Academic journal article School Psychology Review

Widening the View on Teacher-Child Relationships: Teachers' Narratives concerning Disruptive versus Nondisruptive Children

Academic journal article School Psychology Review

Widening the View on Teacher-Child Relationships: Teachers' Narratives concerning Disruptive versus Nondisruptive Children

Article excerpt

Abstract. The goal of the present study was to obtain evidence for the validity of the Teacher Relationship Interview by exploring associations with a well-validated measure of teacher-child relationship quality, the Student-Teacher Relationship Scale (Closeness, Conflict, and Dependency), and examining differences between teachers' narratives about the relationship with a disruptive and a nondisruptive child in their class. Six constructs were derived from teachers' narratives (N = 90) that were elicited with the Teacher Relationship Interview: sensitive practices, positive affect, helplessness, anger, neutralizing negative affect, and coherence. Multilevel analyses showed moderate convergence between the Student-Teacher Relationship Scale and the Teacher Relationship Interview. Expressed anger was related to relational conflict, whereas positive affect and low levels of helplessness appeared associated with close relationships. The coherence of the narrative and the tendency to neutralize negative emotions were positively associated with conflict. No unique associations were found with teachers' narrated sensitive practices. Furthermore, anger and helplessness appeared more prominent in narratives about relationships with disruptive children.

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Developmental scholars and school psychologists increasingly adopt a relational perspective to understand children's development within the school context. Accumulating evidence demonstrates that warm and open teacher-child relationships foster children's social-emotional and academic functioning, whereas high levels of conflict and discordance hamper children's development (e.g., Baker, 2006; Hamre & Pianta, 2001; Ladd & Burgess, 2001; O'Connor & McCartney, 2007; Palermo, Hanish, Martin, Fabes, & Reiser, 2007; Pianta, Steinberg, & Rollins, 1995; Pianta & Stuhlman, 2004). From the perspective of the teacher, poor teacher-child relationships have been related to low levels of competence and job satisfaction, and high levels of teaching stress (Koomen, Verschueren, & Pianta, 2007). Together, these findings suggest that favorable teacher-child relationships contribute to the well-being of both teachers and children. However, evidence is mainly based on research that has employed teacher report questionnaires. In the present study, we aimed to widen the view on teacher-child relationships by eliciting information from teachers through semistructured interviews. Furthermore, we focused on relationships with disruptive children because children at risk of maladaptive development are especially sensitive to teacher-child relationship quality (e.g., Burchinal, Peisner-Feinberg, Pianta, & Howes, 2002; Meehan, Hughes, & Cavell, 2003; Silver, Measelle, Armstrong, & Essex, 2005; Hughes, Cavell, & Jackson, 1999).

Assessment of Teacher-Child Relationship Quality

The Student-Teacher Relationship Scale (STRS; Pianta, 2001) is the most widely used scale to assess teacher perceptions of relationships with students in primary education. This scale contains the dimensions of closeness (i.e., warmth and open communication), conflict (i.e., discordant interactions), and dependency (i.e., overly dependent and clingy child behavior), and has proven a valuable measure of relationship quality. The conflict dimension in particular appears to be a salient characteristic of relationships with disruptive children. Children with externalizing behavior are at risk for vicious cycles of increasingly conflictual interactions that, in turn, jeopardize their subsequent school trajectories (e.g., Doumen, Verschueren, Buyse, Germeijs, Luyckx, & Soenens, 2008; Ladd & Burgess, 2001). On the other hand, it has been found that emotional support and closeness function as protective factors for children with behavior problems (e.g., Ladd & Burgess, 2001; Meehan et al., 2003; Silver et al., 2005). These findings are important for school psychologists and other practitioners who are interested in the prevention of children's behavior problems. …

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