Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Clinical Psychology, PhD



Faculty Advisor

Debra Harkins


This body of research presents outcomes of mixed-method examinations of teachers stated mental models (MMs) for best practice, observed practices (i.e., coconstructed narratives), and quality of teacher-child relationships. Overarching aims of the investigation were: 1) to identify the relationship between teachers’ stated mental models of best practice and adherence patterns 2) to examine narratives of teachers and students to determine which elements of discursive praxis would be associated with relational connectedness, and 3) to examine the relationship between teachers’ stated MMs for effective pedagogic practice and observed teacher-child interactions. Overall, the moderating effects of teacher (e.g., interaction style; goals for instruction) and child (e.g., gender) variables were considered. Six hundred and eighty-five children ranging from kindergarten to fourth grade (325 boys and 360 girls) and 33 teachers from a small suburb in the Northeast United States completed the Student-Teacher Relationship Scale; teachers also completed a questionnaire designed to identify MMs for effective practice. A sub-sample of 19 teachers and 397 kindergarten and first grade children (ages 5-7) were provided a wordless text and asked to co-construct narratives. One finding of this exploration was that some educators did not adhere to stated MMs of best teaching practice when faced with an educational problem. However, those who responded to the problem in concert with stated MMs for teaching were more likely to have engaged in daily dialogue about pedagogic practices with colleagues. Results of narrative inquiry confirm empathic and distancing praxis as predictive of relational indices with significant disparities and interactions found between voices of children and teachers. Specifically, children’s empathic expressions predicted higher ratings of closeness whereas, teachers’ empathy predicted relational distress. Significant gender disparities indicated teachers’ distancing praxis in response to boys’ expressions of vulnerability. Surprisingly, teachers who identified MMs of teaching emphasizing structural consideration (e.g., cognitive, assessment) reported closer relationships with students than teachers who valued process considerations (e.g., relationship, teacher-child interactions) more highly. Qualitative analyses of narrative data revealed a discrepancy between stated MMs for teaching and explicit classroom practice. Nuances of teacherchild engagement revealed the association between relational engagement style and quality of emotion discussions, as well as the moderating role gender played to create disparities in the socialization of emotion understanding. Implications for teacher development and pedagogic practice are discussed.

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