Academic journal article School Psychology Review

Adolescent Trust in Teachers: Implications for Behavior in the High School Classroom

Academic journal article School Psychology Review

Adolescent Trust in Teachers: Implications for Behavior in the High School Classroom

Article excerpt

Abstract. Cooperative behavior is important for well-functioning high school classrooms in which students trust their teachers and actively engage in academic tasks. Yet, discipline referrals for disruption and defiance are all too common and can result in lost instructional time and increased teacher stress. As such, more needs to be understood about trusting and cooperative interactions in classrooms. This study examined teachers' relational approach to discipline as a predictor of high school students' behavior and their trust in teacher authority. Findings from interviews and surveys with 32 teachers and 32 discipline-referred students supported a mediational model; the association between a relational approach to discipline and cooperative or defiant behavior was mediated by adolescents' perceptions of their teachers as trustworthy authority figures. Teachers may earn the trust and cooperation of students if they use relationship building to prevent discipline problems. Implications for school psychologists' consultation with teachers and the racial discipline gap are discussed.


A majority of referrals for disciplinary problems originate in the classroom (Skiba, Michael, Nardo, & Peterson, 2002) and are issued for defiance and disruption (Gregory & Weinstein, 2008; Skiba, Peterson, & Williams, 1997). Yet, high school teachers vary significantly in the number of referrals they give for discipline problems (Gregory, Nygreen, & Moran, 2006), which suggests that referrals for defiance are more likely to occur in some classrooms than in others. Little is understood about the processes between teachers and students that helps explain these trends in high school discipline. The current study identified teachers' approach to discipline in high school classrooms and how such an approach relates to the behavior of adolescents who have been issued referrals for defiance.

The Importance of Reducing Discipline Referrals

Suspended students are more likely to have low achievement (Arcia, 2006), be retained (Civil Rights Project, 2000), receive future suspensions (Skiba & Noam, 2002), and experience dissatisfaction and alienation (Lovey, Docking, & Evans, 1994). Moreover, suspended students are at risk for long-term negative outcomes. They are more likely to drop out of school, become involved in the juvenile justice system, and later be incarcerated (Baker et al., 2001; Civil Rights Project, 2000). Given these negative consequences of school suspension, it is important to identify teacher approaches that are linked with students' cooperative behavior.

Suspended students are an opportune group to understand why cooperation and defiance occur in high school classrooms. The tendency for students to receive repeated suspensions suggests that they are at risk for negative interactions with school staff (Atkins, McKay, & Frazier, 2002). In fact, in-school and out-of-school suspensions are commonly used for offenses such as disrespect, disobedience, and lack of cooperation (Diem, 1988; Morrison & Skiba, 2001). Given the challenges suspended students bring to classrooms, identifying factors linked with their cooperation provides a stringent test for promising classroom practices. If teachers are able to elicit the cooperation of students with past suspensions, then they will likely be skilled at eliciting cooperation with their more typically developing students.

The importance of teachers eliciting cooperation with students is underscored by a persistent trend in disciplinary referrals: Black students receive a disproportionate number of discipline referrals compared to their enrollment (APA [American Psychlogical Association] Zero Tolerance Task Force, 2006; Gregory & Mosely, 2004; Skiba & Rausch, 2006), a trend that has been documented since the 1970s (Children's Defense Fund, 1975). Black children and adolescents are more likely than other racial groups to be perceived as defiant (Ferguson, 2000; Gregory & Weinstein, 2008) and rule breaking (Wentzel, 2002). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.