Handbook of Motivation at School

By Kathryn R. Wentzel; David B. Miele | Go to book overview

11
TEACHER-STUDENT RELATIONSHIPS

Kathryn R. Wentzel

There is growing consensus that the nature and quality of children’s relationships with their teachers play a critical and central role in motivating and engaging students to learn (Becker & Luthar, 2002; Pianta, Hamre, & Stuhlman, 2003; Stipek, 2004). Effective teachers are typically described as those who develop relationships with students that are emotionally close, safe, and trusting, that provide access to instrumental help, and that foster a more general ethos of community and caring in classrooms. These relationship qualities are believed to support the development of students’ emotional well-being and positive sense of self, motivational orientations for social and academic outcomes, and actual social and academic skills. They also provide a context for communicating positive and high expectations for performance and teaching students what they need to know to become knowledgeable and productive citizens.

A central question addressed in this chapter is how and why these relationships might be related to students’ motivation to achieve academic and social outcomes at school. Toward this end, this chapter is organized around issues relevant for understanding the role that teacher-student relationships play in children’s lives at school. First, the various theoretical perspectives that guide work in the field are described. Each of these perspectives provides unique assumptions concerning the causal role of teachers in promoting students’ motivation and subsequent competence at school. Next, research on teacherstudent relationships that informs questions of causal influence is reviewed. Measurement and design issues associated with this research also are raised. Finally, directions for future work in this area are offered.


THEORETICAL PERSPECTIVES

The prevailing theoretical models that guide work on teacher-student relationships typically adopt a causal approach, with the affective quality of teacher-student relationships viewed as the central and critical motivator of student adjustment. The basic tenets of attachment theory (Bowlby, 1969; Bretherton, 1987), models of social support (e.g., Sarason, Sarason, & Pierce, 1990; Wentzel, 2004), and self-determination theory (Ryan &

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