A good deal of literature provides evidence that strong relationships between students and their teachers are essential to the development of all students in school (Hamre & Pianta, 2006; Gallagher, 1998). Hamre& Pianta report that positive student-teacher relationships are a valuable resource for students. They suggest that having a positive relationship with a teacher allows students to be able to work on their own because they know they can count on their teacher if problems arise – that the teacher will recognize and respond to the problem. As children enter formal school settings, relationships with teachers provide the foundation for successful adjustment to the social and academic environment (p. 49).
Hamre & Piantha recommend that “talking with a teacher and conducting observations in the classroom will provide important and unique information for designing interventions” (p. 55). These researchers conclude that “forming strong and supportive relationships with teachers allows students to feel safer and more secure in the school setting, feel more competent, make more positive connections with peers, and make greater academic gains” (p. 57).
Although research is growing in this area, more empirical evidence is needed on aspects of student-teacher relationships in order to better effectively integrate this skill into existing teacher programs (Hamre & Pianta, 2006; Sarason, 1999; Crosnoe, Johnson, & Elder (2004).
Research on factors related to quality in classrooms suggests that teachers’ attitudes and beliefs about children are very important components to predicting the quality of a child’s education (Pianta, LaParo, Payne, Cox, & Bradley, 2002). A teacher’s personal interactions with his or her students can make a significant difference for students. The importance of teachers’ relationships with their students cannot be overstated according to Downey (2008). As Darling-Hammond (2006) explains it, “teaching is in the service of students, which creates the expectation that teachers will be able to come to understand how students learn and what students need if they are to learn effectively – and that they will incorporate that into their teaching” (p. 4). It is this idea of determining what needs to be incorporated into instruction for effective learning that I would like to investigate using an authentic learning environment through an illuminative case study.
The current research base focuses broadly on teacher-student relationships. This study will describe purposeful affective strategies and interactions with students that a teacher uses to effectively engage students in the learning process. This study will contribute to the field of education by providing teachers and administrators with guidance on relationship-building strategies that a highly effective teacher utilizes in a real world, authentic setting – the classroom. After completing an ecological study on teacher-child relationships and behavior problems, O’Connor, Dearing, & Collins (2011) write that in regard to teacher education, their study demonstrates “the importance of fostering elementary school teachers’ awareness of the role of their relationship with students, and provides teachers with information as to how to support high quality relationships with their students” (p. 152).
As Darling-Hammond (2006) believes, “it is up to the educators to instruct policy makers and the public about what it takes to teach effectively in today’s world” (p. 3). She feels educators have little input in helping to create the kinds of learning environments that allow teachers to practice well and allow children to learn and succeed (Darling Hammond, 2006). What we can learn through this case study is an attempt to reclaim a voice in shaping quality teaching practices that children thrive in.
The concept of teachers building relationships with their students in order to be seen as a credible and trustworthy source of information is a worthwhile endeavor for long term learning (McCombs & Whisler, 1997; Wubbels & Brekelmans, 2005; Langer, 1997). For the purpose of this study I will focus on actual practices and deliberate steps a teacher takes to build relationships with her students in order to effectively deliver the instruction necessary for learning.