Academic journal article School Psychology Review

The Link between Responsive Classroom Training and Student-Teacher Relationship Quality in the Fifth Grade: A Study of Fidelity of Implementation

Academic journal article School Psychology Review

The Link between Responsive Classroom Training and Student-Teacher Relationship Quality in the Fifth Grade: A Study of Fidelity of Implementation

Article excerpt

Abstract. The Responsive Classroom (RC) approach is an instructional delivery and social-emotional learning intervention designed to provide teachers with skills needed to create caring, well-managed classroom environments that are conducive to learning. This study examines the extent to which RC training predicts close student-teacher relationships, as well as negative relationships. Sixty-three fifth-grade teachers and 387 students in 20 schools participated in this study. Schools in the study were randomly assigned to the treatment (RC) or a waitlist control. Observers rated teachers' use of RC practices, and teachers reported their use of RC practices and relationship quality with each child. RC training did not directly predict close or conflictual student-teacher relationships; however, an indirect effect was noted. Training in the RC approach increased teachers' use of RC practices, which in turn related to increased closeness. No indirect effect emerged when predicting conflict. Findings suggest that, with sufficient dosage and adherence, RC practices are one way of boosting close student-teacher relationships.


Decades of research point to the importance of positive student-teacher relationships (Hamre & Pianta, 2001; Midgley, Feldlaufer, & Eccles, 1989; Rudasill, Reio, Stipanovic, & Taylor, 2010). However, supporting teachers' capacity to foster close caring relationships is challenging. Upper elementary school teachers are often responsible for meeting the needs of 15 to 25 students and the pressures of accountability standards that emphasize core academic subjects shift the priorities away from creating warm caring classroom environments that facilitate close student-teacher relationships (Hallinan, 2008; Ryan & Weinstein, 2009).

The shift in priorities away from providing caring environments is concerning given the importance of positive student-teacher relationships to both student and teacher well-being. Close student-teacher relationships appear to have both short- and long-term social and academic benefits for students (Hughes, Luo, Kwok, & Loyd, 2008; Roorda, Koomen, Spilt, & Oort, 2011; Wentzel, 2002; Wu, Hughes, & Kwok, 2010). Furthermore, Spilt, Koomen, and Thijs (2011) suggest that close student-teacher relationships may positively contribute to teachers' motivation and self-efficacy. Ignoring the quality of classroom interactions may lead to negative outcomes for both students (e.g., disengagement, poor school achievement; Eccles et al., 1993) and teachers (e.g., stress, burnout; Spilt et al., 2011). For these reasons, efforts to improve student-teacher relationship quality represent an important point of intervention.

Student-Teacher Relationship Quality

Two dimensions of student-teacher relationships are salient: closeness and conflict (Hamre & Pianta, 2001; McCombs & Miller, 2006; Pianta, 2001; Roorda et al., 2011). Students and teachers with close positive relationships display more pleasure and enjoyment when together. Teachers show closeness through responsive, sensitive, and respectful interactions with students (Ang, 2005; Hamre & Pianta, 2001, 2005), and teachers with close relationships to students tend to report higher levels of warmth and affection and rarely report being irritable or aggravated by the student (Ang, 2005; Pianta, 2001). Teachers who have closer relationships with students have personal knowledge of students' interests and academic strengths, encourage students to reflect on their thinking and learning, and offer students instrumental support to help them achieve academic and social objectives (Ang, 2005; Wentzel, 2003). In contrast, more conflictual student-teacher relationships are characterized by negative affect in which teachers and students show little pleasure when interacting. Teachers who have more conflictual relationships with students describe feeling friction when interacting with the student, feeling relief when the student is absent from class, and feeling drained of energy after interacting with the student (Ang, 2005; Pianta, 2001). …

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