Examining teacher-child relationship quality across the first year of school using children’s drawings

Elizabeth Murray, Charles Sturt University, Australia (
Linda J. Harrison, Macquarie University, Australia (

Background: Positive teacher-child relationships (TCR) are critical to children’s early school adjustment. From an ecological perspective, relationships are seen as dynamic (e.g., O’Connor, 2010), therefore examining how children feel about their teachers at the beginning of schooling is important in understanding their social and emotional adjustment. Longitudinal research indicates links between TCR quality in kindergarten and children’s later school success (Hamre & Pianta, 2001), however few studies include children’s views of the TCR and their voices need to be heard.

Aim: To examine children’s representations in drawings and their self-reported feelings about their relationships with their teachers, and whether these change over the first year of school.

Method: Interviews were undertaken with 96 kindergarten children in 16 different classes in the first and fourth terms of their first year of school. During the interviews, each child was asked to draw a picture of themselves and their teacher, and to complete the School Feelings Questionnaire (Bowes, Harrison, et al., 2009). Drawings were rated using Fury, Carlson, and Sroufe’s (1997) attachment-based system to generate an overall score for relational negativity. Each child’s teacher was asked to complete the Student Teacher Relationship Scale (Pianta, 2001) and the Teacher Rating Scale of School Adjustment (Birch & Ladd, 1997). These generated ratings of closeness, conflict, dependency, and comfort with the teacher.

Results: Children’s relational negativity in drawings was significantly correlated with their ratings of how they felt about the teacher. Child measures were moderately correlated with teacher’s ratings of closeness, conflict, dependency, and comfort with drawings at the beginning of the year, but not at the end of the year. For most children, relationship quality remained constant or improved over the school year, but almost a quarter of children’s drawings suggested a more negative relationship with their teacher at the end of the school year. Teacher ratings showed little change over the school year.

Conclusions: Children’s drawings of themselves and their teachers provided new insights into their relationship quality across the first year of school. Results suggested that students’ views of the TCR were more likely to change over the school year than teachers’ views.

Implications for children: Starting school is a really important time for children and first impressions matter. How you feel about your teacher is also really important. You can talk to your teacher about how you are feeling and what you like to do at school, and they can help you feel safe and happy.

Implications for families: For families, having children start and adjust to school can be a daunting time. You might remember when you started school yourself! It is important to remember that the relationship children have with their teacher has an impact on how well children do academically and how positive they feel about school. The more you can do to support your child, and value the school and your child’s teacher, the better!

Implications for practitioners: The first year of school sets the scene for children’s future social, emotional, and academic success, and teachers play an enormous role in that. The relationship children have with you across the first year of school and the support you offer children during this time, is vital to how well they adjust and how well they cope at school.

Key words: children’s voices, teacher-student relationship, starting school, children’s drawings.

This presentation relates to the following United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: