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  • An Integrative View of School Functioning: Transactions BetweenSelf-Regulation, School Engagement, and TeacherChild Relationship Quality

    Ximena A. PortillaStanford Graduate School of Education

    Parissa J. BallardUniversity of California, San Francisco and

    University of California, Berkeley

    Nancy E. Adler and W. Thomas BoyceUniversity of California, San Francisco

    Jelena ObradovicStanford Graduate School of Education

    This study investigates the dynamic interplay between teacherchild relationship quality and childrens behav-iors across kindergarten and rst grade to predict academic competence in rst grade. Using a sample of 338ethnically diverse 5-year-old children, nested path analytic models were conducted to examine bidirectionalpathways between childrens behaviors and teacherchild relationship quality. Low self-regulation in kinder-garten fall, as indexed by inattention and impulsive behaviors, predicted more conict with teachers in kin-dergarten spring and this effect persisted into rst grade. Conict and low self-regulation jointly predicteddecreases in school engagement which in turn predicted rst-grade academic competence. Findings illustratethe importance of considering transactions between self-regulation, teacherchild relationship quality, andschool engagement in predicting academic competence.

    The transition into formal schooling entails a periodwhen children shift from predominately interactingwith parents and begin interacting with other chil-dren and teachers. As such, children are exposed tonew inuences and settings that shape later experi-ences, marking this transition a sensitive period forlater school success (Rimm-Kaufman & Pianta,2000). These complex social settings place consider-able demands on young children: Kindergartenersneed to form new relationships, control theirimpulses, focus and pay attention, communicatetheir needs appropriately, and engage with learningmaterial. The dynamic interplay among all thesekey ingredients is critical in determining childrens

    school readiness. While many studies have exam-ined relations among some of these elements ofchildrens early schooling to predict future aca-demic achievement, few have investigated thesetogether both concurrently and over time. Thisstudy aims to ll this gap by rigorously investigat-ing the dynamic interplay between teacherchildrelationship quality and childrens behaviors acrossthe kindergarten and rst-grade years to predictacademic competence in rst grade.

    TeacherChild Relationships

    For many young children, kindergarten presentsa time for developing bonds with other adults.Although teachers may appear to be transient g-ures in childrens lives as they progress from gradeto grade, teachers play an important role in shapingchildrens adjustment to the school context.Teacherchild relationships that exhibit high close-ness are characterized by warmth and respect, withchildren seeing their teachers as a source for secu-rity. Conversely, negative teacherchild relation-ships that are characterized by high conict appearto pose risks to childrens school success (Pianta,

    This research was supported by Grant R01 MH62320 from theNational Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Preparation of thismanuscript by Ximena A. Portilla was supported in part by theInstitute of Education Sciences (IES), U.S. Department of Educa-tion, through Grant R305B090016 to Stanford University and aresearch grant from the Canadian Institute for AdvancedResearch (CIFAR) to Jelena Obradovic. The authors acknowledgethe substantive contributions made by Juliet Stamperdahl andNicole R. Bush in collecting and processing the data. The authorsalso thank the teachers, children, and families who participatedand made this research possible. The ndings, conclusions, andopinions here are those of the authors and do not representviews of the NIMH, IES, the U.S. Department of Education, orCIFAR.Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to

    Ximena A. Portilla, Stanford Graduate School of Education, 520Galvez Mall, #407, Stanford, CA 94305. Electronic mail may besent to

    2014 The AuthorsChild Development 2014 Society for Research in Child Development, Inc.All rights reserved. 0009-3920/2014/8505-0014DOI: 10.1111/cdev.12259

    Child Development, September/October 2014, Volume 85, Number 5, Pages 19151931

  • 1999). While teacherchild closeness and conict arerelated constructs, they are only moderately corre-lated, assessing unique aspects of relationship qual-ity as opposed to falling along an underlyingcontinuum.

    It is increasingly evident that the quality of theteacherchild relationship matters for childrenssocial and academic performance in school. Chil-dren who are able to successfully navigate earlysocial environments in school and form close bondswith teachers can be set on positive developmentaltrajectories. Close teacherchild relationships havebeen positively linked to childrens school engage-ment (Birch & Ladd, 1997), academic performance,and good work habits (Baker, 2006; Birch & Ladd,1997; Graziano, Reavis, Keane, & Calkins, 2007;Hamre & Pianta, 2001), and these associations areshown to persist across the elementary schoolgrades (Baker, 2006). Teachers who exhibit strongemotional support in their classrooms have beenshown to improve childrens reading achievementfrom preschool to fth grade (Pianta, Belsky, Van-dergrift, Houts, & Morrison, 2008) and increasephonological awareness from kindergarten to rstgrade (Curby, Rimm-Kaufman, & Ponitz, 2009). Atschool entry, highly sensitive teachers have beenfound to buffer the effects of a negative family con-text for children who have insecure attachmentswith their mothers by reducing childrens risk foraggressive behavior (Buyse, Verschueren, & Dou-men, 2011). Furthermore, positive interactions withteachers may benet children who exhibit the high-est levels of problematic behaviors at the start ofkindergarten (Silver, Measelle, Armstrong, & Essex,2005). These benets appear to extend to otherdomains of adaptive functioning. When comparinga group of children who displayed high levels ofaggression, those who experienced warm relation-ships with their teachers performed better in read-ing achievement than those who did not (Baker,Grant, & Morlock, 2008).

    However, children differ in their ability to con-nect with teachers and capitalize on these experi-ences that promote school success. In particular,conict with teachers may negatively impact chil-drens sense of belonging and perception ofacademic competence, as well as the motivation orengagement necessary to excel in school (Spilt,Hughes, Wu, & Kwok, 2012). In fact, relationshipscharacterized by conict have been associated withgreater school avoidance, lower school engagement,less self-directedness, and less cooperative partici-pation (Birch & Ladd, 1997). Teachers who perceiveyoung children to be aggressive, argumentative, or

    clingy are more likely to be referred for special ser-vices or be retained (Pianta, Steinberg, & Rollins,1995); this provides more evidence of the deleteri-ous consequences for children who experienceconictual relationships with their teachers.Furthermore, kindergarten teacherchild relation-ships characterized by relational negativity pre-dicted lower student grades, standardized testscores and work habits through elementary school,and continued to uniquely predict behavioral dif-culty through middle school (Hamre & Pianta,2001). Hamre and Piantas (2001) ndings highlightthe long reach early teacherchild relationshipconict may have on childrens future academicsuccess.

    Bidirectional Transactions Between TeacherChildRelationship Quality and Child Functioning

    Extending a transactional model of development(Sameroff & MacKenzie, 2003) to a school context,it is theorized that childrens behaviors and theclassroom environment, indexed in this study byrelationship quality with teachers, interact throughbidirectional processes. Over time, the interplaybetween teacherchild relationship quality andchildrens behaviors may form patterns that serveas both inputs and outcomes to childrens develop-ment (Arnold, McWilliams, & Arnold, 1998;Downer, Sabol, & Hamre, 2010). To illustrate,Doumen et al. (2008) found empirical evidence thatchildrens aggressive behavior displayed at kinder-garten onset led to greater teacherchild conict bythe middle of the school year, which in turn led tomore aggressive behavior by those children at theend of the year. Some researchers argue that nega-tive child characteristics largely drive conict withteachers as conict tends to be measured byteachers perceptions of relationship quality and iscomposed of reactive teacher behavior resultingfrom dealing with challenging behavior (Silveret al., 2005).

    Children who perceive their teachers to beaccepting and caring are more likely to internalizelearning and prosocial goals valued by their teach-ers (Wentzel, 1999). By displaying expectedbehavior in the classroom, positive interactions withteachers are theorized to further reinforceacceptable behavior. However, empirical evidencesuggests that teacherchild closeness is only moder-ately associated with child characteristics (Jerome,Hamre, & Pianta, 2009). The degree to which chil-dren and teachers can connect may be more indica-tive of a dynamic pattern building on strengths of

    1916 Portilla, Ballard, Adler, Boyce, and Obradovic

  • both teacher and child, rather than a reactive pat-tern to child characteristics as is conceptualized forteacherchild conict (Spilt et al., 2012).

    Predictors of TeacherChild Relationship Quality andSchool Readiness

    There is general consensus that early experiencesin school are critical for shaping childrens futureacademic careers. Children who achieve academi-c


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