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Understanding the Bidirectional Associations Between Student-Teacher Relationships and Teachers' Wellbeing

Sat, March 23, 9:45 to 11:15am, Baltimore Convention Center, Floor: Level 3, Room 330

Integrative Statement

The importance of close, supportive teacher-student relationships for students’ academic and social-emotional development has been well-established (Berry & O’Connor, 2010; Mason et al., 2017). Recent work has begun to describe how teacher wellbeing may contribute to the quality of these relationships (Becker et al., 2017). Conversely, teachers’ wellbeing may be supported or undermined by the quality of teacher-student relationships (Spilt, Koomen, & Thjis, 2011). Specifically, relationships with students characterized by high conflict might be related to increased emotional exhaustion in teachers, whereas a teacher’s sense of personal accomplishment might be positively influenced by close relationships. Indeed, emerging research (e.g., Corbin et al., 2018; Milano et al., 2015) has begun to document how the quality of teacher-student relationships forecasts teachers’ wellbeing. Yet the potential bidirectional relationship between the quality of teacher-student relationships and teachers’ wellbeing remains unclear, limiting our understanding of how these two processes develop in tandem over time. Therefore, the present study empirically investigates the dynamic relationship between the quality of teacher-student relationships (closeness and conflict) and teachers’ wellbeing (emotional exhaustion [EE] and personal accomplishment [PA]) within an academic year and into the next one.

We hypothesize that over time, teacher-reported EE and PA will be positively associated with relational conflict and closeness, respectively. Similarly, we hypothesize the inverse to be true – that relational conflict and closeness will be positively associated with teacher-reported EE and PA, respectively. Given the exploratory nature of these analyses, we did not have specific hypotheses about the strength of these relationships at different time points.

Study Population
Data come from a randomized control trial of an integrated social-emotional and reading intervention paired with a teacher coaching model. Data were collected in winter and spring of the academic year and include 2,047 third and fourth grade students in 151 classrooms across 27 urban schools. Students were 53% female with a mean age of nine. Teachers were 93% female with an average of 11 years of experience.

Teachers’ wellbeing (EE and PA) was measured using the Maslach Burnout Inventory-Educator Survey (Maslach et al., 1996). Teacher-student relational closeness and conflict were measured using the Student-Teacher Relationship Scale (Pianta, 2001) and aggregated using the classroom-level mean.

Descriptive statistics and bivariate correlations are presented in Table 1. Path analyses examined relationships between fall/winter (Time 1) teacher-reported EE and PA, fall/winter (Time 1) teacher-reported relational closeness and conflict, and spring (Time 2) teacher-reported EE, PA, relational closeness, and conflict. Results indicated that T1 teacher-reported relational closeness and conflict positively predicted T2 teacher-reported PA (β=.30, p < .001) and EE (β=0.26, p < .01), respectively (see Figure 1). The paths between T1 EE and PA and T2 relational closeness and conflict were not statistically significant. Ahead of the conference, a cross-lagged model will analyze these relationships into the next academic year, allowing for a longitudinal view of how teacher-student relational quality and teachers’ wellbeing develop together over time. Implications include understanding the transactions between teacher-student relationships and teachers’ wellbeing to ultimately offer optimal classroom experiences for students.


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