related to their discipline and negative affect in interactions with the children about whom they were interviewed. Teachers’ representations were only somewhat related to the child’s competence in the classroom, and teachers’ representations were related to their behavior with the child independent of the child’s competence. The Stuhlman and Pianta (in press) study suggests that teacher representations, while related in predicted directions to their ratings of child competence and to their behavior with the child, are not redundant with them, with indications that representations are unique features of the child-teacher relationship.

Muller et al. (1999) argued that teachers’ expectations for students are essential components of the development of positive or negative relationships with children. They suggested that teachers calculate expected payoffs from investing in their relationships with students. The authors provided an example of one teacher’s differential expectations for two students with very similar backgrounds. Both were Latino students with excellent elementary school records who were getting poor grades in middle school. Although both boys were involved with a peer group that encouraged cutting class, one student broke away from his friends to attend the teacher’s class. Interviews with the teacher suggested that she invested much more time and energy into this student, who she thought was less susceptible to peer pressure, because she believed she could have a greater influence on him than on the other.

Further work on representational aspects of child-teacher relationships is needed to distinguish these processes from general expectations and beliefs held by the child or teacher. At present, there is sufficient evidence from research on childparent relationships to posit that representational models, although assessed via individuals’ reports and behaviors, may in fact reflect properties of the relationship (Main, 1996) and therefore be better understood not as features of individuals but as relational entities at a different level of organization.

Information Exchange Processes: Feedback Loops Between Child and Teacher

Like any system, the components of the child-teacher relationship system interact in reciprocal exchanges, or loops in which feedback is provided across components, allowing calibration and integration of component function by way of the information provided in these feedback loops. In one way, dyadic relationships can be characterized by these feedback processes. For example, the ways that mother and child negotiate anxiety and physical proximity under conditions of separation characterize the attachment qualities of that mother-child relationship (Ainsworth et al., 1978). As in the attachment assessment paradigm, feedback processes are most easily observed in interactive behaviors but also include other means by which information is conveyed from one person to another. What people do with, say or gesture to, and perceive about one another can serve important roles in these feedback mechanisms.

Furthermore, the qualities of information exchange, or how it is exchanged (e.g., tone of voice, posture and proximity, timing of behavior, contingency or reciprocity of behavior), may be even more important than what is actually performed behaviorally, as it has been suggested that these qualities convey more information in the context of a relationship that does actual behavioral content (Cohn, Campbell, Matias, & Hopkins, 1990; Greenspan, 1989).

Teacher-Child Interactions

Although there is a large literature on interactions between teachers and children (e.g., Brophy & Good, 1986; Zeichner, 1995), it is focused almost entirely on instruction. Recent work has integrated a social component to understanding instructional interactions (e.g., Rogoff, 1990), but in the majority of studies of teachers’ behaviors toward children in classrooms, the social, emotional, and relational quality of these interactions is almost always neglected.

Teachers and children come together at the beginning of the year, each with their own personality and beliefs, and from the moment the children enter the classroom, they begin interacting with one another. It is through these daily interactions, from the teacher welcoming students in the morning to the moment the children run out the door to catch the bus, that relationships develop. Recently, investigators have gained a better understanding of the specific types of interactions that lead to the formation of relationships between students and teachers. As with studies on individual characteristics and perceptions, these relational interaction studies are imbedded within a much larger field of research on classroom interactions.

It is not surprising that teachers’interactions with children are related to characteristics of the children themselves. Peerrejected children tend to be more frequent targets of corrective teacher feedback than nonrejected classmates (e.g., Dodge, Coie, & Brakke, 1982; Rubin & Clarke, 1983), and it has been repeatedly demonstrated that teachers direct more of their attention to children with behavior or learning problems and to boys (e.g., Brophy & Good, 1974). Similarly, children rated as more competent in the classroom are more frequent recipients of sensitive child-teacher interactions and teachers’ positive affect (Pianta et al., 2002). Once again, when considering child-teacher interactions in the context of this dyadic relationship system, it is important to recognize that there are strong bidirectional relations between child characteristics and teacher behavior.

Research on teacher-child interactions as they relate to student motivation provides some insight into associations between interactions and relationships. Skinner and Belmont (1993) suggested that although motivation is internal to a child, it requires the social surrounding of the classroom to flourish. They suggested three major components to this social environment: involvement, autonomy support, and structure. Involvement is defined as “the quality of interpersonal relationships with teachers and peers. . . . [T]eachers are involved to the extent that they take time for, express affection toward, enjoy interaction with, are attuned to, and dedicate resources to their students” (p. 573). This definition closely resembles definitions of a positive child-teacher relationship.

Skinner and Belmont (1993) found that upper elementary teachers’ reports of greater involvement with students were the feature of the social environment most closely associated with children’s positive perceptions of the teacher. Furthermore, they found a reciprocal association between teacher and student behavior such that teacher involvement facilitated children’s classroom engagement and that this engagement, in turn, led teachers to become more involved. Students who are able to form strong relationships with teachers are at an advantage that may grow exponentially as the year progresses. Similar research conducted with adolescents suggests that student engagement with teachers is dependent not only on their feelings of personal competence and relevance of course material but also on students’ perceptions of feelings of safety and caring in the school environment (Roeser, Eccles, & Sameroff, 2000).

Teachers’ Interactions With Other Students as Observed by Peers

An interesting line of recent research has focused on teachers as social agents of information and the role that their interactions with a given student serve as sources of information about child-teacher relationships for the other students in the classroom (Hughes, Cavell, & Willson, in press; White & Kistner, 1992). Hughes et al. (in press) reported that classmates’ perceptions of the quality of the relationship between their teacher and a selected child in the classroom were related to their own perceptions of the quality of their relationship with the teacher. It is important to note that these relations were observed independent of the characteristics of the child, suggesting that this is a unique source of social information in the classroom setting that has consequences for the impressions that children form of their teacher (and vice versa), which in turn could relate to help seeking and other motivational and learning behaviors (Newman, 2000). In a related study, White and Kistner (1992) examined relations between teacher feedback and children’s peer pBibliography: in early elementary students, finding that teachers’negatively toned feedback toward selected children was related negatively to classmates’pBibliography: for these children.

With regard to understanding the role that interactive behaviors play in the context of the entire teacher-child relationship, patterns of behavior appear to be more important indicators of the quality of a relationship than do single instances of behavior. It is not the single one-time instance of child defiance (or compliance) or adult rejection (or affection) that defines a relationship. Rather, it is the pattern of child and adult responses to one another—and the quality of these responses. Pianta (1994) argued that these qualities can be captured in the combination of degree of interactive involvement between the adult and child and the emotional tone (positive or negative) of those interactions. Birch and Ladd (1996) pointed out that relationship patterns can be observed in global tendencies of the child in relation to the adult—a tendency to move toward, move away, or move against.

Also involved in the exchange of information between adult and child are processes related to communication, perception, and attention (Pianta, 1999). For example, how a child communicates about needs and desires (whiny and petulant or direct and calm), how the teacher selectively attends to different cues, or how these two individuals interpret one another’s behavior toward each other (e.g. “This child is needy and demanding” vs. “This child seems vulnerable and needs my support”) are all aspects of how information is shaped and exchanged between child and teacher. Perceptions and selective attending (often related to the individuals’ representations of the relationship; see Zeanah et al., 1993) act as filters for information about the other’s behavior. These filters can place constraints on the nature and form of information present in feedback loops and can be influential in guiding interactive behavior because they tend to be selffulfilling (Pianta, 1999). Over time, these feedback and information exchange processes form a structure for the interactions between the adult and child.

In sum, processes involving transmission of information via behavioral, verbal, and nonverbal channels play a central role in the functioning of the dyadic system of the childteacher relationship. For the most part, research has focused on descriptions of instructional behaviors of teachers, on teachers’ differential attentiveness to children, and on children’s engagement and attention in learning situations (see Brophy & Good, 1974). There is much less information available on social and affective dimensions of child-teacher interactions, nonverbal components of interaction, and the dynamics of multiple components of interaction in classroom time or developmental time. Furthermore, how these interactive processes are shaped by and shape school- and systemlevel parameters (e.g. school climate, policies on productive use of instructional time) is even less well described. Nonetheless the available data provide support for the developmental systems perspective of child-teacher relationships and the complex ways in which information is transmitted through multiple channels between child and teacher and the fact that this information plays an important role in children’s and teachers’perceptions and representations of one another.

External Influences

Systems external to the child-teacher relationship also exert influence. Cultures can prescribe timetables for expectations about students’ performance or the organization of schools (Sameroff, 1995) that can shape how students and teacher relate to one another. What other external influences shape student-teacher relationships? State regulations mandate standards for student performance that affect what teachers must teach, and at times how they must teach it. School systems have codes for discipline and behavior, sometimes mandating how discipline will be conducted. States and localities prescribe policies and regulations regarding student-teacher ratios, the placement of children in classrooms, at what grade students move to middle school, or the number of teachers a child comes into contact with in a given day. Teachers also have a family and personal lives of their own.

Structural Aspects of the School Environment

Structural variables in classrooms and schools play an important role in constraining child-teacher relationships through direct effects on the nature of interaction and indirectly via attributes of the people involved. For example, observations of child-teacher interactions in kindergarten and first grade are observed to vary as a function of the ratio of children to adults in the room, the activity setting (small or large group), and the characteristics of the children in the classroom. In large samples of students in kindergarten (Pianta et al., 2002) and first grade (NICHD Early Child Care Research Network [ECCRN], 2001), children in classrooms with a low ratio of children to adults receive more frequent contacts with their teacher and contacts that are more positive emotionally. Teachers in these classrooms are observed to be more sensitive. Similarly, in both of these samples, when the activity setting was large-group or whole-class instruction, children had many fewer contacts with the teacher than when in small groups. In a sample of more than 900 first-grade classrooms, children, on average, were engaged in individual contact with their teachers on approximately 4 occasions during a 2-hr morning observation (NICHD ECCRN, 2001).

It appears that attributes of the class as a whole are related to the quality of interactions that teachers have with an individual child (NICHD ECCRN, 2001). Therefore, when the classroom is composed of a higher percentage of African American children or children receiving free-reduced lunch, teachers were observed to show less emotional sensitivity and support and lower instructional quality in their intersections with an individual (unselected) student. These findings suggest perhaps that the racial and poverty composition of the classroom may represent demand features of the children, which can result in a teacher’s behaving more negatively with children (with attendant consequences for their relationships) when high as a function of the concentration of children with these characteristics in classroom. This suggestion is supported by survey data demonstrating that teachers with high concentrations of ethnic minority or poor children in their classrooms experience a greater degree of burden (RimmKaufman, Pianta, Cox, & Early 1999).

Finally, the level or organization of the school also affects how child and teacher relationships form and function. Eccles and Roeser (1998) summarized findings suggesting that as children move through elementary school and into middle school, there is an increasing mismatch between their continuing needs for emotional support and the school’s increasing departmentalization and impersonal climate.

School Climate and Culture

How the school values and supports the emotional-social component of teacher-child interactions involves its view of the role and importance of child-teacher relationships (e.g., Battstich et al., 1997; Haynes, 1998). As noted earlier, it is difficult to disentangle the extent to which teacher-child relationships and school climate influence one another and the extent to which the balance of influence shifts as children grow older and their experiences are more widely distributed within a school. Nonetheless, there is ample evidence that school climate and the quality of child-teacher relationships share a mutually reciprocal association (Solomon, Watson, Battistich, Schaps, & Delucci, 1992; 1996). In fact, definitions of climate frequently refer to the role of child-teacher relationships as a key component of climate:

School climate refers to the quality and consistency of interpersonal interactions within the school community that influence children’s cognitive, social, and psychological development. (Haynes, Emmons, & Ben-Avie, 1997, p. 322)

The teacher plays the critical role in creating a classroom that students experience as a caring community . . . by sharing concern for all students and being sincerely interested in their ideas, experiences, and products. (Solomon et al., 1992, p. 384)

One source of information about school climate comes from interventions aimed at changing climate. These interventions are often aimed at changing relationships in the school and creating a sense of community (Baker, Terry, Bridger, & Winsor, 1997). For example, the goals of the Caring Communities approach are to help children “feel psychologically safe, responsibly connected to others, [and] practice ethical decision making and self-governance in the microcosm of the classroom” (Baker et al., 1997, p. 598). These are similar to those of the Comer School Development Program (Haynes, 1998), which includes an emphasis on caring and sensitivity of school personnel and access to the school’s resources (personal and social as well as material and instructional). Furthermore, the Child Development Project (CDP; e.g., Battistich et al., 1997) places a great emphasis on students’feeling emotionally supported by teachers and on cultivating a school climate in which emotional resources are available and flow readily as needed. Kasen, Johnson, and Cohen (1990), in their review of the school climate literature, described student-teacher relationships as a central facet of school climate and proposed that the various dimensions of school climate described in the literature can be organized into three domains: task orientation, relationships, and order. School climate and classroom climate have a relational component that is fundamental to their description and influence.

When considering the role that school climate plays in relation to child-teacher relationships, the pathways by which this association might occur is likely to be somewhat circuitous. Most of the evidence available suggests that climate alters the behavior and expectations of students and teachers—it creates standards that shape these components of the child-teacher relationship. As reported by Battistich et al. (1997), in classrooms with improved climate children had a greater sense of community, exhibited more prosocial interactions, were better at social problem solving and conflict resolution, and scored higher on reading comprehension tests. They also liked school better, were more empathetic and motivated, and had higher self-esteem as compared with children in schools that did not receive the intervention. Clearly, based on the perspective described in earlier sections, one would expect relational behaviors and perceptions between teachers and children to be more positive and less conflictual under these conditions.

Yet relations between school climate and the components of the child-teacher relationship system are complex. It appears that climate interacts with child variables such as child age, sex, and socioeconomic status (Kasen et al., 1990) such that child-teacher conflict and academic focus declined and autonomy increased in schools attended by older students. Schools characterized by higher socioeconomic status were described as having lower conflict and greater autonomy. An interaction of dimensions of climate on child symptoms was also informative. In schools with high conflict, social facilitation led to greater symptoms of externalizing behavior problems, whereas in schools with low conflict, social facilitation led to decreased symptoms of externalizing behavior problems (Kasen et al., 1990).

Middle school children’s positive perceptions of school are related to their motivation, achievement, and emotional functioning (Roeser et al., 1998). Middle school students who had higher levels of motivation and emotional well-being also felt their schools were more developmentally appropriate in the teacher-student interactions, practices, and norms (this is especially important because many middle schools are less supportive of the developmental needs of students than are elementary schools). Middle schools can be developmentally appropriate by encouraging positive teacher-child interactions; by espousing instructional techniques that emphasize progress or improvement, effort, and mastery as goals; and by not emphasizing competition and comparisons among students (Roeseretal., 1998). Teacher-student interactions that lead students to feel supported by their teachers, as well as smaller communities of teachers and students, are also important in enhancing young adolescents’ motivation and emotional wellbeing (Roeser et al., 1998). As a result, it appears that climate and teacher-child relationship quality have reciprocal influences in the middle school years.

This point about the bidirectionality of climate and childteacher relationships is underscored in work related to school violence and antisocial behavior (Farmer, 2000). When looking at problems with antisocial behavior in the school context, not only does antisocial behavior influence the climate of the school, but the school social context influences the expression of antisocial behaviors (Farmer, 2000). Research and intervention paradigms must be multilevel and attendant to the bidirectional influences that transact across and within levels over time.


As a final note, it is important to recognize that child-adult relationships are asymmetric and that the relative degree of asymmetry is subject to considerable variation across age, grade, or schools. These changes in asymmetry are not well understood, and the lack of coordination or calibration between the child’s emergent developmental capacities for relationship and the school system’s provision of support for those capacities (Magnusson & Stattin, 1998) is considered to be a primary locus of concern related to children’s competencies (Eccles & Roeser, 1998).

In sum, available evidence from diverse literatures on child and teacher attributes, representations of relationships, child-teacher interactions and communication, and school and classroom climate can be integrated within a systems conceptualization of the child-teacher relationship. In so doing these diverse literatures provide complementary and converging information about the unique role of each of these components and the importance of a focus on them in their own right, as well as confirming the view that because of the bidirectional intertwining of their relations with one another, each component is best viewed within a systems perspective.

Dimensions, Typologies, and Developmental Change in Child-Teacher Relationships

Because relationships are systems, a relationship is more than simply the sum of interactions, representations, and characteristics of the two individuals involved. Instead, relationships are a product of the dynamic, reciprocal interactions of these components over time and over hundreds of occasions. When it comes to describing the quality of relationships— the dimensions along which relationships vary—one must approach the task from multiple points of view using multiple assessments of relational components. Relationships can be described from the inside and from the outside, with data on perceptions, behaviors, and beliefs of the child and of the teacher. Any one source of this knowledge about relationships is almost always an indirect and incomplete assessment. Because they are systems (e.g., Lerner, 1998; Magnusson & Stattin, 1998), for Sroufe (1989a, 1996) relationships are a form of organization; they follow rule structures in their actions; and their components are rule-governed as well. The patterns and rules in relationships suggest that their activity is nonrandom; they can be studied formally and can be reliably described. Description of relationships is then, by necessity, best when informed by multiple perspectives, by multiple methods, across multiple occasions, and in multiple contexts.

One concern when reviewing the available data on childteacher relationships is the extent to which conclusions concerning these dimensions are driven by the use of a particular method or form of assessment. Caution is in order, particularly because this literature is fairly new, because large-scale, multimethod, multiinformant studies are rare, and because longitudinal or even cross-sectional data at different ages are uncommon. The following discussion is organized according to descriptions of relationships using data sources that emanate from the child, the teacher, or observations.

The Child’s View

Children have often been asked about qualities of their relationships with teachers, usually using questionnaire methods, in terms of constructs such as teacher support and liking, classroom climate, relatedness, and so on.

Wellborn and Connell’s (1987) Relatedness Scale has been used in several studies with children who range in age and risk level (Lynch & Cicchetti, 1992, 1997; Toth & Cicchetti, 1996), reliably describing variations in children’s perceptions on two dimensions of relationship experience: emotional qualityandpsychologicalproximityseeking.Emotionalquality refers to the range of emotions (positive and negative) that a child experiences with the teacher in an attempt to capture the overall emotional tone of the relationship from the child’s perspective. Psychological proximity seeking assesses the degree to which children desire to be psychologically closer to the adult. These two dimensions differentially relate (in predictable directions) to teachers’descriptions of the children as well as the children’s relational histories (Lynch & Cicchetti, 1992, 1997; Toth & Cicchetti, 1996).

From a person-centered perspective, Lynch and Cicchetti (1992) have described procedures for deriving five patterns of relatedness between children and teachers: optimal, adequate, deprived, disengaged, and confused. Children with optimal patterns report higher-than-average positive emotion and lower-than-average psychological proximity seeking. Deprived patterns are associated with lower-than-average emotional quality and higher-than-average proximity seeking. These children do not experience positive emotion and want to be closer to the teacher. Children with disengaged patterns report low emotional quality and low psychological proximity seeking. They are insecure and dissatisfied but do not want to be closer to their teachers. Children with confused patterns report high emotional quality and extremely high proximity seeking. They seem very needy despite reporting feeling secure. Finally, children with average patterns are in the midrange on both dimensions.

Wentzel (1996) reported on a similar construct describing the child-teacher relationship from the child’s perspective in a sample of middle schoolers. Perceived Caring is a dimension assessed using the Classroom Life Measure (Johnson, Johnson, Buckman, & Richards, 1985) and reflects the degree towhichthechildexperiencessocialsupportandconcernfrom teachers. These perceptions are related to a range of teacher behaviors as well as student outcomes (Wentzel, 1996).

Perceived support as a key dimension of relationships between children and teachers even at older ages is confirmed in a national survey of adolescents. When asked to identify relationships that were emotionally supportive—someone the youth could count on to understand and offer advice— teachers were often listed in relation to this construct. In fact, a factor associated with healthy outcomes was whether youth reported having a relationship with an adult that they identified in this way, many of whom were teachers (Resnick et al., 1997).

Aspects of teacher behavior that map onto feedback processes in the model of teacher-child relationships can also be assessed from the student’s perspective (Weinstein & Marshall, 1984) by examining student ratings of the teacher behavior, expectations, individual attention to the student, and nurturance. Students’ evaluations of the degree to which they perceive teacher expectations as fair, consistent, and accurate; the degree to which they feel the teacher attends and responds to their individual needs; and how caring or concerned the teacher behaves toward them are related to motivational and behavioral aspects of classroom adjustment (Wentzel, 1996).

Ryan et al. (1994) presented reports of more than 600 early adolescents (seventh and eighth graders) using the Inventory of Adolescent Attachments (assessing felt security and emotional utilization; Greenberg, 1982) as well as self-report measures of emulation of the teacher and motivation. Results indicate that emotional quality of the child-teacher relationship, as described by the felt security construct, was particularly salient for these middle schoolers. Similarly, Bracken and Crain (1994) presented findings from self-reported childteacher relationship qualities for 2,501 children between the ages of 9 and 19, suggesting that dimensions of companionship, emotional support, and trust can be reliably assessed and used to describe these relationships.


Teachers’ ratings or judgments of children’s problem behavior, social competence, work habits, and even temperament all provide indications of relational quality or factors that influence relational quality. However, the focus of most of these assessments is not relational in nature. As stated by Lerner (1998), if one adopts the developmental systems point of view, then the focus or nature of the key units of analysis must be relational (Lerner, 1998). Drawing from this postulate, then, the items rated by informants and behaviors observed in settings should have a relational nature or be of relational form in order to provide information about the type of organization (relationships) that could be most informative about developmental processes (Lerner, 1998).

For this reason, Pianta and Nimetz (1991) began the study of teachers’ views of their relationship with a specific child with a focus on teacher perceptions of warmth, openness of communication, and dependency, in their relationship with a child using items reflecting teachers’ feelings about and perceptions of the child’s relational behavior toward them— not ratings of the child’s skills or abilities in general or in other contexts. Analysis revealed that warmth and open communication were highly correlated and formed a closeness dimension, whereas kindergarten teachers viewed dependency as a somewhat negative dimension. These constructs were moderately related to concurrent measures of classroom adjustment in kindergarten, teacher ratings of adjustment in first grade, and retention decisions (Pianta & Nimetz, 1991).

Further conceptualization of child-teacher relationships led to a focus on more overtly negative aspects of the relationship involving anger, conflict, and confusion. Initial analyses reported that five correlated dimensions accounted for kindergarten teachers’ perceptions of their relationships with students: Conflict/Anger, Warmth/Closeness, Open Communication, Dependency, and Troubled Feelings (Pianta & Steinberg, 1992). The Conflict dimension indicates that the teacher and child are frequently at odds with each other (“This child and I are always struggling”). The Warmth dimension assesses positive affect (“I share a warm affectionate relationship with this student”), and Open Communication measures the degree to which the child and teacher communicate about personal items (“This student shares information about him- or herself with me”). The Dependent dimension measures the child’s degree of developmentally inappropriate dependency (“This child is always seeking my help when its not necessary”), and the Troubled Feelings dimension indicates the teacher’s being worried about his or her inability to relate to the child.

From a person-centered perspective, cluster analysis was used to describe patterns of relationships with students (Pianta, 1994). Six clusters of relationships were derived: Dependent, Positively Involved, Dysfunctional, Functional/ Average,Angry/Dependent, and Uninvolved. Children whose child-teacher relationships fell in different clusters differed significantly in their adjustment in first-grade classrooms, with the Dysfunctional and Angry/Dependent relationship clusters showing the most problems. Relationships classified as Angry were very high on the conflict dimension and very low on warmth. Teachers experienced very high amounts of negative emotion and very little amounts of emotional warmth or personal contact with students in these relationships. Uninvolved relationships were marked by the child’s strong tendency to be uncommunicative about personal information and not to rely on the teacher for help. In these relationships children made very few emotional demands on their teacher. Positively Involved relationships were characterized by children’s showing behaviors toward their teachers that were indicative of a secure relationship; they shared personal information, appeared comfortable with dependency, but were not too dependent, and they displayed positive affect in response to the teachers’ interactions or in regard to their relationship with the teacher. In the context of these relationships, teachers felt warm and close to the child. In first grade, they were clearly the most competent of the cluster groups. Children with histories of Positively Involved relationships in kindergarten showed the fewest behavior problems and the highest levels of competence behaviors in both the social and instructional areas. Dysfunctional child-teacher relationships represent a group with needs for intervention. Teachers characterized these relationships as filled with conflict and anger, with little warmth and communication. These relationships were emotionally very negative and also disconnected. Teachers felt troubled by their inability to reach these children and thought about them when not at work. Children for whom these relationships were reported were also the least competent in first grade, indicating that they were on a path toward continued school problems in the social and academic arenas and that some form of intervention was likely to be needed in order to change the direction of their school trajectories.

Recent cross-sample validations suggest that childteacher relationships assessed from teachers’ perspectives can be reliably described by three dimensions: Conflict, Closeness, and Dependency (Pianta, Steinberg, & Rollins, 1995; Saft & Pianta, 2001). These dimensions have been replicated with early elementary school samples from Illinois (Birch & Ladd, 1997) and in a multistate study of children in child care (Cost, Quality and Child Outcomes Study Team, 1995). Furthermore, these dimensions appear relatively stable from preschool into second grade (Howes, 2000b; Pianta et al., 1995).

Teachers’ representations of their relationship with a target child have been assessed with respect to three broad areas: (a) content or themes represented, (b) how the teacher views him- or herself in relation to the child, and (c) the affective tone of representations (Stuhlman & Pianta, in press). Together, these three areas provide a fairly comprehensive view of representations with respect to a given teacher-child relationship, from the teacher’s perspective. The Content area includes scales such as Compliance, Achievement, and Secure Base and reflects the degree to which these themes are present in the teacher’s responses. The Process area includes scales such as Perspective Taking and Neutralizing/Avoidance of Negative Emotion, reflecting the stance the teacher takes vis-à-vis the child’s expressed or perceived needs. The Affect area includes scales such as Positive and Negative Affect. These constructs can be reliably detected in teachers’ narratives about their relationship with a specific child and in turn are related to their behavior toward the child in the classroom. It is important to note that the constructs that reflect negativity in the teacher’s representations (e.g., compliance, neutralizing, negative affect) are more strongly related to observed behavior than are the other dimensions (Stuhlman & Pianta, in press).

Observed Interactions Between Teachers and Children

Many classroom observation systems contain codes for teacher-child interaction (e.g., Ladd & Price, 1987; Pianta et al., 2002), and these systems can be used to glean information from the classroom environment that is relevant for interpretation of teacher-child relationships. Ladd et al. (1999) reported using a Likert rating scale for capturing observed emotional tone of child-teacher relationships as well as closenessandconflict.Theseinvestigatorsreportedgoodreliability for these constructs as well as relations of these dimensions to other aspects of observed and reported behavior.

The Teacher Attachment Q-Set (Howes, Hamilton, & Matheson, 1994; Pianta, Nimetz, & Bennett, 1997) is an adaptation of the Attachment Q-Set (Waters, 1987; Waters & Deane, 1985), which was designed to assess attachment organization in young children with their mothers. The Teacher Attachment Q-Set consists of 90 descriptions of child behaviors derived from attachment theory and research and thought to reflect different aspects of the child’s attachment (e.g., “When upset the child seeks physical contact from the parent”). These 90 items were derived from extensive observations in home environments.

Q-set methods utilize criterion sorts in order to derive scores for subjects on relevant constructs. Experts knowledgeable regarding a particular construct (e.g., child-teacher security) are asked to sort Q descriptions according to their view of what an ideal child would receive as a sort, in the case of the aforementioned example, a child who was ideally secure in relationship to the teacher.

In several studies (e.g., Howes, Matheson, et al., 1994; Pianta et al., 1997) criterion sorts were developed to describe children in specific types of relationships with teachers—for example, a child in a secure relationship, a child in a conflicted relationship, and a child in a dependent relationship. Interrater reliability for these sorts tends to be high, suggesting that two observers’ impressions of characteristic behaviors can agree for individual children. Also, correlations between sorts of teacher-child relationships are strongly related to similar sorts of parent-child relationships for constructs such as security, indicating a high level of consensus among various reporters on the behaviors reflective of a secure child-adult relationship.


Teachers’ reports of child-teacher relationships reflect dimensions of conflict and closeness. These dimensions replicate across samples that vary by age, ethnicity, and economic status (see Pianta, 1999), are fairly stable, and correlate with concurrent and future teacher-reported measures of adjustment, school achievement, and student motivation (Birch & Ladd, 1997; Howes, 2000b; Pianta et al., 1995). Children’s reports of relationships with teachers reflect dimensions of emotional closeness and support, communication and involvement, and negativity, suggesting parallels with teachers’ reports (Bracken & Crain, 1994; Ryan et al., 1994; Wentzel, 1996). It appears that in relation to student or teacher outcomes, negativity is the most salient feature of teachers’ reports, whereas a sense of closeness and support appears most salient from the child’s point of view.

It is critical to note that these conclusions are qualified by the fact that the literature is limited in terms of multimethod, multi-informant longitudinal studies. Missing from this literature is description of the same child-teacher relationship from its two participants, as well as the extent to which use of these two perceptions of the same relationship yields dimensions similar to those reported earlier for single-participant reports and whether two participants’ perceptions converge or are concordant with one another.

Correlates of Relational Dimensions

In this section we review studies that link the aforementioned child-teacher relationship dimensions to child outcomes and other correlates. Studies cited in the review assess childteacher relationships at the relational unit of analysis. These findings attempt to address the extent to which a focus on this unit of analysis is helpful in advancing understanding of development in school settings.

Over the last 10 years research on child-teacher relationships focused around several lines of inquiry, each resulting in support for these relationships as salient features of development. These lines of inquiry involve child-teacher relationships and peer relations, parent-child relationships, academic competence, and features of social and emotional adjustment (see Pianta, 1999). Teacher-child relationships are related to children’s competencies with peers in the classroom (e.g., Birch & Ladd, 1998; Howes, 2000b; Howes, Hamilton, et al., 1994) and trajectories toward academic success or failure (Birch & Ladd, 1996; Hamre & Pianta, 2001; Pianta et al., 1995; van IJzendoorn, Sagi, & Lambermon, 1992), as well as with patterns of child-mother relationships (Lynch & Cicchetti, 1992) and disruptive behavior (Hamre & Pianta, 2001).

Howes and colleagues (see Howes, 2000a, 2000b) conducted a series of studies relating child-parent and childteacher relationships to each other and to early childhood social outcomes (Hamilton & Howes, 1992; Howes, Hamilton, et al., 1994; Howes et al., 1998; Howes, Matheson, et al., 1994). They established a low to moderate degree of continuity in the quality of relationships that children have with mothers and form with teachers (Howes & Matheson, 1992). They further found that both of these relationships play a role in children’s peer competencies, although relationships with teachers are stronger predictors of behavior with peers in the classroom than are relationships with parents (Howes, Matheson,etal.,1994).Also,child-teacherrelationshipsshow low to moderate levels of continuity in the early grades of school—at least through second grade (Howes, Phillipsen, & Peisner-Feinberg, 2000), echoing Birch and Ladd’s (1998) contention that children’s relationships demonstrate a coherence across relational figures and across time.

Pianta and colleagues reported links between teachers’reports of relationships with children and a range of school outcomes in the early grades. In one such study (Pianta et al., 1995), kindergarten teachers’ reports of the degree to which children displayed security toward them was related to firstgrade teachers’ reports of the children’s competence. In a series of descriptive studies, Pianta and Steinberg (1992) and Pianta (1994) showed that teacher-child relationships are also fairly stable across the period from kindergarten to second grade and correlate with concurrent and future teacherreported measures of adjustment, grade retention, and special education referrals (Birch & Ladd, 1997; Pianta et al., 1995). Furthermore, changes in student adjustment from year to year were correlated in expected directions with these dimensions (Pianta et al., 1995): Downward deflections are correlated with child-teacher conflict, whereas upward deflections are related to child-teacher closeness. Finally, there is evidence that child-teacher relationships operate as a protective factor against risk: Children at high risk for retention or referral for special education who are not referred or retained are reported to be more close to their teachers, whereas their retained/referred counterparts are in greater conflict with teachers (Pianta et al., 1995).

Within a group of children designated on the basis of low kindergarten screening scores as high risk for referral for special education or retention, those who ultimately did get retained or referred were compared with those who, despite being high risk, were promoted or not referred (Pianta et al., 1995). The children who, despite predictions of retention or referral, were ultimately promoted or not referred had far more positive relationships with their teachers than did their high-risk peers who were retained or referred. Significantly, this successful high-risk group was notable for its lack of conflict and high degree of open communication. In short, it appeared that there was a buffering effect of the relationship between the child and teacher (Pianta et al., 1995).

Hamre and Pianta (2001) extended analysis of the longitudinal relations between early child-teacher relationships (in kindergarten) and child school outcomes through eighth grade. Controlling for kindergarten-entry cognitive ability and problem behavior, negativity in the child-teacher relationship reported by the child’s kindergarten teacher predicted achievement test scores, disciplinary infractions, and school suspensions through either grade. The effects on eighth-grade achievement scores appeared largely mediated by effects of the kindergarten child-teacher relationship on achievement in early elementary school. Furthermore, effects on disciplinary infractions were most pronounced for children who had problems in kindergarten adjustment. This was the first study to report longitudinal findings for early childteacher relationships extending into middle and junior high school, and in addition the study supports the conclusion of other investigations that the quality of these relationships appears particularly important for children who might otherwise have adjustment problems.

The work of several other investigators also supports the child-teacher relationship as a key context in which early school outcomes are developed. Van IJzendoorn et al. (1992) demonstrated that child-caregiver security added unique variance over and above that contributed by the child-mother relationship in the prediction of a range of developmental status and school readiness variables. Studies have also used children’s reports of their relationship with teachers, with findings similar to those using teacher perceptions. Wentzel (1996) reported that middle school students benefited from relationships with teachers characterized by open communication and a sense of closeness, suggesting that this is a relational context with salience for children beyond the early grades and preschool years. Similarly, Lynch and Cicchetti (1992) established that maltreated children, as a result of experiences with parents, are sensitized to seek certain relational experiences with teachers; they are less likely to form optimal relational patterns and seek psychological proximity and support from teachers.

Birch and Ladd (1996) studied teacher-child relationships extensively in early elementary classrooms and suggested that children have a generalized interpersonal style (moving toward, moving against, moving away) that characterizes their interactions with peers and teachers. Presumably, this style is a product of interactions with parents.This relational style of the child is related in predictable ways to the quality of relationships that children form with teachers and peers in the classroom (Birch & Ladd, 1998; Ladd & Burgess, 1999). Those children who displayed moving against behaviors in kindergarten, such as verbal and physical aggression toward teacher and peers, were more likely to form negative relationships with teachers in first and second grade (Ladd & Burgess, 1999). Children who tended to move away from others in kindergarten were more likely to be rated as overly dependent by first-grade teachers, although there was less stability in these behaviors than in aggressive behaviors (Birch & Ladd, 1998). Observed conflict in the child-teacher relationship is related to less classroom participation and lower achievement over the first half of kindergarten (Laddetal., 1999). Children’s moving toward, or prosocial, behavior in kindergarten was not related to aspects of children’s relationships with first-grade teachers. However, kindergarten teachers’reports of the quality of relationships with students accounted for significant variance in children’s social behavior in first grade after controlling for gender and kindergarten social behavior (Birch & Ladd, 1998).

Research on teachers’ and classmates’ effects on adolescents’ motivation, self-esteem, and ability to express their opinion are reviewed in Harter (1996). Harter discussed how relationships with teachers change from elementary to junior high school (relationships between teachers and students become less personal, more formal, more evaluative, and more competitive). These changes can lead to more negative selfevaluations and attitudes toward learning because the impersonal and evaluative nature of the relational context in junior high does not match well with the children’s relational needs at that age. Harter (1996) found that this model applies particularly to students who have lower levels of intrinsic motivation. In this way, teacher-child relationships (which are typically viewed as potential resources for amelioration of risk) can actually exacerbate risk if they either are not positive or do not match with the developmental needs of the child. Harter (1996) also reported that classmate support and teacher approval are associated with self-esteem in middle-school-aged populations. Teacher support can be particularly salient in students who have low levels of parent support (i.e., teacher and parent supportmayhaveadditiveeffectsonstudentself-esteem).

Consistent with this view of middle schoolers’ ongoing needs for support from adult figures, teacher support has been found to be related to sixth-grade children’s school- and class-related interests and to their pursuit of social goals (Wentzel, 1998). These self-beliefs and motivations in sixth grade in turn predicted pursuit of social goals and grades in seventh grade (Wentzel, 1998). It is important to note that the support that youth receive from their parents, peers, and teachers seemed to have additive, and thus fairly independent, effects. Support from teachers was uniquely related to classroom functioning (Wentzel, 1998). Wentzel (1998) suggested the possibility that support in teacher-child relationships may be particularly salient at transition points, such as the transition from elementary to middle school.

In young children (kindergarten, first, and second grade), a teacher’s feedback about a child’s behavior also has a significant impact on how peers perceive that child (Hughes, Cavell, & Willson, in press; White & Kistner, 1992). When a teacher characterizes a child’s behavior as positive, other children report increased pBibliography: for that child and are more likely to characterize the child’s behavior as positive. When a teacher characterizes a child’s behavior as negative, an impact on peer pBibliography: was not found; but if the teacher was derogatory toward the child, peers demonstrated more negative views of that child (White & Kistner, 1992). Implications of these findings include the possibility that teachers can play an active role in changing peers’ perceptions of rejected children by sensitizing the class to the positive behaviors that the child engages in (Hughes et al., in press; White & Kistner, 1992).


There is ample evidence to demonstrate that the qualities of child-teacher relationships are related in expected ways to child outcomes throughout the school-age years. Although there are expected developmental transformations in the extent to which these qualities are manifest in highly proximal or concrete forms with age, the degree and form of child-teacher engagement or involvement and the affective quality of that involvement describe a wide range of variation in individual and group differences in child-teacher relationships. Variable-focused or individual-focused analyses of these dimensions consistently show that various parameterizations of these two dimensions relate to children’s engagement in learning, motivation and self-esteem, attitudes and engagement with the goals of school, and behavior toward one another and the teacher. As characterized by Hamre and Pianta (2001), these findings reveal that the quality of child-teacher relationships is an indicator of the extent to which the child is benefiting from the resources of schooling. This general conclusion is consistent with the theoretical framework of developmental systems theory outlined earlier, in which the qualities of child-adult relationships are key developmental resources for children.

It is critical to emphasize that in several of the investigations described earlier (e.g., Birch & Ladd, 1998; Hamre & Pianta, 2001; Howes, 2000b; Stuhlman & Pianta, in press), relations were reported between child outcomes and qualities of the child-teacher relationship controlling for aspects of child behavior considered principle predictors of the outcomes assessed. For example, Hamre and Pianta (2001) controlled for kindergarten teachers’reports of children’s problem behavior when predicting problem behavior outcomes in later elementary and middle school using kindergarten child-teacher relational negativity as a predictor. Similarly, Stuhlman and Pianta (in press) controlled for observed child competence when examining relations between teachers’ representations and observed sensitivity. Relational dimensions provide unique prediction of child outcomes independent of attributes of the child (e.g., Birch & Ladd, 1998) and teacher (Stuhlman & Pianta, in press). This focus on this relational unit of analysis, rather than on discrete characteristics of the individuals themselves, provides considerably more conceptual power for the purposes of understanding behaviors in settings and the influence that such settings have on developmental processes.

Educationaland Psychological Applications Related to Child-Teacher Relationships

Evidence that qualities of child-teacher relationships predict child outcomes and are related to features of school climate, teacher characteristics, child attributes, and classroom variables provides ample support for examining how this information can be used to create more developmentally supportive school environments (see Battistich et al., 1997; Hughes & Cavell 1999; Pianta, 1999). Consistent with the prevention-oriented bias in applications informed by developmental systems theory (Magnusson & Stattin, 1998), a comprehensive approach to prevention suggests that applications should have long-term implementation and be aimed at changing institutions as well as people (Weissberg & Bell, 1997). More specifically, Weissberg and Bell (1997) outlined four different foci for application of techniques or resources, including a focus on changing the child, changing the immediate environment, changing multiple components of the environment that affect adults who are working with children, and changing structure or policy, each of which intersects with the research base available on child-teacher relationships.

Issues in Prevention-Oriented Applications Involving Child-Teacher Relationships

In thinking about applications of knowledge about childteacher relationships across the many levels of organization and processes in schools, we approach the task with a bias toward the deployment of resources (or applications of techniques) prior to emergence of problems, with the distinct goal of enhancing wellness and strengthening developmental competencies (Cowen, 1999). Several principles inform this analyses: an emphasis on application in context, the extent to which an application embraces conceptualizations of developmental pathways in its design and execution (Loeber, 1990), emphasis on standardized protocols and theoretically driven decision making, and focus on risk reduction or wellness promotion.

Applications in Context

Intervention in educational and psychological processes with children and teachers most often involves rearranging contextual inputs to achieve a desired outcome (Nastasi, 1998). Interventions applied in the contexts in which the concern arises and is manifest can be more effective agents of change than efforts at change that take place in a context remote to the problem at hand (e.g., Henggeler, 1994; Henggeler, Schoenwald, Borduin, Rowland, & Cunningham, 1998; Nastasi, 1998). The design of treatment plans for child and adolescent problem behavior ideally recognizes distributed competence and the related concept of contextual affordance and produces change as a function of manipulating contextual properties (Adelman, 1996; Henggeler et al., 1998; Roberts, 1996). Unfortunately, due to the inherent asymmetries in child and adult relationships, it is usually the case that problem identification and remediation focus on the child as a locus of the “problem” (Adelman, 1996; Henggeler et al., 1998; Johnson, Malone, & Hightower, 1996; Nastasi, 1998). A specific, dedicated focus on the relational unit of analysis inherent in child-teacher relationships supports a view of bidirectionality and reciprocity, which can enhance the extent to which contextualized, comprehensive approaches to intervention can be designed.

Developmental Time: Pathways

One lesson learned from developmental research is that there is no single, linear, one-to-one mapping of early risk (or nonrisk) status onto problem (or competent) outcomes. Instead, many possible outcomes are possible from a given starting point (Egeland, Pianta, & O’Gawa, 1996). The success of risk reduction and competence enhancement efforts depends on understanding the processes that shape developmental pathways. Targeting these processes for intervention could be key to interrupting the relation between risk and later problems (Loeber, 1990) by creating alternate routes along developmental pathways to positive outcomes.

Intentional efforts to reduce risk and enhance competence through the application of psychological and educational interventions vary widely in the extent to which they embody principles of developmental pathways and a longitudinal focus in their design and execution (Durlak & Wells, 1997; McConaughy, Kay, & Fitzgerald, 1999). It is in fact the norm that resources are deployed to children in short-term bursts of six-week groups, semester-long mentoring, or placements that last a school year (Durlak & Wells, 1997). Most efforts are short-term in focus, with pressure increasing to deliver positive effects in shorter and shorter time frames. In addition to the problem of a short-term focus, interventions rarely conceptualize their effects or efforts in terms of developmental pathways that link subordinate outcomes or processes to the goals that the interventions embrace. For example, a large number of children are enrolled in programs designed to reduce antisocial behavior and teach social skills (Durlak & Wells, 1997). It is a laudable goal to accomplish such significant developmental changes in patterns of maladaptation and skill deficit in (usually) the short time frame of 6 weeks, particularly for children for whom these have a long-standing history and status as concerns. However, rather than conceptualizing intervention success as a return to health or normative functioning, interventionists might examine intermediate or subordinate outcomes or processes that signal developmental change in increments that, although smaller than ultimately desired, may be more realistic indicators of true developmental achievement. Attention to developmental pathways rather than a narrower focus on specific outcomes of concern may be of use to intervention design and application.

Standardized Protocols and Local Politics

Psychological and educational interventions vary widely on their embrace of standardization in application of ideas and resources. School reform efforts, for example, can vary from locally controlled efforts to achieve standardized targets to implementation of regimented standardization of curriculum and school management (e.g., Felner, Favazza, Shim, & Brand, 2001). In other areas of educational innovation, for the most part, local control and local politics overwhelm efforts at standardization, to the extent that prominent federal officials suggest that the lack of research and evaluation on innovations using standard protocols is a fundamental flaw impeding the development, implementation, and dissemination of promising educational practices (Lyon, 2000). In addition, educational research over the last decade has increasingly been dominated by qualitative methodology and theoretical paradigms that embrace the uniqueness of nearly every subject of inquiry (e.g., child, teacher, school). It is fair to conclude that in educational practice, standardization of practice (not to be equated with the use of standardized assessment or achievement standards) is the exception, not the rule.

On the other hand, psychological interventions, such as those used in clinical and school psychology practice, are increasingly coming under scrutiny for the use of standardized, empirically supported protocols, most often those that have been described in manualized form. This movement reflects a growing body of information on the effectiveness of protocols that have been implemented in standard fashion and a movement toward accountability in mental health services and care (see Henggeler et al., 1998; Weissberg & Bell, 1997). By and large, the available evidence suggests that manualized treatment protocols, particularly those that focus on specific behavioral targets, demonstrate significant gains and improvements in targeted outcomes.

Yet most efforts at educational innovation and application of psychological theory in school settings must also recognize the realities of local constraints and local pressures while at the same time embracing a validated knowledge base that can inform choices about intervention strategies and techniques. Theory about the processes that produce the problem under consideration—particularly the role of contexts in shaping behavioral patterns—can provide a useful guide for local-level applications of treatment protocols.

Theory-based knowledge used in this way should be well validated and can serve as a means for practitioners to make the many important local decisions that they face. Developmental systems theory provides child and adolescent psychologists with a set of principles by which behavior change in context can be understood, an asset to local decision-making processes.

Wellness Enhancement and Risk Reduction

Although the widespread interest in preventive intervention (often through applications in schools) has been embraced by nearly all educational and psychological researchers and policy makers, Cowen (1999) pointed out that such a perspective differs from a focus on competence enhancement. As Cowen noted, prevention approaches or risk-reduction approaches nearly always have as their primary goal or desired outcome the elimination of pathology. Risk-reduction approaches are therefore biased by this singular focus on negative outcomes, a phenomenon that in Cowen’s view could mislead and reduce efforts to promote health in the population. For example, in dental health a focus on eliminating cavities and tooth decay led to the widespread use of fluoride in the water supply, by all estimations a success. However, the limitations of this intervention for children who did not brush their teeth, receive regular teeth cleanings, or have adequate nutrition have been well documented. The narrow focus on preventing negative outcomes neglected the larger needs to promote and maintain adequate dental health practices. Prevention and health promotion are not one and the same.

On the contrary, wellness or competence enhancement approaches utilize an understanding of the resources and practices that promote healthy human development and focus efforts on developing and deploying such resources to all individuals. In education we see an emphasis on providing high-quality literacy instruction to all children in an effort to see that all children become literate, in contrast to identification of disabilities in children who fail to learn to read. Wellness enhancement is different from, and complementary to, risk reduction, and Cowen argued that it is not sufficient to focus solely on disease prevention. What is needed is a multilevel, proactive approach that includes strong wellness and competence enhancement as well as provisions for children who are not likely to benefit fully from those efforts (Cowen, 1997, 1999). Because only one third of clinically distressed children or adolescents will receive mental health treatment (Durlak & Wells, 1997), approaches that promote health and reduce risk preventively will be prominent among the considerations of policy makers for the near future.

Influencing Relationship Resources in Schools

Schools, as public institutions in which nearly the entire population participates, are often a very frequent focus of efforts to promote health and reduce risk (Cowen, 1999). Along with families, schools are the single most frequently mentioned context as a site for intervention (Nastasi, 1998). Risk reduction efforts that attempt to make either environmental changes or person-level changes often do it in a school setting. For example, Durlak and Wells (1997) found that 72.9% of all preventive intervention studies for children took place in schools, and 20% of change agents were teachers. In fact, one might argue that public education is a very large competence-enhancement policy and strategy.

Within schools, efforts can be person or environment focused (Durlak & Wells, 1997), and environmentally focused interventions can target person-environment interaction patterns. Felner et al. (2001) argued that because developmental outcomes are based on transactions between individuals and environments, prevention-intervention should be aimed at both individuals and environments. When promoting health for all children, alterations in the environment are preferable to alterations in individuals (Felner et al., 2001)—yet another reason to view competence enhancement and risk reduction as distinct (Cowen, 1999).

It is in this context that improved relationships between teachers and children are either (a) a focus of intervention efforts or (b) a by-product of other efforts directed at children, teachers, classrooms, or schools. Using Eccles and Roeser’s (1998) model of school processes and structure, it is possible to discuss an assortment of educational and psychological applications that either focus on improving childteacher relationships or, as a function of improvement in other aspects of the larger network of systems in which this relationship is embedded, have consequences for the quality of child-teacher relationships. Eccles and Roeser’s (1998) model of the context of schooling is a helpful organizing framework because of its focus on understanding the multiple layers of school organization and process. In particular, we discuss applications related to (a) organizational ethos of the school, its structure, and resources; (b) classroom ethos, structure, and characteristics of the teacher; and (c) social interactions between teachers and children. In addition, we review applications that focus on altering aspects of the child that have, as a by-product, consequences for how the child and teacher interact and relate.

As noted by Eccles and Roeser (1998), the multiple levels of regulatory processes within school organizations are dynamic and interrelated, sometimes characterized by moment-by-moment change and other times appearing immovably entrenched and stable. On this basis, attempts to deploy resources directed at altering any aspect of this complex web of activity must attend to the need to implement and evaluate such efforts over time and to the direct and indirect effects of the effort on the targeted focus as well as at other levels and locations. Furthermore, interventions that target critical processes across multiple levels and processes over time are likely to result in a greater likelihood of change, although the change may be more diffuse and less easy to evaluate.

Organizational Ethos, Structure, and Resources of Schools

There is widespread acknowledgement that schools function somewhat like communities in that they vary in terms of climate, ethos, values, and generalized expectations regarding the behavior of students and teachers. Furthermore, there are very marked differences in schools across the developmental span—thus, middle schools are quite different from elementary schools, and both in turn vary considerably from high schools (e.g., Harter, 1996). Climate influences children’s’ confidence in their abilities (Cauce, Comer, & Schwartz, 1987) and teachers’ efficacy beliefs (Bandura, 1994) and can influence teaching practices that affect children’s motivation and self-views (MacIver, Reuman, & Main, 1995). Interventions at this level are complex and often diffuse, involving restructuring of time and scheduling, allocation of space and teaching resources, and placement policies (e.g., practices suchaslooping),aswellasworkrelatedtoschoolvalues,staff support and involvement in decision-making, and cultural issues (Felner et al., 2001; Haynes, 1998). With a few exceptions (e.g., looping), interventions at this level are not directly focused on improving relationships between teachers and children, yet these relationships can be profoundly affected.

In a comprehensive review of whole-school restructuring projects and their consequences for student mental health, Felner et al. (2001) concluded that there is often a “mismatch between the conditions and practices students encounter in grades k-12 and the developmental needs, readiness, and capacities of students” (p. 3). One of these needs, as argued by many scholars and practitioners, is to form functional, effective, supportive relationships with peers and adults in the school setting (Connell & Wellborn, 1991; Eccles & Roeser, 1998).

With regard to specific interventions that focus on the entire school, a range of such approaches shows promise with regard to positive influences on child-teacher relationships. Next we briefly describe a few approaches and then discuss their relevance for relationships between teachers and children.

Durlak and Wells’s (1997) meta-analysis of primary prevention efforts supports the effectiveness of programs that modify the school environment and help children negotiate transitions. School Transitional Environments Project (STEP) focuses on promoting health in the transition from elementary school to junior high or from junior to senior high school; this focus on transition is warranted because of evidence suggesting that these transitions both heighten risk time and create opportunity for growth (Felner et al., 2001). Because risk during transition is driven by heightened complexity and developmental demands as well as the school’s inability to provide needed supports, this project increases the school’s ability to respond to children’s needs by essentially creating schools within schools. In this approach (which is widely used in large schools), teams of 60 to 100 students have classes together and have consistent homeroom advisors and counselors. Time is allotted for all teachers to meet and discuss students, to integrate curriculum, and to increase coherence and support available to students. These efforts reduce complexity for students and build a sense of continuity and community. Critically, these school restructuring efforts result in an increase in and stabilization of contact between children and a teacher or teachers (Felner et al., 2001).

Consistent with conclusions that relations between highquality child-teacher relationships and child outcomes indicate a process of engagement between the child and schooling, results of STEP have been promising for children’s school adjustment. Felner et al. (2001) reported 40% to 50% declines in school dropout, maintenance of achievement levels, and fewer child- and teacher-reported behavioral-emotional problems. It is not surprising that teachers also reported higher job satisfaction and less burnout (see Felner et al., 2001). Felner’s group also examined features of the school that interacted with the intervention and concluded that the riskier the school, the more complete the intervention must be to see positive results in school adjustment. Common dimensions of successful schools, according to Felner et al. (2001) include the following: a sense of belongingness and agency; engagement of families; an integrated, quality curriculum; ongoing professional development (both in curriculum content and in child development); high expectations for students; and opportunities for success (see Felner et al., 2001).

For nearly two decades, the CDP (Battistich et al., 1997; Solomon et al., 1996) has been involved intensively with schools to promote social and moral development, a sense of community, and active caring for children within the school. The need for schools to become caring communities (Battistich et al., 1997) is most commonly identified at the middle and high school levels, where preadolescent and adolescent disengagement and lack of connection to school values and social ethos are most marked; however, the CDP has been primarily involved with elementary schools. Although the actual implementation and end product of the CDP intervention involve mostly a set of changes taking place at the classroom level, CDP involves extensive analysis and reshaping of the school environment as a prerequisite for changes sought at the classroom level (Battistich et al., 1997). In the view of CDP, interventions to address concerns such as caring, relationships, student autonomy, and values need to engage both at the classroom and school levels, with primary focus in their most recent work at the school level.

Prominent among the outcomes sought at the classroom level are opportunities for (a) collaboration among students in pursuit of common goals, (b) providing help and receiving help when needed, (c) reflection and discussion of one’s own and other’s perspectives and goals, and (d) practice of social competencies and exercise of autonomy and decision making. Battistich et al. (1997) stated that “students in such classrooms should feel strong affective ties to one another and to the teacher” (p. 138). In the San Ramon Project (Battistich, Solomon, Watson, Solomon, & Schaps, 1989), CDP focused on changing the whole school level by drawing on parent, child, and teacher involvement and investment to maximize children’s autonomy, relatedness, and competence. This approach involved changing discipline practices, teaching style (i.e., emphasizing cooperative learning, making curriculum meaningful), and broadening the focus of schools such that goals include facilitating social and ethical dispositions, attitudes and motivations, and metacognitive skills in addition to facilitating academic development (Battistich, Watson, Solomon, Lewis, & Schaps, 1999). To promote these skills, Battistich et al. suggested that schools emphasize building and maintaining supportive, caring relationship between teachers and students (as well as among teachers and among peers). More specifically, to build these relationships, they suggested activities such as having teachers and students share appropriate aspects of their personal lives, eat lunch together in small groups, and engage in other activities that communicate to students that teachers are genuinely interested and concerned about the range of their experiences and not only about their academic work. They also suggest that teacher-parent communication should be a priority so that teachers can have a greater awareness of what is going on in their students’ lives. When schools prioritize these activities, it should allow teachers to know enough about their students to be able to adapt the curriculum so that it is relevant and interesting to students and so that students will know that their teachers care for them and want to be in a collaborative partnership with them to help them attain their goals.

Several studies have evaluated the approach used by the CDP at both the school and classroom levels (see Battistich et al., 1997; Strachota, 1996). Battistich et al. (1997) summarized the evaluation of two years of implementation data in 24 (12 comparison) highly diverse schools. By and large the findings indicate positive changes in desired outcomes for the 12 CDP schools (and associated teachers and children). It is significant that the CDP was able to demonstrate that the targets of its approach at both the school and classroom level changed as a function of implementation and that changes in classroom practice were in turn responsible for changes in student achievement, attitude, and behavior as well as attitudes and behaviors of teachers. With regard to studentteacher relationships, the CDP produced changes in teachers’ observed warmth and supportiveness to students and low use of extrinsic control measures, both of which were in part responsible for children’s increased engagement, influence in the classroom setting, and positive behavior toward peers and adults. Students reported an increase in the enjoyment of the classroom and motivation to learn, both of which are perceptions related to the child’s sense of relatedness within the classroom environment (Connell & Wellborn, 1991).

Nelson (1996) addressed the need for schools to change teacher-child interactions around children’s disruptive behavior so that children improve and teachers feel more effective. The goal of this elementary school intervention effort was to identify and change school and classroom practices that fostered disruptive behavior. Adults’ management of disruptive behavior through school-, classroom-, and individually focused strategies was the goal of this approach, premised on the notion that adult-child relationships can enhance child social development when the adults make it clear to children which behaviors are acceptable and which are not (Nelson, 1996). The space and scheduling of the school were changed to make it easier for adults to supervise children in less crowded settings. Behavioral guidelines for all common areas were taught, and enforced inappropriate behavior was responded to quickly and effectively. Also, the interactions between teachers and children in the classroom were changed. There was a school-wide classroom management system for disruptive behavior that reduced patterns of escalating negativity between classroom teachers and students. The results were that disciplinary actions decreased notably, teachers felt more supported, and their sense of confidence increased. The target children’s social adjustment fell within normal range, and their work habits improved after the intervention. This behaviorally focused approach to reduction of disruption is consistent with Pianta’s (1999) view that such approaches enhance the feedback and information exchange processes in child-teacher relationships by making information clear to both children and teachers, thereby creating a sense of predictability and safety that enhances the affective and interactive quality of the relationship system.

Classroom Ethos and Practices

It can be difficult to distinguish between school- and classroom-level interventions, particularly those that involve social and attitudinal processes and mechanisms. Often, attempts to alter teachers’ classroom behavior occur as a function of meetings involving groups of teachers within a school (e.g., Nelson, 1996), in which school leaders also participate. As noted earlier, even though interventions may target classroom practices and behaviors, to the extent that they are delivered through or otherwise involve groups of teachers or all teachers in the school, these interventions may best be considered as whole-school in their focus, although they differ from interventions that target only wholeschool issues (such as Felner et al., 2001). In this section we focus on intervention approaches that involve, to a greater extent than those reviewed earlier, within-classroom practices of specific teachers.

Project Fast Track (Conduct Problems Prevention Research Group [CPPRG], 1999) has a specific focus on enhancing children’s social and emotional competencies and reducing negative, aggressive social behavior, starting with children as they enter school. Although the intervention is multifaceted, involving academic tutoring and social skills groups among others, a core component of the intervention is the classroom teachers’ use of the Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies (PATHS) curriculum (Greenberg, Kusche, Cook, & Quamma, 1995). PATHS is designed to help children identify and label feelings and social interactions, reflect on those feelings and interactions, generate solutions and alternatives for interpretation and behavior, and test such alternatives. For example, teachers are trained to add lessons to their first-grade curriculum that teach children emotional understanding, communication skills, self-control, and social participation.

Evaluation indicates that PATHS can be effective in altering the quality of the classroom climate and relationships within the classroom (CPPRG, 1999). Specifically, teachers who had a better understanding of the importance of teaching PATHS skills, generalized the lessons taught in the PATHS curriculum to their interactions with students throughout the day, and had effective management skills reported more decreases in aggressive behavior in their classrooms. The authors concluded that perhaps the greatest effects of the PATHS curriculum are not linked to the number of discrete lessons that are presented didactically to children; rather, effects are linked to the degree to which teachers accept the PATHS model and generalize it to the way that they run their classroom (CPPRG, 1999), consistent with the bidirectionality of relation between teachers’beliefs and their behavior with children.

McConaughy et al. (1999) found that Parent-Teacher Research Teams (P-TAR teams), in which parents and teacher communicated about elementary-aged children considered at risk for emotional disturbance to identify the child’s strengths and potential goals, were effective at preventing at-risk children from becoming identified with the label of “emotionally disturbed” over and above teachers teaching whole-group social skills. The mechanism of this intervention may have been to change teacher attitudes and behavior toward children before the children developed low self-esteem and poor social interactions that would lead them farther toward behavior problems, a process that altered perceptions of the childteacher relationship.

Shaftel and Fine (1997) emphasized the role that teachers’ subjective beliefs play in determining how child behaviors are interpreted and responded to by teachers. Shaftel and Fine targeted aspects of teaching style such as the amount of feedback children receive, how long teachers present material in a single modality and expect children to attend, or structural issues such as how seating is arranged. They also suggest that another important area to consider when planning interventions is whether teachers manage their classrooms in ways that deal appropriately with child behaviors and are perceived by the children as fair and reasonable.These ideas are applied within a consultation method that focuses on the classroom as a system, when designing interventions for problem behaviors.

Dyad-Focused Approaches

Based on the success of fairly structured programs of parent consultation and training (see Barkley, 1987; Eyberg & Boggs, 1998), Pianta (1999) and Pianta and Hamre (2002) developed the Students, Teachers, and Relationship Support (STARS) system for consultation with teachers to enhance their relationship with a specific child (or children) with whom the teacher reports a problem in their relationship. STARS is a multifaceted program targeting a teacher’s representation of his or her relationship with a child and his or her interactive behavior toward the child in the context of a supportive relationship with a consultant.

The specific technique directed at improving child-teacher interactions (and indirectly their beliefs about each other and their relationship) is Banking Time. In Banking Time (Pianta, 1999; Pianta & Hamre, 2002) the teacher works with a consultant and implements a regular regimen of between 5 and 15 min of individual time with a target child. The intervention is called Banking Time because of the metaphor of saving up positive experiences so that the relationship between teacher and child can withstand conflict, tension, and disagreement without deteriorating and returning to a negative state. The child and teacher can draw on their accrued relationship capital and withdraw from the relationship resources that enable them to interact effectively in times of stress. The teacher’s behavior in these sessions is highly constrained in order to produce changes in interaction and beliefs.

There is an emphasis in Banking Time sessions on the child’s choice of activities and the regular occurrence of sessions. Sessions are not contingent on the child’s good behavior and neutral verbalizations from the teacher that do not focus on the child’s performance of skills convey relational messages of safety, support for exploration, or predictability that help the child and teacher define their relationship. Behavioral standards are implemented consistent with classroom standards. These principles of Banking Time sessions are very similar to Teacher Child Interaction Therapy (as described by McIntosh et al., 2000), in which teachers engage in nondirective sessions with children designed to enhance the quality of their relationship.

The Banking Time technique acts on nearly every component of a relationship between a child and adult; thus it is a powerful source of pressure on the relationship system. First and foremost it constrains the behavior of the adult. In so doing, a variant of interaction is created between child and adult that typically is viewed as different, novel, and better by most child and adult participants. This constraining of adult behavior in turn frees up the child to display behaviors (and competencies) that are typically not seen in routine interactions between teacher and child. The child often explores at a higher level and shows interest in the teacher and the teacher’s attention; in turn, the teacher’s perceptions (representational beliefs) may change or at least be subject to reexamination. Feedback and exchange processes between teacher and child are altered as well—especially if the teacher utilized BankingTime sessions to impart a particular message to the child. Banking Time sessions allow the teacher to build credibility that supports these messages so that their words have meaning for the child. In this way, new pathways or dimensions of feedback and communication between teacher and child become possible as Banking Time is implemented.

The STARS approach also involves a set of other procedures that act on teachers’ representations and beliefs. These include videotaping interactions with children in the classroom for review with the consultant, engaging in reflection on relationships with children through directed interviews, and analyzing classroom practices related to instruction and discipline. In combination with Banking Time sessions, these techniques are a comprehensive approach to intervention with child-teacher relationships.

PATHS (Greenberg et al., 1995), just described as a classroom-level intervention, also has a focus on teacherchild interactions and relationships. In one study teachers implemented PATHS with specific regular and special education children in the second and third grades (Greenberg et al., 1995). This was designed to promote these children’s emotional understanding as assessed through emotional vocabulary, ability to recognize emotional cues, and ability to connect emotions to personal experiences. Teachers were trained to teach 60 30-min lessons on self-control, emotions, and problem solving to their classes. Participating teachers were observed and received consultation weekly in addition to an initial training workshop. Children who received the intervention had a larger emotional vocabulary, a more advanced ability to connect basic emotions to personal experiences, and a more advanced understanding of recognizing emotional cues in others, and they believed that they could manage their feelings more than the children who did not receive the intervention (Greenberg et al., 1995). Children with lower initial symptom levels (as measured by teacher reports) were more likely to improve their emotional vocabulary as a result of the intervention than were children with highly elevated initial symptoms.

Finally, Hughes and Cavell (1999) described an intervention called Primetime for aggressive children that includes enhancing the teacher-child relationship (in addition to other relationship components and problem-solving skills training). The Primetime intervention espouses a relationshipbased perspective on competence and attempts to reduce aggressive behavior by reorganizing the child’s relational skills with parents, peers, and teachers. Primetime focuses on building a mentoring relationship as a support and source of skill training. Evaluations suggest that positive relationships between the children and the mentors were related to reduced levels of teacher-reported externalizing behavior.


In sum, child-teacher relationships have been the focus of a number of applications directed at improving child outcomes. In some applications relationships are affected as a by-product of interventions targeted at children’s skills or at school organizations, whereas in other applications improvements in child-teacher relationships are the specific focus of the intervention. Results indicate that child-teacher relationships can be improved as a consequence of direct and indirect effects and that improvements in relational quality are correlated with improved child outcomes, particularly in the domain of social adjustment.

Conclusions and Future Directions: Developmentalanalysis of Child-Teacher Relationships

Throughout this research paper we have emphasized the advantages to be gained—conceptually, empirically, and practically— from a developmental system analysis of child-teacher relationships. The arguments, review, and positions advanced as a result of this analysis have confirmed this view and lead to the following conclusions concerning these relationships.

  1. In analysis of the complex assortment of child-, teacher-, classroom-, school-, and community-level influences on children’s adjustment in school settings, it is helpful to focus on child-teacher relationships as a key unit of analysis. A relational focus is an important conceptual advance and may provide a means for understanding processes that have been difficult to study.
  2. Child-teacher relationships are themselves best characterized as multicomponent systems involving attributes of the individuals involved, reciprocal, bidirectional processes related to representation and exchange of information, and embedded in ongoing interactions with school and community factors. These factors interrelate in complex ways, and understanding the unit as a system provides importance conceptual and methodological leverage on this complexity.
  3. Across samples of children of diverse age, ethnicity, geographical region, and school profiles—and using multiple methodsofinformant-basedorobservationalassessment— relationships between children and teachers are marked by variation in the extent of emotional and interactional engagement or involvement and in qualities of the emotional experience of that involvement. Negativity appears to be a particularly salient aspect of teachers’relationship experience whereas emotional closeness, involvement, and support appear salient from the child’s perspective.
  4. Across similarly diverse samples, variation in the quality of child-teacher relationships is related in expected directions to a number of concurrent and future indicators of child outcomes in the domains of classroom adjustment, motivation, and self-esteem; to beliefs about school and schooling; to academic success; and to teachers’ perceptions and emotional-well being. Child-teacher relationships are also associated with indicators of the broader school climate and organizational ethos. It is important to note that there is converging evidence that these relations between child-teacher relationships and child outcomes are independent of other commonly used predictors of those outcomes, providing support for the view that the child-teacher relationship is a unique source of variation in children’s experience.
  5. Applications that focus on improving children’s’ experiences in school—particularly applications that emphasize social, emotional, or motivational aspects of school experience or that build on findings from naturalistic studies of child-teacher relationships—demonstrate that childteacher relationships can be enhanced and that such enhancements are related to improvements in child competencies and perceptions as well as teacher confidence and beliefs.

These conclusions establish fairly clearly that a decade of research with a specific focus on child-teacher relationships has been productive and fruitful. Clearly, a well-defined and identifiable literature has developed and yielded information of conceptual and applied benefit to educators and psychologists. Yet the literature is fairly new, and if its potential is to be realized, several challenges lie ahead in terms of issues that require attention in the next decade:

  1. There is a need to examine domain-specificity in the associations of child-teacher relationships with child outcomes, teacher outcomes, and school climate variations. For example, teacher-child conflict and emotional negativity appear to be more predictive of child outcomes in elementary school than is teacher-child closeness (Hamre & Pianta, 2001; Ladd et al., 1999), whereas emotional support experienced from teachers seems quite important in middle school (see Eccles & Roeser, 1998). It is important to establish, in either multi-age cross-sectional studies or longitudinal studies, the extent to which different qualities of child-teacher relationships are related to different outcome domains for children and teachers, at different ages or grades.
  2. The extent to which associations between child outcomes and child-teacher relationships are context specific (e.g., stronger for behavior in school vs. home settings) is another area for analysis. Questions concerning whether these relations are localized or specific to a given classroom setting and whether they extend to other settings and the extent to which context-specific or disperses associations extend longitudinally are of great interest.
  3. For years there has been interest in the coherence in the quality and form of relationships that children develop with parents, teachers, and peers. From the view of relationships as the focal unit of analysis, examination of the key relationships in which children are involved, with a focus on the extent of similarity and dissimilarity (and the personal and contextual correlates of similarity and dissimilarity), will yield insights into the development of personality and social relationships.
  4. With regard to naturalistic and intervention research, there is much to be learned from further understanding of the degree to which child-teacher relationships can compensate for the negative effects of earlier experiences. The relative power of the child-teacher relationship to alter or affect developmental trajectories in relation to established and ongoing influence of the parents or peers can provide insight into the plasticity of developmental processes as well as fuel advances in school policy and programming.
  5. There is a dire need for further integration among the constituencies involved in research and theory on childteacher relationships and for this integration to lead to productive use and application of information for the purposes of teacher training (pre and in-service), teacher evaluation, and school design. Continuation of the relative isolation of teacher education from this emergent knowledge base will constrain both the advancement and application of that knowledge. In particular, we believe that a focused effort to study the development and training of teachers from a relational perspective (Goodlad, 1991) is imperative to improving teacher and child outcomes.

In sum, this research paper marks the emergence and consolidation of a relatively new area of inquiry and understanding: relationships between teachers and children. The insights and improvements gained from the last decade of research in this area bode well for the future.


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