This research explores relationships in schools, specifically interactions between teachers and students. Initially, the research examined an overview of teacher-student relationships and factors that contribute to these interactions. This overview included both teacher and student perceptions and personal characteristics and then examined the effects of teacher-student relationships on education and how teacher and student behaviors affect educational outcomes. The overview of the research literature concluded with how to develop positive relationships. Teacher expectations, attitude, familiarity, and communication all play a role in cultivating relationships in the classroom environment.
The purpose of the research was to determine if improving relationships between teachers and students would decrease off-task behaviors during class. The intervention involved four weeks of initiatives focused on developing improved teacher-student relationships. The mean number of off-task behaviors per student during the weighted baseline period (Mean = 44.33, SD 14.89) was significantly higher than the mean number of off-task behaviors during the intervention period (Mean = 31.08, SD = 9.68) [t(11) = 5.90, p < .001]. As the data was significant, the null hypothesis was rejected.
Receiving a quality education is an important cornerstone in the lives of every individual. It is imperative that students have the tools they need to be successful—tools that include motivation and engagement. For some students, however, motivation is not always intrinsic. It therefore falls to others to guide students along the path to their own education. As teachers spend an incredible amount of time with their students over the course of the year, it is a teacher’s responsibility to foster an inclination for learning. Research has indicated that the relationship between teachers and students is an important predictor of academic engagement and achievement. In fact, the most powerful weapon teachers have, when trying to foster a favorable learning climate, is positive relationships with their students. Students who perceive their teachers as more supportive have better achievement outcomes (Boynton & Boynton, 2005; Spilt, Koomen, & Thijs, 2011; Skinner & Green, 2008; Rimm-Kaufman & Sandilos, 2012; Gehlbach, Brinkworth, & Harris, 2012). Additionally, the learning environment plays a significant role in maintaining student interest and engagement. When students feel a sense of control and security in the classroom, they are more engaged because they approach learning with enthusiasm and vigor. Students become active participants in their own education (Skinner Green, 2008; Maulana, Opdenakker, Stroet, & Bosker, 2013). Therefore, the first step to helping a student become more motivated and engaged, and thus academically successful, is building and maintaining positive teacher-student relationships.
The lack of academic achievement among secondary students is ubiquitous. There are numerous reasons why students may lose interest in school, and engagement is a key factor.
Considering that students spend about twenty-five percent of their waking hours in a classroom, it is essential that students are engaged or they will not be willing to learn. This creates a problem for both the teacher and the student. Throughout an average school day, teachers frequently overhear students complaining about an assignment, a class, or even a teacher. If students have positive relationships with their teachers, they will be more engaged and thus more motivated throughout each of their classes.
The researcher’s interest in this topic has grown from years of personal experiences, observations of others, and both teacher and student testimonials. It was her experiences that indicated students who have positive and meaningful relationships with their teachers are more motived to succeed in school, specifically in the classes in which they have a positive relationship with the teacher. The researcher has also taught classes over the years where the relationships have been strained, and she experienced difficulty connecting with the students. These classes often had a higher number of students who were not intrinsically motived, which resulted in an excessive number of poor grades and failures. Because the researcher wondered if the relationship, or lack thereof, contributed to each student’s lack of motivation, engagement, and academic achievement, her interest in a possible correlation proliferated.
Statement of Problem
The purpose of this study was to determine if building positive relationships between teachers and students impacts students’ academic engagement in the classroom.
The null hypothesis is that there will be no significant statistical differences between the number of off-task behaviors at momentary time sampling ten-minute intervals among underachieving high school English students during a weighted two-week baseline period and a four-week Teacher-Student Relationship Building Intervention period.
Below are the definitions for all relevant variables and concepts used in this study:
Relationships: The way in which two or more people are connected through their interactions; relationships can be defined as either positive or negative.
o Positive Relationships: These relationships include teachers who think about their practice and search for ways to improve it. These teachers give students power and choice in the classroom. These teachers make their students feel a sense of belonging.
o Negative Relationships: These relationships include teachers who do not foster a welcoming environment. They hold all the power and students do not feel a sense of belonging or control.
Off-task behaviors: Off-task behaviors occur while the teacher is reading, providing instruction, or leading and facilitating class discussion. Off-task behaviors also include behaviors that occur when the student is expected to be working independently or collaborating with classmates. These behaviors include sleeping, head down, excessive discussion on unrelated subjects, cell phone use not related to the task, wandering purposelessly around the classroom, or completing work not related to the current subject area. Furthermore, if the student leaves the room to visit the bathroom or the nurse and is not present during the momentary time-sampling interval, this will be included as an off-task behavior if it occurs more than two times during the baseline or four times during the intervention period.
Achievement: Achievement is defined as the level of academic skills demonstrated through both oral and written contributions.
Low Achievement: Low achievement is defined as a student not meeting grade level expectations in the curriculum and is based on both oral and written contributions.
Underachieving High School Students: These are students, based on teacher perception, who have low achievement levels and are often off-task and unengaged. They appear to be underachieving academically relative to their abilities due to lack of engagement.
Academic Engagement: To occupy a student's attention and interest in academic tasks; not demonstrating off-task behaviors; participating in learning activities through independently working on class assignments, contributing to class discussions or working on learning tasks with peers; a student’s willingness and desire to participate in the learning process.
Teacher-Student Relationship Building Intervention: The teacher will modify the conditions of the classroom by greeting students at the door at the start of class and saying goodbye at the end of class. Additionally, the teacher will amplify interactions with participants by engaging them in supplemental, individual conversation before the class period begins.
Momentary Time Sampling: At ten-minute interval points, the teacher observed whether participants were engaging in off-task behaviors