Conflict, Closeness, and Academic Skills: A Longitudinal Examination of the Teacher-Student Relationship

By Mason, Benjamin A.; Hajovsky, Daniel B. et al. | School Psychology Review, June 2017 | Go to article overview

Conflict, Closeness, and Academic Skills: A Longitudinal Examination of the Teacher-Student Relationship


Mason, Benjamin A., Hajovsky, Daniel B., McCune, Luke A., Turek, Joshua J., School Psychology Review


Supportive teacher-student relationships are a critical factor in creating and maintaining a sense of school belonging that encourages positive academic and behavioral outcomes (Anderman & Anderman, 1999; Birch & Ladd, 1997; Gest, Welsh, & Domitrovich, 2005; Wentzel, 1997). Grounded in attachment theory (Ainsworth & Bowlby, 1991), the importance of early relationships in building children's working models of the world and subsequent relationships with others is emphasized. While initial work in attachment theory focused on mother-child relationships, the teacher-student relationship has been investigated with the emerging view that a caring and supportive teacher can make similar, meaningful impacts in shaping youth outcomes (Bretherton, 1992; Hughes, Cavell, & Willson, 2001; Sabol & Pianta, 2012). The teacher-student relationship is typically viewed as consisting of two primary dimensions: Closeness and Conflict. Closeness represents the warmth and positive affect between the teacher and the child and the child's comfort in approaching the teacher, whereas Conflict refers to the negativity or lack of dyadic rapport (Ladd & Burgess, 2001). Consequently, research in public schools has increasingly focused on the role of supportive relationships with teachers as a salient variable related to student outcomes (Eccles et al., 1993; Skinner & Belmont, 1993; Skinner, Zimmer-Gembeck, & Connell, 1998). This focus is understandable, as variables that typically demonstrate the strongest relationships with student achievement (e.g., socioeconomic status, school mobility) are often very difficult to manipulate, and relationships with classroom teachers represent a logical and malleable variable of investigation (Roorda, Koomen, Spilt, & Oort, 2011).

Although some researchers have focused on the improvement of teacher-student relationship quality (TSRQ) (1) as an intervention target (Murray & Malmgren, 2005), investigations of TSRQ are often cross-sectional by design (Decker, Dona, & Christenson, 2007; Mantzicopoulos & NeuharthPritchett, 2003; Murray, Murray, & Waas, 2008; Rey, Smith, Yoon, Somers, & Barnett, 2007). The use of a cross-sectional design has the potential to weaken conclusion validity when directionality is implied. In order to address this limitation, longitudinal studies have been employed to assess for directionality of TSRQ, achievement, and related constructs with teacher-student relationship serving as either an independent or dependent variable (Rudasill, Reio, Stipanovic, & Taylor, 2010). Four models may serve to explain the nature of the relations between achievement and teacher-student relationships. In the first, unidirectional pathways from teacher-student relationships to later achievement are present. In the second, unidirectional pathways from achievement to later teacher-student relationships explain the relations. In the third, a bidirectional model in which both unidirectional associations from earlier teacher-student relationships to later student achievement and earlier achievement to later teacher-student relationships are present. Finally, a fourth model is present in which relational and achievement constructs are correlated with each other at a given time point and results gleaned from predictive analysis are simply artifacts of these within-time correlations.

TEACHER-STUDENT RELATIONSHIP QUALITY PREDICTS ACHIEVEMENT

Theoretically, models of TSRQ predicting achievement are supported by work on creating caring school communities (Battistich, Solomon, Watson, & Schaps, 1997). Citing multisite longitudinal survey data, the authors posited that classrooms in which students feel cared for and respected (a central component of positive TSRQ) will result in more engaged learners. Hamre and Pianta (2001) bolstered this theoretical model by using measures of TSRQ collected at kindergarten to predict academic and disciplinary outcomes at eighth grade for a sample of 179 children (60% European American, 40% African American). …

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