New study explores how teacher-child relationships shape children’s educational expectations

Davis, A. L., & McQuillin, S. D. (2023). Exploring changes in the teacher-child relationship and children’s educational expectations. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 87, 101564.

Summarized by Saniya Soni

About this Study

Student-teacher relationships play a crucial role in children’s development. Children who perceive their teachers as caring and supportive tend to adapt better to school, achieve higher grades, and make choices that promote long-term socio-emotional growth. However, the specific link between changes in teacher-child relationships and shifts in children’s educational expectations remains a relatively unexplored area. To address this gap, researchers investigated the relationship between changes in child-reported closeness with teachers and changes in educational expectations. The study also examined potential moderating factors, such as parental expectations, socioeconomic backgrounds, and academic aptitudes. By delving into these dynamics, researchers aimed to better comprehend how these relationships can be leveraged for targeted interventions, potentially enhancing children’s quality of life in the years ahead through improved educational expectations.

Key Findings:

  • Child-reported closeness with teachers remained relatively stable over time, with strong initial relationships predicting maintenance of closeness in subsequent periods. Child-reported educational expectations also displayed stability over time
  • Positive changes in child-teacher relationships lead to corresponding increases in children’s expectations for college enrollment, emphasizing the importance of supportive teacher-child interactions for educational aspirations and persistence in schools.
  • Children with parents who held low expectations benefited more from improved teacher-child relationship quality, suggesting that nurturing relationships with teachers can be particularly impactful for children who lack high parental expectations.
  • Similarly, children with lower academic abilities experienced greater improvements in educational expectations when their teacher-child relationships strengthened, indicating that teacher support can enhance self-efficacy and expectations for academic success.
  • While changes in teacher-child relationship quality predicted shifts in educational expectations for children with varying parental expectations and academic abilities, the impact on expectations did not significantly differ based on socioeconomic status.

Implications for Mentoring

These findings underscore the lifelong benefits of strong teacher-child relationships, especially for at-risk children. Teachers, who often serve as children’s first “natural mentors” can contribute to building stronger relationships by praising positive behaviors, expressing care, and promoting a positive classroom culture. The findings also highlight the need for intervention programs to enhance teacher-child interactions, particularly for under-resourced students who face persistent achievement gaps. Mentoring programs, for example, can train their mentors to empower children to take ownership of their relationships with teachers to drive positive academic outcomes.

To read this article, click here.