How department chairs support teacher-student relationships
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Teacher-student relationships are a critical component to every classroom. Little is known about how department chairs support these relationships. Department chairs provide a special and underrepresented perspective, as they are often still teachers with administrative knowledge and responsibilities. This qualitative study investigated ten department chairs' beliefs about the teacher-student relationship and their role in supporting this relationship. Participants were from five content areas (science, social studies, English, special education, and career and technical education) in four public high school districts in Massachusetts and New York. Data were collected through two sixty-minute semi-structured interviews and one day of "shadowing" with each department chair. Analyses show that department chairs expect teachers to instruct from an ethic of care by enacting three relationship development behaviors: establishing relationship boundaries, knowing students as people and as learners, and building a safe and dependable environment. These department chairs supported teachers' relationship development with students primarily through modeling these same behaviors in their relationships with teachers. Department chairs' own experiences with developing relationships with students informed how they developed supervisory relationships with teachers, and they claimed this positively influenced teacher practice. However, when faced with resistant teachers and time constraints, department chairs' ability to apply their expertise as caring and effective educators was severely limited, resulting in dysfunctional supervisory relationships and limited teacher growth. Department chairs are in need of professional development targeted to their special situation, especially as it relates to their ability to influence the learning experiences of teachers and students.
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