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Assessment: Identifying Resources

The theory and research presented in the previous chapter illustrate the importance of teacher-child relationships in promoting children's success in school. Although many teachers take advantage of or work to promote the resources available in their relationships with students, others do not. This chapter describes methods for identifying teachers, children, and relationships in need of additional attention and support. Through the assessment process, which focuses on observable behavior and mental representations of both children and teachers, the consultant can begin to identify problem areas as well as resources, which can be the focus of the interventions described in the next two chapters. Key to the process of assessment is an understanding that child-teacher relationships are a resource for children's development and that they involve many components (see Chapter 1).

Before describing actual assessment procedures, it is important to clarify the link between teachers' classroom roles and functions and the model of child-adult relationships presented in the previous chapter. Teachers routinely function as prominent adult figures in children's lives. They perform a myriad of functions in response to children's needs, functions that define the nature of the experiences of teacher and child in relation to one another. These experiences, in turn, ultimately construct the relationship formed between the teacher and child. Thus, relationship assessments must attempt to integrate the various roles and functions teachers play in the classroom-instructor, socialization agent, caregiver, peer-mediator, organizer.

Description and assessment of relationships are best when informed by multiple perspectives, by multiple methods, across multiple occasions, and in multiple contexts. In this way, assessment is like the relationship itself; it is a synthesis of data. In the case of teacher-child relationships, it is important for the consultant to take the time to gain at least three critical perspectives-the child's view, the teacher's view, and an outsider's view-all of which have a great deal to tell us about a given relationship.

The following assessment procedures may be used in a variety of ways by professionals, throughout the process of working to improve relationships. Because this is a fairly new field, the number of well-validated techniques is few. In this discussion of instruments, emphasis will be placed on those tools that have demonstrated adequate psychometric properties and have a strong theoretical grounding. Following a discussion of these procedures, a series of scenarios are presented that describe some of the possibilities for the use of various assessment methods.

Assessing Teacher-Child Relationships: The Child's View

Methods for assessing teacher-child relationships from the child's view include the use of interview and questionnaire methods. The reader should be familiar with the limitations of self-report measures in the sense that they may not adequately correlate with behavior, yet should also recognize that one goal of assessing relationships is to examine and describe each individual's view of the relationship. Interviews are one method for accomplishing this. Depending on the age and developmental/cognitive level of the child, professionals may use only one of the above assessment methods, or some combination of all of them. The method used should be the one that is most able to gain access to the child's representation of the relationship. Some young children may be quite at ease talking and answering questions, while others will respond more openly to the play interview techniques. Similarly, although most older children are capable of answering questions, some are apt to be more effective in communicating difficult thoughts and feelings through play. Frequently, even with older children, it is advisable to have some play materials available to facilitate the discussion.

The following procedures are intended to provide guidelines for assessing children; however, each situation requires accommodations and flexibility on the part of the interviewer.

Semi-structured interviews.

Although there are a range of informal interview techniques used to ask children about classroom life, and a question or two about teachers are usually included on structured interviews, there are few, if any, formal interviews that focus on the child's view of relationships with teachers. Goldstein's (1993) Clinical Interview Form and Sattler (1997) provide good examples of measures that are fairly generic approaches to interviewing children about classroom experiences. Certain adaptations can be made to increase the content of these and other similar interviews with respect to teacher-child relationships.

The worksheet entitled, "Gaining the Child's Perspective on Relationships with Teachers: A Semi-Structured Interview" provides suggested questions and topics for conducting an interview with a child concerning his relationship with a teacher. The questions have been culled from several interview protocols used with a large number of children across the elementary-to-middle school age range. (Very young children and children with cognitive limitations may be more comfortable with a play interview, discussed in the next section.) The semi-structured interview begins by helping the child identify the teacher with whom he spends the most time. The interview then probes for the child's positive and negative feelings about a particular teacher, as well as the extent to which the child views the teacher as a resource.

In interviewing children about relationships with teachers, a few general principles should be observed. First, children may not respond to direct questions about their own experience, but may readily respond to the same question if posed about children in general, or other children in their class. Second, once a child has responded, the interviewer should affirm the child's view and gently probe to elicit specific examples of the experience in question. In fact, one goal of the interview should be to attempt to elicit information on relationships at the level of specific experiences. A respondent's ability to recount specific experiences is a good indicator of their willingness to evaluate the relationship and often a sign of a "healthy" representational model, relative to respondents that cannot or will not recount specifics. Children, however, may have more difficulty recalling specific incidents and therefore may require prompting with statements such as, "Can you think of a time yesterday that happened?" or "Tell me about a time that happened recently during reading class." However, the interviewer must take care to not badger the child or have the interview by a question-and-answer session. Good interviews with children are a lot like conversations.

A third principle for interviewing children concerns the way the interviewer interprets the child's statements. The interviewer should approach the interview as an opportunity to gain information about the child's representational model of the relationship he has with the teacher. This model is the child's view of reality and, like representations of other relationships, is based upon what the child has experienced and what he has observed, across numerous instances. Therefore, the information gained during this interview should be used in conjunction with information provided by the teacher and collected through observation, in order to gain the most complete picture of the teacher-child relationship.

Play interviews.

With young school-age children, George and Solomon (1991) describe the use of a doll-story technique for eliciting children's representations of relationships with parents that has also been used on a limited basis with teachers, with some success. This technique is a semi-structured play interview in which the child is given a set of props (such as a dollhouse or school/classroom setting) and dolls, and the interviewer poses the task for the child as one of completing the story from the stem the interviewer offers. The worksheet, "Conducting a Play Interview" contains detailed information on procedures to assess teacher-child relationships. There are a series of stems that reflect aspects of teacher-child relationships (e.g., protection under conditions of danger, socialization, facilitating exploration).

The George and Solomon (1991) technique has demonstrated reliability and validity in small-sample studies of preschool and elementary age children, but has not been subject to large-scale psychometric analysis. A range of other similar techniques has proliferated in recent years on studies of child-parent relationships, as attempts to gain information on children's perceptions of those relationships. They have not been applied or developed for children's perceptions of relationships with teachers, but show promise for that purpose. At this point, such techniques must be considered somewhat experimental although promising.


There are several sets of questionnaire methods for assessing child-teacher relationships that show considerable promise for use by psychologists working in schools. Like interviews, these methods can also be used to examine children's representations of child-teacher relationships. Wellborn and Connell's (1987) Relatedness Scale has been used in several studies with children who range in ages and risk level (Lynch & Cicchetti, 1992, 1997; Toth & Cicchetti, 1996). This seventeen-item child-report scale assesses two dimensions of children's' relationship experience, "emotional quality" and "psychological proximity-seeking."

Emotional quality refers to the range of emotions (positive and negative) that a child experiences with the teacher in an attempt to capture the overall emotional tone of the relationship from the child's perspective. Questions are rated on a four-point scale and include items such as, "When I'm with my teacher, I feel happy." Specific emotions assessed include relaxed, ignored, happy, bored, mad, important, unimportant, scared, safe, and sad. Alpha reliabilities for this scale have been reported in the range of .74 to .84.

Psychological proximity-seeking assesses the degree to which children desire to be psychologically closer to the adult. Four-point ratings are made on items such as, "I wish my teacher paid more attention to me" and "I wish my teacher knew me better." Alpha reliabilities for this scale have been reported to range from .86 to .88.

The Relatedness Scale has adequate psychometrics, and Lynch and Cicchetti (1992) have described procedures for deriving five patterns of relatedness between children and teachers: optimal, adequate, deprived, disengaged, and confused. Children with optimal patterns report higher-than-average positive emotion and lower-than-average psychological proximity seeking. Deprived patterns are associated with lower-than-average emotional quality and higher-than-average proximity seeking. These children do not experience positive emotion and want to be closer to the teacher. Children with disengaged patterns report low emotional quality and low psychological proximity seeking. They are insecure and dissatisfied, but do not want to be closer to their teachers. Children with confused patterns report high emotional quality and extremely high proximity seeking. They seem very needy despite reporting feeling secure. Finally, children with average patterns are in the mid-range on both dimensions. These patterns reflect the different organizations of emotional tone and involvement that are very similar to patterns described by Pianta (1994) for teacher report.

Interestingly, Lynch and Cicchetti (1992) have established that maltreated children, as a result of experiences with parents, are sensitized to seek certain relational experiences with teachers. They are less likely to form optimal relational patterns or to seek psychological proximity and support from teachers. Thus the Relatedness Scale provides information on student representational models of their relationship with a teacher that correlate with their experiences in relationships with parents. The Scale provides a window on the child's experiences and representations of relationships that can help a consultant gain valuable information regarding both sides of a child-teacher relationship.

Wentzel (1996) reports on the use of two child-report scales that examine aspects of the child-teacher relationship from the child's perspective. The first, Perceived Caring, is a dimension assessed using the Classroom Life Measure (Johnson, Johnson, Buckman, & Richards, 1985). This short (eight-item) scale assesses the degree to which the child experiences social support and concern from teachers, and has high alpha reliability (.86) for such a brief instrument. Questions involve the child rating the degree to which he experiences the teacher as a help or support in instructional and social situations, and the extent to which he experiences the teacher as a caring, concerned adult. Children's perceptions of teacher support and caring have been related to a range of teacher behaviors as well as student outcomes (Wentzel, 1996) and appear to tap aspects of students' representations of these relationships.

The second scale described by Wentzel (1996) is the Teacher Treatment Inventory (Weinstein & Marshall, 1984). It examines aspects of teacher behavior that map onto feedback functions in the model of adult-child relationships. This instrument involves student ratings of the teacher's behavior and examines perceptions of teacher expectations, individual attention to the student, and nurturance. The items assess the degree to which the child perceives teacher expectations as fair, consistent, and accurate; the degree to which the child feels the teacher attends and responds to his individual needs as a student; and how caring or concerned the teacher behaves toward the child. These dimensions also show adequate alpha reliability and correlate with a range of student performance outcomes (Wentzel, 1996). Used with upper-elementary and middle-school students, the Perceived Caring scale and the Teacher Treatment Inventory provide a fairly comprehensive picture of the child-teacher relationship from a child's perspective.

As with most self-report measures, caution must be taken in using these instruments with young children, and most of them would be inappropriate for children younger than eight years old. Even with older children, the consultant should be aware of the child's reading abilities before administering the questionnaire and may find it more appropriate to read the questions aloud to ensure the child's comprehension. Using this method, the consultant may choose to follow up on some of the child's responses to gain a more complete understanding of the child's perspective. With younger children, the consultant may also provide picture representations of the response choices to which the child can point. While questionnaires can be used to gain important information, they should not be used in isolation to represent the child's perspective about the teacher-child relationship. Together with the interview procedures described above, however, this set of questionnaires embodies an approach to examining child-teacher relationships from the child's perspective and offers a valuable window for a consultant focused on relationship processes in the classroom.

Assessing Teacher-Child Relationships: The Teacher's View

Assessments of child-teacher relationships using the teacher as an informant are more well-developed than those utilizing the child as an informant. These techniques include interview and questionnaire methods and are subject to the same criticisms of self-report measures that were mentioned for child measures.

Teacher Relationship Interview.

Just as there are interviews that elicit children's descriptions of their relationships with adults that can be adapted for relationships with teachers, so there are analogous interviews for eliciting adults' representations of their relationships with children. Although primarily validated and used with parents, these interviews have recently been adapted for use with teachers (Pianta, 1997).

Based on work with the Parent Development Interview (Pianta, O'Connor, Morog, Button, Dimmock, & Marvin, 1993), Pianta (1997) and colleagues developed the Teacher Relationship Interview [TRI]. This interview is presented in the worksheet, "Gaining the Teacher's Perspective: The Teacher Relationship Interview." The TRI can be used to provide qualitative information about the teacher's impressions of a relationship with a particular child. Additionally, there is a scoring system, available on request from the author, which may be useful in order to provide more quantitative information.

The TRI is based on other interviews that elicit representations of relationships, such as the Adult Attachment Interview (Main & Goldwyn, 1994). It contains questions regarding a teacher's general description of her relationship with a particular child, followed by questions on specific topics or themes/situations such as discipline/ socialization, facilitation of achievement, efficacy, and affect. Like other interviews that elicit representations, teachers are probed throughout the interview to provide examples for their characterizations of the relationship, as well as their thoughts and feelings associated with these episodes.

The scoring system used to code interview responses is designed to be sufficiently flexible to be applied to almost any semi-structured interview of adult perceptions of relationships, and can be used in applied and research contexts.

In the scoring system, adults' representations of their relationship with a target child are assessed with respect to three areas: a) content or themes represented, b) how the teacher views herself in relation to the child, and c) the affective tone of representations. Together, these three areas provide a fairly comprehensive view of representations with respect to a given teacher-child relationship, from the teacher's perspective. Responses are coded on three-point rating scales. The Content area includes scales such as "Compliance," "Achievement," and "Secure Base," and reflects the degree to which these themes are present in the teacher's responses. The Process area includes scales such as "Perspective-taking" and "Agency," reflecting the stance the teacher takes vis-a-vis the child's expressed or perceived needs. The Affect area includes "Positive Affect" and "Negative Affect" scales. Additionally, there is an overall "Coherence" rating that gauges the teacher's ability to speak truthfully and comfortably about her relationship with the child. The scoring system is open-ended in the sense that questions could be added to the interview and scales could be added to the scoring system.

In one study using the TRI, two independent raters achieved a mean reliability of .71 when coding 51 TRI's. Reliability was assessed through interclass correlations for each scale. Additional indices of reliability included overall exact agreement for the three scale points (80%) and presence-absence agreement (87%).

Validity analyses have shown that some aspects of teachers' responses to this interview are related to aspects of their behavior toward the identified children in the classroom, as well as to those children's behavior toward the teachers. For example, teachers who frequently talk about child compliance during the interview tend to display less positive affect toward the child and tend to spend less time teaching academic skills. Additionally, teachers talking about their relationship with boys tend to talk more about compliance issues during the course of the interview. Teachers with high scores on the Neutralizing Negative Affect scale, which measures discomfort with or avoidance of discussion about difficult topics such as children's misbehavior and sadness or about their own emotional reaction to children, are less likely to teach academic skills, less sensitive in interaction with the child, and use discipline more often than do teachers who discuss these topics more readily.

In preliminary studies, the Affect scales of the TRI appear to have the strongest associations with the classroom behaviors of the teacher and child. When teachers frequently express positive affect while discussing their relationship with a child, the child tends to show less non-compliance and negativity in the classroom. Teachers who express more frequent negative feelings during the interview tend to spend more time disciplining and less time one-on-one with the child. The children discussed by these more negative teachers are also more likely to display negative affect in the classroom.

At this stage of its development, the TRI would not be useful for educational decision-making, but can be a tool used by psychologists who require a structured means for eliciting teachers' perceptions of themselves in relation to a particular child, in the context of a consultation process. Evidence suggests that the TRI elicits a wide range of individual differences and that it is a method that can be used to facilitate a discussion about relationships when working with teachers. As with other methods of assessment discussed in this chapter, it should be emphasized that the TRI is only one piece of an assessment package, and a piece that focuses exclusively on child-teacher relationships from the teacher's perspective. As such, use of the TRI (and other methods) should be embedded in a battery of measures that assess aspects of classroom behavior such as instruction and behavior management (see Goldstein, 1995).

The Student-Teacher Relationship Scale.

The Student-Teacher Relationship Scale [STRS] (Pianta, 1994) is currently the only standardized and validated instrument available for assessing teacher's perceptions of student-teacher relationships. As such, the STRS offers an opportunity for school professionals to focus on this important context for development and school adjustment. It blends theory on child-adult attachment with research on the importance of early school experiences in determining the trajectories of children's school progress. The STRS has undergone extensive development and revision in many studies over the course of the last five years.

The STRS is a 28-item rating scale designed to assess teachers' perceptions of their relationship with a particular student. There is also a 15-item short form available for situations in which a teacher may be asked to fill out the STRS on all of the children in her classroom. The STRS and the STRS-Short Form are included in the Appendix, along with guidelines for scoring and interpreting the results of each. The items on this questionnaire were written to assess a teacher's feelings and beliefs about her relationship with a student, and her feelings and beliefs about the student's behavior toward her. It has been used extensively in studies of preschool and elementary age children (e.g., Birch & Ladd, 1997, 1998; Howes & Ritchie, 1999 ; Hamilton & Howes, 1992).

The STRS has three sub-scales (see Pianta, et al., 1995): Conflict, Closeness, and Dependency. The Conflict scale measures the extent to which the teacher and child are at odds with each other. It contains such items as, "This child easily becomes angry at me" and "This child and I always seem to be struggling with each other." The Closeness factor assesses positive affect and the degree to which the child and teacher communicate about personal items. This scale contains items such as, "I share an affectionate, warm relationship with this child," "If upset, this child will seek comfort from me," and "This child spontaneously shares information about him/herself." The four-item Dependency factor measures the child's degree of developmentally inappropriate dependency and includes the items, "This child is overly dependent on me" and "This child reacts strongly to separation from me." The work on which these sub-scales is based includes more than 1,400 child subjects and more than 200 teachers from classrooms and preschools across the United States including Arizona, California, Connecticut, Colorado, North Carolina, Wisconsin, and Virginia (Saft & Pianta, 1999). This sample nearly matches the U.S. Census in race/ethnicity distributions and reflects a wide range of socioeconomic status, as well as an age range of three to seven years.

Validity studies indicate that the STRS correlates in predictable ways with concurrent measures of behavior problems and competencies in elementary classrooms (e.g., Pianta, 1994; Pianta, et al., 1995), peer relations (Birch & Ladd, 1997), cost and quality of the child care environment (Cost, Quality and Child Outcomes Study Team, 1995), future academic and disciplinary performance (Hamre & Pianta, 1999) and the behavior of children and teachers toward one another (Birch & Ladd, 1998; Greene, Abidin, & Kmetz, in press; NICHD Early Child Care Network, in preparation). The Conflict score relates to observations of child misbehavior, off-task behavior, emotionally negative interactions, and ineffective behavior management. Dependency correlates with high levels of help-seeking by children, physical proximity-seeking by the child, emotionally negative interactions, and high levels of teacher responding to the specific child. Closeness is related to moderate levels of involvement and responding to the child, and strongly related to emotionally positive interactions.

In sum, the STRS appears to be an instrument that is sensitive to teacher-child interactions, teachers' decisions about the child's school career, and the child's current and future school adjustment. Its normative base of more than 1,400 children of varying ages and backgrounds makes it probably the most psychometrically advanced instrument available for the assessment of relationships between teachers and children. However, the STRS is limited by the fact that it assesses relationships only from the teacher's perspective and, therefore, should be used in combination with other measures that assess behavior as well as the child's perspective.

Observations of Teacher-Child Relationships

There is a range of tools available for observing child-teacher interactions that reflect the quality of their relationship. These tools include omnibus classroom observation systems as well as more focused systems. It should be noted that many systems for observing classroom behavior contain items for teacher-child interactions that are relationship-salient, and that most systems can be interpreted using the relationship-focused perspective discussed in previous chapters.

General classroom observation systems.

Many classroom observation systems contain codes for teacher-child interaction (e.g., Ladd & Price, 1987; La Paro & Pianta, 1996), and these systems can be used to glean information from the classroom environment that is relevant for interpretation of teacher-child relationships. Goldstein (1995) provides a succinct discussion of many of these observational systems, as does Walker (1994). The reader is referred to those and related references for more detailed discussion of classroom observation systems. These omnibus observation systems, however, typically do not focus exclusively or in a targeted fashion on the relationship between child and teacher. The disadvantage of this is that they tend not to be very comprehensive or detailed with respect to this relationship. The advantage, however, is that usually these systems contain codes for instruction, child performance, setting of the interaction, and emotional quality of the interaction, that provide information on the context of relationship-related interactions. This information can be of help to the psychologist, for example, when attempting to understand when and how a given relationship difficulty is arising in the classroom, and whether it is occurring in group settings only or as the consequence of attempts to perform academic tasks.

Constructs that may be important to observe in assessing the teacher-child relationship may include teacher responsivity, warmth/positive affect, negative affect, respect, interest, and/or secure base. Observation scales are typically rated on a three- to seven-point scale reflecting the degree to which a scale is characteristic of a given teacher-child relationship or classroom. It is important that the constructs are well defined and marked by observable behavior. For example, in observing the level of warmth and positive affect in a classroom, the consultant may look for moments in which there is a pleasant conversation in the classroom between the teacher and students, spontaneous laughter, appropriate physical affection between teacher and students, and incidents in which the teacher gives realistic and genuine praise to children. Defining the constructs in this way helps the observer resist the temptation to include subjective feelings about a teacher when making a rating.

"Conducting Classroom Observations" contains a brief list of possible constructs, as well as some ideas about how to rate these constructs. Consultants are encouraged to use this information as a foundation for constructing their own observational procedures. However, it is important to remember that the more consistent observational procedures are, the more reliable they are likely to be. One observation system used across a variety of settings and teachers is likely to give the consultant more useful, objective data than simply taking unstructured notes on each classroom.


Child-report, teacher-report, and observational methods of assessment provide the kind of multi-informant package of instruments needed for assessment of relationships. Importantly, validated instruments exist in all of these categories and can be combined with existing instruments or used as a comprehensive package to assess child-teacher relationships. Applied child and adolescent psychologists could use any or all of these techniques for a variety of purposes.

At a global level, teachers can be trained to observe relationship processes and to enhance their relationships with children that could facilitate the preventive effect of relationships. Instruments such as the STRS (or its short form) or some of the child-report questionnaires can be used in screening whole classrooms to identify teachers who may need supportive help or consultation with individual children, with their interactive style, or to prevent teacher burnout. Once engaged in a consultation with a teacher, the psychologist can use a mix of observation or teacher interview techniques to provide in-depth information reflecting the richness of the relationship experiences of the teacher, and information for subsequent planning and behavior change. Further, the more standardized of these techniques (such as the STRS or standardized observations) can be used as outcome measures for consultation and intervention.

Assessment Scenarios

The following scenarios are provided in order to give a few concrete examples of situations in which the assessment procedures described above may be useful, as well as information on how to use the various procedures most effectively. In each of these scenarios the consultant is faced with finding the best way to intervene to help the teachers and children involved. After reading the "Initial Presentation/Referral" section of each scenario, think about different ways the consultant might approach the situation to gain the most comprehensive and useful information about the teacher-child relationship. Although there are a variety of methods available for addressing the issues in each case, the conclusions following the initial scenario descriptions use the assessment procedures described in this chapter, along with theoretical foundations presented in the previous chapter, to help identify available resources within the context of teacher-child relationships. As described in the next two chapters, identifying these resources is an essential component to subsequent intervention.

Scenario 1:

Initial Presentation/Referral

Ms. Green comes to the school psychologist for the third time in as many days complaining about the behavior of David, age 8. "He is constantly disrupting the classroom and out of control." David has been seeing the school psychologist individually for several weeks, but Ms. Green is frustrated by the lack of change she sees in the classroom. All of her usual disciplinary procedures have failed and her patience is wearing thin. Ms. Green is typically a very patient, friendly, and warm teacher. Thus, it is clear to the psychologist in talking to Ms. Green that her tolerance has reached its limit with this child. The situation is clearly impacting both the quality of her teaching and the experiences of all of the children in the classroom.

Assessment Procedures

In this case, the dyad in need of intervention is clear from the beginning of the consultation process. Both David and Ms. Green are frustrated and worn out and little change is likely to occur without intervention. In such cases, the consultant could start the assessment process with either the teacher or the student. In a meeting with Ms. Green, the consultant conducted the TRI and then asked Ms. Green to fill out the STRS on David. In order to place Ms. Green's thoughts and feelings about David in context, the consultant had her fill out several STRS questionnaires on a random selection of other children. This process does not take the teacher very long and allows the consultant a broader perspective on the identified relationship. It also can help the teacher to think about differences in her relationships with the target child and other children in her class.


Throughout the TRI, Ms. Green expressed her frustration with David. She referred to issues of compliance in answering almost every question, even those that did not pull for this construct. For example, in answering the question, "Tell me about a time you and David were really `clicking'," Ms. Green responded: "Well, yesterday, for a few minutes he was reading by himself quietly, he was actually doing what I had asked him to do. It made me happy just to have him not causing problems, even though it only lasted a few minutes." The only time Ms. Green recalled getting along with David was a time in which they weren't interacting at all. Answers such as these, particularly to questions pulling for the teachers' representations of the positive components of their relationship with a child, clearly indicate that the relationship system is in need of change. Ms. Green's feelings of exasperation are understandable, given David's continual misbehavior; however, her feelings are also causing her to pull away from the child just at the time when he probably needs her support the most. Additionally, her negative feelings toward David are acting as "blinders" to the more positive aspects of their relationship.

Despite the challenges indicated in Ms. Green's description of her relationship with David, the TRI was also helpful in establishing areas of strength in their relationship. In answer to the question, "What gives you the most satisfaction being David's teacher?" Ms. Green responded: "You know, despite everything there are moments when I see how bright David is. Like a few days ago, I was reading a story to the class and David interrupted, as always. It was a story about the moon and he launched into this long explanation about the role the moon plays in the tides. I was angry about his interruption, but I let him talk because I could see at that moment how good it made him feel to share his knowledge with the class. He has a lot of information, I just wish he was more cooperative, he'd get so much more out of class." Here again, we see issues of compliance entering into the teacher's answer. However, there are also several positive aspects of this answer that could be used in future intervention work. The teacher clearly has an appreciation for David's intellect and the consultant may use this information to help remind Ms. Green about some of the good things about David, especially when she makes global, negative statements about him and his behavior. Additionally, Ms. Green shows the capacity to take David's perspective and understand how important it was for him to tell the story even when she was frustrated with him. Her empathy is clearly a strength that could be built on in future sessions.


Not surprisingly, the results of the STRS indicated that David's relationship with Ms. Green was characterized by extremely high levels of conflict and low levels of closeness when compared to the other children in her classroom. Even in cases such as this, when there is little doubt about the results of the STRS, it is a good idea to have the teacher fill it out to use as an objective measure of improvement toward the end of the consultation process. Having an objective measure of progress can provide the teacher and consultant valuable feedback on the strengths (or weakness) of their work together.

Play interview.

In continuing the assessment process, the consultant spent one of her regular sessions with David talking about his relationship with Ms. Green. In situations such as this, in which the psychologist already has a relationship with the child, the interview process is likely to be much easier and more informative. The consultant used her knowledge of David's capabilities and determined that a play interview was more appropriate. David had difficulty maintaining his focus throughout the session. His play in response to several of the prompts indicated that he viewed his teachers more as authority figures (people who tell kids what to do) than as resources (people to help you when you need it). As in Ms. Green's responses to the TRI, the majority of David's pretend play was focused on issues of compliance, with teachers telling kids to be quiet and kids running around the classroom fighting and playing aggressively with one another. He had difficulty responding to prompts that pulled for positive teacher-child interaction (e.g., You are working really hard on a math problem, but you just can't figure it out.), tending to ignore these prompts and returning to his more disorganized play.

Classroom observation.

Lastly, the consultant arranged to spend some time in the classroom observing the dynamics between Ms. Green and David. With a better picture of each member's mental representation of the relationship, the psychologist was more prepared to watch their interactions and glean information that would be helpful during the intervention. She asked Ms. Green to identify a time that was usually difficult and one that usually went fairly well with David. She looked for behaviors confirming Ms. Green and David's representations of the relationship, as well as behaviors that could provide contrary evidence and form the basis of more positive interactions in the future.

Not surprisingly, it was easier to find examples of behavior confirming Ms. Green and David's experiences than it was to find disconfirming evidence. Ms. Green tended to show more negative affect (e.g., criticizing, frowning, exasperated sighs) towards David than she did toward other students. She paid more attention to minor incidents of misbehavior, such as talking out of turn, when interacting with David than with other students. David did misbehave more than the average child in Ms. Green's class. He was frequently out of his seat, off task, and disrupting the work of classmates. However, as the consultant observed in the classroom, she began to see a pattern to David's inattention and disruption. He tended to stay on task for the first five to ten minutes of each activity. During this time he was usually fairly productive, following directions and making a genuine effort to work. However, this productivity did not last long and after the first minutes of an activity David's off-task behaviors increased rapidly. He frequently got up to sharpen his pencil, get a drink, or get more paper-never really becoming reengaged in a task. Ms. Green generally ignored David's early compliance but once he became off task her displeasure was obvious and intense. With other children, Ms. Green was able to provide positive prompts to redirect them into an activity, such as, "Leah, you've been doing such a great job, keep it up." These positive reinforcers were absent in her relationship with David. David never approached Ms. Green with a problem or question and thus his representation of his relationship with his teacher consisted of instances in which they argued and made each other angry. The consultant did note that when David was struggling with a problem he would occasionally ask the assistant teacher for help. The assistant was only in the classroom a few hours a day and she spent most of her time walking around answering students questions. She did not assist in behavior management at all and generally ignored misbehavior, waiting for Ms. Green to deal with it.

This observation confirmed much of the information provided earlier by Ms. Green and David. However, it also provided the consultant with ideas about how to start changing Ms. Green and David's perceptions of each other. Ms. Green's negative mindset about David prevented her from seeing the occasions in which he was behaving. David's failure to see Ms. Green as a "Helper" made it difficult for him to use her as a resource when work became more challenging or his attention waned. Yet, his relationship with this assistant teacher suggests that he does view adults in general as people who can help. This positive representation of adults will be useful once David's relationship with Ms. Green becomes more of a resource than an impediment to his learning.

With this information, the psychologist was well prepared to begin the interventions described in the next chapters of the manual. Additionally, the assessment process itself provided Ms. Green (and David to some degree) with an opportunity to start thinking about the relationship in a more reflective manner. Although this assessment process is unlikely to bring much change on its own, it lays a foundation for the work that lies ahead.

Scenario 2

Initial Presentation/Referral

It is early April and the school psychologist notices that Mr. Johnson, a typically enthusiastic and energetic fifth-grade teacher, has been getting to work right before the bell rings and leaving shortly after dismissal. He has had a tough class this year, with many kids at risk of failure. The psychologist approaches Mr. Johnson and asks how he's doing. His response indicates that he is feeling extremely burned out. The psychologist suggests that Mr. Johnson come in for a short consultation meeting the next day.

Assessment Procedures

Teacher burnout is a common yet under-identified and treated problem in schools. In scenarios such as this, consultations aimed at improving teacher-child relationships may not seem the most direct or applicable of interventions. However, the challenge for the psychologist working with teachers is to find ways of re-establishing the teachers' psychological connection to their work-their motivation, their emotional investment. Although this could take many specific forms, it is the assumption here that teachers teach, fundamentally, because they are motivated in part by their relationships with children. They wish to feel connected to and influence the lives of children. Thus, the psychological connection of teachers to their work is through their relationships with students. Mr. Johnson has clearly lost this sense of connection and purpose as he has struggled throughout the school year with an academically and behaviorally challenging group of students. Therefore, from this perspective, if the consultant can help reduce the tension and exhaustion created in a few of Mr. Johnson's most difficult relationships with students, it is likely that Mr. Johnson and all of his students will benefit.

Classroom observation.

After a brief discussion with Mr. Johnson, the psychologist made arrangements to observe the classroom several times over a week-long period, in order to gain a better sense of the difficulties that Mr. Johnson was facing. During the observations, it was apparent that the needs of the children in Mr. Johnson's class were beginning to overwhelm him. Predictable routines were not apparent in the morning. The children entered the room and milled about with little direction, and this was a time when some of them seemed to get into trouble. Mr. Johnson noted that he had rules displayed for the children to follow. At the start of the day Mr. Johnson spent little or no time with the children in which there was an opportunity for extended (even 30 seconds) interaction. Mr. Johnson's time seemed to be spent moving from one child to another, almost flitting about the room, or sitting at his desk feeling and looking tired.


During the observation, the psychologist identified several students who appeared to be causing the most problems and who seemed to be at particular risk of failure as a result of Mr. Johnson's burnout. The psychologist asked Mr. Johnson to fill out the STRS on these students, as well as any other students he was particularly concerned about.

Most of the children had elevated scores on the STRS when compared to the national norms. A few of the children had profiles in which all aspects of the relationship were of concern-very high Conflict and Dependency and low Closeness. However, the consultant chose to begin the intervention with Henry, one of the students with very elevated Conflict scores who also had moderate levels of Closeness, as rated by Mr. Johnson. This profile indicated strengths in Mr. Johnson and Henry's relationship. Although there were obviously many children in need of intervention in Mr. Johnson's classroom, the psychologist decided to start with a child that might prove an "easier" target for intervention to give Mr. Johnson a better shot at feeling successful.

Child interview.

Next, the consultant met with Henry to get a better understanding of his perspective on the classroom and of his relationship with Mr. Johnson. Henry spoke openly about Mr. Johnson, saying,

He doesn't really care what we do. We can pretty much get away with anything. Usually when he asks us to do something, everyone just ignores him. Then sometimes Mr. J will get really mad and send me out to the office, but who cares, I'm not really missing anything. It's kind of funny when he gets mad, his face gets all red and everything, we all just laugh. Last year, when I was in fourth grade he used to always be out on the playground at recess, playing basketball with his students. I thought that was pretty cool and everything, he was actually pretty good. But he doesn't do that with us. I just don't think he likes us very much-doesn't really matter anyway.

This quote provides further evidence that Mr. Johnson's loss of the ability and desire to connect with children has led to an unstructured and unproductive classroom environment. Henry does not seem to respect Mr. Johnson and engages him in power struggles to entertain his classmates. Later in the interview, Henry revealed that he had had strong relationships with teachers in the past, particularly his third grade teacher who he described as "A tough guy...but fun." Henry seemed to like the idea of having male teachers in general and thus was even more disappointed when things didn't go well in Mr. Johnson's class. Although this interview reaffirmed some of the weakness in Mr. Johnson and Henry's relationship, Henry's desire to connect with adult males provided some evidence of relationship resources that may be valuable during intervention.


Lastly, the consultant asked Mr. Johnson to come in and talk about his relationship with Henry, using the TRI to facilitate this conversation. He reported,

I don't really like teaching this year and I'm seriously thinking about leaving at the end of the year. I don't seem to be getting anything out of it anymore. The kids are demanding and I'm having a tough time getting on top of what's going on in the classroom. I miss having a special connection with the kids, like I had with a bunch of my kids last year. I think those connections energized me a bit. That's what it's like with Henry, why I said my relationship with him is disappointing. It takes too much out of me.

The psychologist used this information to begin working with Mr. Johnson and Henry because he thought that providing Mr. Johnson with a "success" might help improve his outlook about work during the last few months of school, leading to benefits for all the children in his class. Given Mr. Johnson's fragile emotional state, it was important not to set him up for failure. Choosing a child like Henry for the first intervention, who unlike some of his peers, expressed a desire to form a more positive relationship with his teacher, may provide Mr. Johnson with some positive feelings about teaching and a renewed sense of agency-a belief that he still can make a difference. Later, with this success behind him, he might even be able to tackle some of the more challenging relationships in his classroom.

Scenario 3

Initial Presentation/Referral

Jessica is a six-year-old child with many troubles. Her mother is struggling to support four young children and is rarely home. Jessica has a variety of caregivers, none of whom she seems especially connected to. She is quiet and usually by herself in the classroom and on the playground. She has struggled in the first months of first grade and is clearly well behind most of her peers. Her classroom teacher, Mrs. Walsh, approaches the school psychologist asking for advice.

Assessment Procedures

The psychologist spoke briefly to Mrs. Walsh about working together to come up with an intervention to help Jessica. Mrs. Walsh was enthusiastic about the idea, reporting her feeling that Jessica had a lot of potential, "if someone would just give her the time."


The psychologist then interviewed Mrs. Walsh with the TRI. Mrs. Walsh was first asked to describe her relationship with Jessica using three words. "Three words! For a person who's very verbose, that's difficult. Let me see. I think trusting, admiration on both sides, and caring." She was then asked to explain why she chose these words.

Let's start with trusting . . . Jessica's uncle died this year. And she was really upset about it-she was definitely out of sorts for awhile. I think she felt she could tell me in confidence and she trusted me to keep confidentiality until she was ready to share her experience with the class. We spent a bunch of time talking about it one-on-one, mostly quick check-in type of conversations, and one day she said she wanted the class to know.

This teacher's representations of child-teacher relationships include a belief that adults are a source of emotional support for children and that children should be able to confide in and trust adults. Also, she appears at ease with the topic of the interview, her narrative quickly and easily moves to a specific description of her general characterization of the relationship, indicating her willingness to examine and evaluate this relationship-a sign of security.

She went on to tell why she chose "admiration" as a descriptor of this relationship.

Well, I think in some ways she seemed to admire me because I was able to have something neat for her to do, and in a child's eyes that is important. She was always like "Well, how do you think up all this stuff and where does all this stuff come from." And she'd say, "If we finish something early, you always have something else to do." At the same time she had to deal with the death of her uncle who was very close to her. The way she chose to share that information with friends was very mature, I remember feeling a lot of respect for this little child who was trying to come to grips with such a loss.

In this anecdote, the teacher reveals other aspects of her representations-an emphasis on mutuality and reciprocity (they both admire and respect one another), a belief that teachers are stimulating for children, and that social/emotional processes (e.g., coping with a loss) affect how a child is performing in school on academic tasks.

Then she described why the relationship was "caring."

That's easy. She knows that I care about her. I mean she knows that if she is unhappy, she can get a hug or talk if she needs to. That's absolute in my have to know they can get support if they need it. I have an unconditional rule in my class that if somebody is upset about something that they can always come up and get a hug without any questions asked and if they need it, that's fine. And she knew during that time her uncle died that she could come and get it. And I think that was important to her. She would just come up and sit in my lap and hold on. She was very fond of that uncle and had a difficult time adjusting. I think it was important that she knew I cared enough about her. . . . You know, it was just a reciprocal thing that we could do for each other.

Again we see the emphasis on reciprocity, emotional support by the adult, the belief that children should be accepted and experience care unconditionally, and a respect for the child's autonomy. As before, she easily describes an experience at a specific level, and there is little or no inconsistency in her specific description and general characterization-that is, these specific descriptions are good examples of the adjectives she used.

Classroom observation.

Following the TRI, the psychologist visited Mrs. Walsh's classroom. The children seemed quite social and appeared to enjoy each another. She allowed children a fair amount of freedom to interact with one another. Children were engaged in a variety of social and exploratory activities throughout the morning and they were talkative. At the general level, this classroom appeared to be consistent with what Mrs. Walsh had described in her interview-stimulating and active. She was accessible to all the children, positive, and very involved.

Interactions with Jessica were systematically observed using a comprehensive instrument designed to capture many aspects of classroom functioning (La Paro & Pianta, 1996). Summaries of the observations made that morning were remarkable for the level of visual contact between Mrs. Walsh and Jessica, their frequent contacts for short intervals, and the very positive overall emotional tone of their interactions.

Having a relationship with Mrs. Walsh was an added resource for all the children in her classroom. She very clearly understands the role that relationships play in the lives of children, and she uses it skillfully as a teacher. This is particularly important for children like Jessica, who have a history of instability in relationships with adults. The assessment process described above provides clear evidence that Jessica and Mrs. Walsh have a strong relationship. This does not negate the need for intervention, but rather suggests that Mrs. Walsh will be able to use the interventions described in the following chapters of the manual to give further emotional support to Jessica. This support will provide Jessica with a "secure base" from which to struggle with the academic and social challenges that she will inevitably face for the remainder of the year.

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