Curry School of Education graduate students Pilar Alamos and Cathy Corbin recently received an Early Career Preventionist Network Graduate Student Poster award at the Society for Prevention Research 2018 annual meeting. Their poster, which examines the quality of teacher-student relationships as a target to prevent teachers' burnout, was among three posters awarded $250 and an SPR subscription.
The students used first-year data from CASTL’s 4Rs+MTP project, a collaboration between CASTL Director Jason Downer and Fordham University’s Joshua Brown. The project combines the evidence-based 4Rs curriculum, which promotes social and emotional learning, with the My Teaching Partner (MTP) teacher coaching model.
While Downer’s project explores the effectiveness of combining the 4Rs curriculum and MTP, Alamos and Corbin analyzed the correlation between the quality of teacher-student relationships (i.e., closeness and conflict) and teachers' burnout (i.e., emotional exhaustion and personal accomplishment).
“Our motivation for this study was to highlight the importance of relationships with students for teachers,” Alamos said. “There is a large body of evidence around the importance of warm, supportive teacher-student relationships for students, but little to no research looks at how these relationships are important for teachers.”
According to Alamos, teachers experience higher levels of burnout compared to other professions. And despite teachers reporting relationships with students as a key reason why they chose to enter and stay in the profession, research shows teachers who feel burnout have a difficult time establishing positive relationships with students.
Alamos and Corbin’s findings suggest the reverse is also true: Negative relationships with students can play a part in teacher burnout.
“Most prior research looks at the influence of teacher well-being on teacher-student relationships. Our work flips this around and posits that teacher-student relationships can be a source of well-being for teachers,” Corbin said.
Based on teacher-reported data gathered over an academic year, their analysis found that the teachers who reported experiencing conflict in relationships with students in the fall reported increased feelings of emotional exhaustion (i.e. physical and emotional depletion) in the spring. In addition, teachers who reported experiencing closeness in relationships with students in the fall reported increased feelings of personal accomplishment (i.e. self-efficacy) in the spring.
Alamos and Corbin’s findings emphasize that teacher-student relationships are a key factor in teachers’ well-being throughout the school year, which in turn impacts students.
“Research shows teacher burnout also negatively impacts the quality of education,” Alamos added. “So there is tremendous value in identifying contributing factors and helping prevent burnout, such as improving the quality of teacher-student relationships.”
While previous research links teacher-student relationships to students’ academic achievement and social-emotional development, Alamos and Corbin are among the first to empirically examine how teacher-student relationships influence teachers' sense of well-being.
“The theoretical papers that argue the importance of teacher-student relationships for teachers have been pivotal for our work. Our poster is unique in that, through testing theoretical models using real data, we were able provide empirical evidence to support these theories,” Alamos said.
Now that empirical evidence connects teacher burnout to teachers’ relationships with students, what is the next step for researchers and educators across the country?
“Our hope is to add to a growing dialogue about how to leverage what ecological resources are available and relevant to teachers (e.g., relationships with students) in order to prevent feelings of burnout and increase feelings of well-being,” Corbin said.
Alamos and Corbin hope further research will examine the associations between teacher-student relationships and burnout to better understand how they influence each other over time.
“Our work provides preliminary evidence that teacher-student relationships influence teachers' sense of well-being,” Corbin said. “More work needs to be done to better understand this mechanism, but now there is potential to target interventions on development of high-quality relationships between teachers and students, not just for the benefit of students, but for teachers as well.”