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[en] Theoretical background
School climate is a key construct with great potential to impact student outcomes. The construct is multidimensional and includes, for instance, academic, community, safety, and institutional environment aspects (Wang & Degol, 2016). While the dimensions may vary, researchers widely agree that teacher-student relationships play a vital role in establishing a positive school climate (Wang et al., 2020). Their role can be explained by Bronfenbrenner's (1979) bioecological theory identifying the driver of human development as the interaction with the persons in our closest (proximal) environment. Thus, in a school setting, emotional warmth and closeness or conflict and dependence in teacher-student relationships should also be associated with positive/negative student outcomes.
Several meta-analyses uncovered significant associations between teacher-student relationships and school engagement, good peer relationships, executive functioning, well-being, and reductions in aggressive or disruptive behaviors (Endedijk et al., 2021; Nurmi, 2012; Roorda et al., 2011; Vandenbroucke et al., 2018). However, these meta-analyses differed in their methods and substantive findings. Moreover, the extant literature is ambiguous about which moderators (e.g., age) influence these relationships. Furthermore, the reporting and quality of meta-analyses in this field vary considerably, which can compromise the reliability and validity of their findings.
Given these research gaps, we systematically searched and reviewed the meta-analytic literature (Cooper & Koenka, 2012) to provide an overview of correlations between teacher-student relationships and student outcomes. In doing so, we examined three research questions:
1. To what extent are academic, behavioral, socio-emotional, motivational, and cognitive student outcomes associated with teacher-student relationships in the meta-analytic literature?
2. Which moderators influence these associations?
3. What is the methodological quality of the included meta-analyses?
After preregistration, a systematic literature search was conducted. During several screening rounds, we identified 24 appropriate meta-analyses that included approximately meta-analytic 130 effect sizes for over one million students. From these meta-analyses, we extracted effect sizes on the association between teacher-student relationships and academic, behavioral, socio-emotional, motivational, and general cognitive student characteristics. We summarized the results for research questions 1 and 2 and developed a narrative overview. For research question 3, we assessed the quality of the meta-analyses using the AMSTAR-2 scale (adapted to correlational studies in psychology and education research; Shea et al., 2017).
Findings and their significance
Looking at the teacher-student relationship aspect of school climate, a variety of outcome variables were analyzed. The strongest associations were shown for negative teacher-student relationships with student behavior problems (r = .35 bis .57; Nurmi, 2012). Positive teacher-student relationships showed the strongest association with school involvement (r = .26 bis .34; Roorda et al., 2011), prosocial, externalizing, and internalizing behaviors (r = .25; Endedijk et al., 2021), and learning motivation combined with student involvement (r = .23; Wang et al., 2020). Age and grade level were the most frequently examined moderators, with partially contradicting findings. Gender differences, on the other hand, were found less frequently. At the same time, an informant effect was frequently examined, that is, whether and in what ways teachers, student peers, or the students themselves rated the teacher-student relationship. For research question 3, we discuss differences in reporting and the quality range of meta-analyses.
With this preregistered systematic review of meta-analyses, we summarize the research landscape on correlates of the teacher-student relationship aspect of school climate. Following our findings and the bioecological theory, teachers should be made aware of the impact of teacher-student relationships and how they could contribute to a positive school climate via relationship building. Some interventions to improve these important relationships have already been meta-analytically studied with promising results (Kincade et al., 2020). Next, we need experiments to causally confirm positive teacher-student relationships as an effective strategy for improving academic, behavioral, socio-emotional, motivational, and cognitive student outcomes and school climate at large. Finally, future research should structure the broad range of conceptualizations of teacher-student relationships and review the variety of theories to explain their impact on student outcomes.
Bronfenbrenner, U. (1979). The ecology of human development: Experiments by nature and design. Harvard university press.
Cooper, H., & Koenka, A. C. (2012). The overview of reviews: Unique challenges and opportunities when research syntheses are the principal elements of new integrative scholarship. American Psychologist, 67(6), 446–462. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0027119
Endedijk, H. M., Breeman, L. D., van Lissa, C. J., Hendrickx, M. M. H. G., den Boer, L., & Mainhard, T. (2021). The Teacher’s Invisible Hand: A Meta-Analysis of the Relevance of Teacher–Student Relationship Quality for Peer Relationships and the Contribution of Student Behavior. Review of Educational Research, 003465432110514. https://doi.org/10.3102/00346543211051428
Kincade, L., Cook, C., & Goerdt, A. (2020). Meta-Analysis and Common Practice Elements of Universal Approaches to Improving Student-Teacher Relationships. Review of Educational Research, 90(5), 710–748. https://doi.org/10.3102/0034654320946836
Nurmi, J.-E. (2012). Students’ characteristics and teacher–child relationships in instruction: A meta-analysis. Educational Research Review, 7(3), 177–197. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.edurev.2012.03.001
Roorda, D. L., Koomen, H. M. Y., Spilt, J. L., & Oort, F. J. (2011). The Influence of Affective Teacher–Student Relationships on Students’ School Engagement and Achievement: A Meta-Analytic Approach. Review of Educational Research, 81(4), 493–529. https://doi.org/10.3102/0034654311421793
Shea, B. J., Reeves, B. C., Wells, G., Thuku, M., Hamel, C., Moran, J., Moher, D., Tugwell, P., Welch, V., Kristjansson, E., & Henry, D. A. (2017). AMSTAR 2: A critical appraisal tool for systematic reviews that include randomised or non-randomised studies of healthcare interventions, or both. BMJ, j4008. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.j4008
Vandenbroucke, L., Spilt, J., Verschueren, K., Piccinin, C., & Baeyens, D. (2018). The Classroom as a Developmental Context for Cognitive Development: A Meta-Analysis on the Importance of Teacher–Student Interactions for Children’s Executive Functions. Review of Educational Research, 88(1), 125–164. https://doi.org/10.3102/0034654317743200
Wang, M.-T., & Degol, J. L. (2016). School Climate: A Review of the Construct, Measurement, and Impact on Student Outcomes. Educational Psychology Review, 28(2), 315–352. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10648-015-9319-1
Wang, M.-T., L. Degol, J., Amemiya, J., Parr, A., & Guo, J. (2020). Classroom climate and children’s academic and psychological wellbeing: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Developmental Review, 57, 100912. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dr.2020.100912