Teaching of adults in a relational perspective

Research: Interactions between children and adults may be improved when teachers learn about the development of good relationships and how this may help improve the children’s achievements.

Kindergarten teacher blowing soap bubbles with children. Photo: Steinar Figved. In all adult-child interactions, it is important to be able to accurately read the child's social and emotional signals.

Sabol and Pianta have referred to several studies and interventions that have the effect of improving relationships. In general, there is now greater awareness regarding the adult-child relationships in groups/classes and their significance for improving the functioning and adaptation of the children.

It is important that teachers in kindergartens and schools learn about this and how it may affect and change practices.

The teacher as an agent of change

In all adult-child interactions, it is essential to have the ability to accurately read the social and emotional signals of the child, relate to the signals of the child in an appropriate manner and provide emotional support and limitations when needed (Pianta et al., 2003).

The quality is therefore contingent upon the teachers' individual traits and interpersonal skills. Of particular importance are teacher traits that may be changed to improve the quality of the relationship. Considering the teacher an agent of change for improvement of relationships provides a basis for intervention, training and professional development.

In their article, Sabol and Pianta focus on process-oriented professional development with the intention to improve relationships and interactions between teachers and children.

Effective interventions

Banking time is a series of one-on-one sequences between the child and the teacher that the child controls, and they have been developed specifically to strengthen the relationship between them. The teachers reported an increased sense of being close to the child, and that the children displayed improved task focus and competence, as well as fewer adjustment problems compared with children in the class that had not participated in the intervention.

It has been demonstrated that professional development may improve the observed interactions in the group/class. The objective of My Teaching Partner (MTP) is to support the teachers' representations and conviction regarding the importance of interactions in a kindergarten setting.

Kindergarten teachers in the intervention group that worked with a consultant and had web-based access, had a higher observed quality for the social and instructional interaction with children than kindergarten teachers who only had access to the web-based scheme.

An expanded version of the MPT model was the subject of research at the National Center for Research on Early Childhood Education (NCRECE). The objective of this project was to study the effect of a skills-focused course on how interactions during early learning situations affect the children’s learning and language development. It was reported that teachers who had participated in the course were better able to provide an accurate evaluation of the observed quality of the teacher-child relationships than teachers who not had participated in this course.

May improve the quality of interactions with children

Results from both MPT, NCRECE and Banking Time interventions indicate that schemes with a relational focus and individualistic professional development support for teachers, may improve the quality of the interactions with children.

What is most significant in this context is the fact that improving the teachers' behaviour and awareness through a relational understanding, has proven to be effective also in terms of improving the children’s performance. Sabol and Pianta refer to several studies that support this view. One example is an intervention that focused on both teachers and parents with the intention to improve the relationships vis-à-vis children with behaviour problems.

This resulted in fewer behavioural problems vis-á-vis both parents and teachers. In addition, the authors of the article also refer to interventions that are based on cognitive-behaviour training or that focus on reflection-based schemes. Such schemes have the potential to help teachers become more sensitive in their practices.


Text: Associate Professor Arlene Margaret Arstad Thorsen



Driscoll, K.C., & Pianta, R. C. (2010). Banking Time in Head Start. Early efficacy of an intervention designed to promote supportive teacher-child relationships. Early Education and Development, 21, 38-64.

Pianta, R.C., Hamre, B.K., & Stuhlman, M. (2003). Relationships between teachers and children. In W. Reynolds & G. Miller (Eds.), Handbook of psychology (Vol. 7) Educational psychology (pp. 199–234). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons

Pianta, R.C., Mashburn, A.J., Downer, J., Hamre, B.K., & Justice, L. (2008). Effects of web-mediated professional development resources on teacher-child interactions in prekindergarten classrooms. Early Childhood Quarterly, 23, 431-451.

Sabol, T. J. & Pianta, R. C. (2012) Recent trends in research on teacher-child relationships. Attachment and Human Development, 14:3, 213-231, DOI: 10.1080/14616734.2012.672262