September 24, 2020Articles » Youth Development Research from our Partners at the Search Institute: Effects of Developmental Relationships with Teachers on Middle School Students’ Motivation & Performance

We examined how middle‐school students’ motivation, be- longing, school climate, and grade point average (GPA) are affected by students experiencing developmental relationships—those that go beyond teachers being caring (e.g., showing warmth to students) and providing challenge (e.g., high expectations) to also include teachers providing support, sharing power, and expanding students’ sense of possibilities. We also examined variations in those associa- tions by student socioeconomic status (SES). The study in- cluded 534 diverse Grades 6–8 students (51% female, 46% non‐White, 33% eligible for free and reduced price meals). Structural equation modeling and regressions showed that students with better developmental relationships with their teachers had better outcomes. Developmental relationships strongly predicted academic motivation at both the begin- ning and end of the school year, and also directly predicted students’ sense of belonging and school climate. Relation- ships indirectly predicted GPA, through motivation. Student– teacher relationship quality for low‐SES students was lower and declined more than for other students. The results both reflect current literature in showing the importance of strong student–teacher relationships, and extend it in showing the worsening relationships quality for low‐income students, and in suggesting that strengthening multiple fa- cets of student–teacher developmental relationships may have important effects on motivation and achievement of middle‐school students.


academic motivation, developmental relationships, middle‐ school students, student–teacher relationships