Teacher-child relationships, classroom emotional climate, and elementary students' social-emotional and academic development

Christina L Rucinski, Fordham University


Previous work has demonstrated that individual teacher-child relationship quality and classroom-level emotional climate are each related to students’ social-emotional and academic development, yet work that examines quality of interactions at both child level and classroom level is limited. The current study used multilevel modeling to investigate whether changes in teacher-child relationship quality as perceived by both teachers and children are associated with child social-emotional and academic outcomes over one upper elementary school year. Furthermore, this study examined the quality of classroom emotional climate as a potential moderator of these associations. Participants included 526 students nested within the classrooms of 35 third- through fifth-grade teachers from six urban public schools. Decreases over the year in child reports of relationship quality predicted higher internalizing and externalizing behaviors and lower academic performance, while increases in teacher-reported conflict predicted higher externalizing behavior. Significant cross-level interactions were found for externalizing, indicating that classroom emotional climate may serve as a protective factor against aggression for children with poor teacher relationships. Overall, a lack of significant interaction effects suggests that classroom-level emotional support did not compensate for low-quality teacher-child relationships. These findings suggest that teachers in upper elementary school should attend to the emotional needs of their students in addition to instructional needs, and should be trained and supported in developing positive relationships with each of their students. The significance of child-reported relationship quality as a unique predictor of child outcomes suggests that students’ perceptions of their relationships with teachers should be incorporated in future studies.

Subject Area

Educational psychology|Developmental psychology

Recommended Citation

Rucinski, Christina L, "Teacher-child relationships, classroom emotional climate, and elementary students' social-emotional and academic development" (2015). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI1601580.