Improving Student Discipline and School Climate by Intentionally Building Positive Student-Teacher Relationships

Kathryn Burke Adelsberger, Fordham University


Teachers at St. Scholastica School, a pseudonym, an all-girls Catholic high school, varied in approaches to discipline creating an unequal distribution of student citations and negatively impacting student experience. An Improvement Science approach identified two potential drivers of change: inconsistency in disciplinary policy and variation in teacher practice related to school climate. A Theory of Action posited that if teachers receive training and ongoing support to improve student-teacher relationships through evidence-based interventions, perceptions of student-teacher relationships would improve and disciplinary infractions would decrease. The study used a mixed methods approach with a convergent design to assess the implementation of two change ideas: use of the Establish-Maintain-Restore (EMR) method and collaborative inquiry. Data collection included the School Climate Survey, Student-Teacher Relationship Scale, Teachers’ Sense of Efficacy Scale Short Form, discipline data, teacher reflection journals, teacher observation protocols, and group inquiry meeting documents. This seven-week intervention, which took place during the global pandemic, is unique given that EMR is typically used in elementary schools. Teacher self-efficacy, knowledge, and practice measurably changed, with teacher participants consistently using EMR strategies: Establish strategies (65.6%), Maintain strategies (32.8%), Restore strategies (1.6%). There was a small positive change in teacher perceptions of student-teacher relationships, but minimal change in student perceptions; for teachers, there was a statistically significant improvement in Closeness and a decrease in Conflict. There was a large but not statistically significant reduction in the mean number of citations during the intervention (M = 3.4 pre; M = 2.5 post).

Subject Area

Education|Educational administration|Educational leadership

Recommended Citation

Adelsberger, Kathryn Burke, "Improving Student Discipline and School Climate by Intentionally Building Positive Student-Teacher Relationships" (2023). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI29995530.