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Journal of School Psychology 59 (2016) 111

Contents lists available at ScienceDirect

Journal of School Psychology


journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/jschpsyc

The combined effects of teacher-child and peer relationships on


children's social-emotional adjustment
Cen Wang a,, Maria Hatzigianni b, Ameneh Shahaeian c,d, Elizabeth Murray d, Linda J. Harrison c
a
Research Institute for Professional Practice, Learning and Education, Charles Sturt University, Bathurst, NSW 2795, Australia
b
School of Teacher Education, Charles Sturt University, Dubbo, NSW 2830, Australia
c
School of Teacher Education, Charles Sturt University, Bathurst, NSW 2795, Australia
d
Learning Sciences Institute Australia, Australian Catholic University, Brisbane, QLD, 4104, Australia

a r t i c l e i n f o a b s t r a c t

Article history: Teachers and peers represent two important dimensions of the classroom social ecology that
Received 4 June 2015 have important implications for children's social-emotional adjustment. This study examined
Received in revised form 16 May 2016 the combined effects of teacher-child relationships (TCR) and peer relationships for 67 year-
Accepted 8 September 2016
old children on their social-emotional adjustment at 89 years. The sample was comprised of
Available online xxxx
children and their teachers participating in the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (n =
2857). Teachers reported on TCR, peer relationships, and children's emotional well-being, and
Keywords: children provided self-reported self-concept and school liking during a face-to-face interview.
Teacher-child relationship
The analytic approach extends previous research by modeling TCR and peer relationships in
Peer relationship
combination, using cluster analysis to understand the nature of 67 year-old children's social
Cluster analysis
Self-concept relationships in the classroom. Five distinct proles of children were identied: adaptive, teach-
Emotional well-being er-oriented, teacher-child conict prominent, non-adaptive, and invisible. The adaptive prole
School liking had the best outcomes on all three aspects of social-emotional adjustment at age 89; the
non-adaptive prole had the poorest outcomes, and the invisible group was mid-range. The
teacher-oriented and teacher-child conict prominent groups had mixed outcomes for social-
emotional adjustment. Implications for school psychologists and teachers are discussed.
2016 Society for the Study of School Psychology. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights
reserved.

1. Introduction

During the early years of school, the classroom is children's major social context outside of the home. Positive interactions with
teachers and peers provide a sense of condence and well-being and are at the core of children's adaptive social-emotional de-
velopment (Hamre & Pianta, 2001; O'Connor, Dearing, & Collins, 2011; Pianta, Hamre, & Allen, 2012; Pianta & Walsh, 1996).
The past decade has seen a growing awareness of the importance of not only seeking to improve children's academic skills but
also enhancing social-emotional competence for better well-being and school engagement (Durlak, Weissberg, Dymnicki,
Taylor, & Schellinger, 2011; Jennings & Greenberg, 2009). As such, studies of children's relationships with teachers and peers

Acknowledgement: The preparation of this paper was supported by the Excellence in Research in Early Years Education Collaborative Research Network
(CRN2011:01), an initiative funded through the Australian Government's Collaborative Research Networks (CRN) programs
Corresponding author.
E-mail addresses: cenwang23@gmail.com (C. Wang), maria.hatzigianni@mq.edu.au (M. Hatzigianni), ameneh.shahaeian@gmail.com (A. Shahaeian),
emurray@csu.edu.au (E. Murray), LHarrison@csu.edu.au (L.J. Harrison).
Action editor: Jochem Thijs

http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jsp.2016.09.003
0022-4405/ 2016 Society for the Study of School Psychology. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
2 C. Wang et al. / Journal of School Psychology 59 (2016) 111

during the early school years can contribute to the provision of effective strategies for classroom teaching and interactions that
facilitate children's optimal development.
Ecological theory (Bronfenbrenner & Morris, 2006) posits that children develop in a complex environment and are affected by
multiple systems of relationships, including interactions with others in their immediate environments (i.e., Microsystems) and be-
tween microsystems (i.e., Mesosystems). As such, children's social-emotional development at school is affected not only by the
relationships children have with their teachers and their peers, but also by the connections between these relationships. From
a theoretical perspective, teacher-child relationships (TCR) and peer relationships can be seen as interrelated proximal processes
that jointly contribute to children's dynamic classroom social experiences (Pianta, Hamre, & Stuhlman, 2003). Empirically, how-
ever, TCR and peer relationship effects have tended to be reported in separate bodies of research (exceptions are Leot, van
Lier, Verschueren, Onghena, & Colpin, 2011; Spilt, van Lier, Leot, Onghena, & Colpin, 2014; Verschueren, Doumen, & Buyse,
2012).

1.1. Social-emotional adjustment

In the current study, we focus on the effects of TCR and peer relationships on three aspects of children's social-emotional
development: self-concept, emotional well-being and school liking. The early years of school are known to be a difcult
stage of adjustment (Lynch & Cicchetti, 1997), requiring children to adapt to a new environment and negotiate the associated
contextual changes, including a greater focus on interactions with teachers and peers, and increased expectations to follow
classroom rules and directives (Harrison & Murray, 2015). The early school years are also a time when children expand their
sense of self (Bong & Skaalvik, 2003), become more sensitive to social evaluations (Cole, 1991; Leot, Onghena, & Colpin,
2010) and develop feelings of liking or not liking school (Ladd, Buhs, & Seid, 2000). Research has shown that self-concept, emo-
tional well-being and school liking have important implications for children's academic success, engagement, motivation,
sense of school belonging and quality of life (Harrison, Clarke, & Ungerer, 2007; Ialongo, Edelsohn, & Kellam, 2001; Marsh &
Martin, 2011; Raufelder, Sahabandu, Martnez, & Escobar, 2013; Verkuyten & Thijs, 2002; Yeung, 2011; Zee, Koomen, & Van
der Veen, 2013).
Self-determination theory posits that each individual has three fundamental and interrelated psychological needs - relatedness,
autonomy, and competence, and that these need to be met in order to achieve optimal motivation, social development and per-
sonal well-being (Deci & Ryan, 1985; Urdan & Schoenfelder, 2006). Children who feel connected to, and loved and cared for by
their teachers and peers (i.e., meeting the need for relatedness) are more likely to internalize what their environment deems
as important, such as following classroom rules and valuing and liking school. In such a context, children are also more likely
to be motivated to autonomously explore the learning and social environment, and to build competence and a sense of self-
worth. Research has shown that children's development of emotional problems (such as loneliness, sadness, depression, and anx-
iety), lower general self-concept and global self-esteem, negative social and academic self-concept, lower school liking and higher
levels of school avoidance and antisocial behaviors are associated with negative experiences with peers, such as peer victimiza-
tion, rejection, and neglect, as well as poor peer acceptance and lack of friends during the elementary school years (Buhs,
2005; Ladd, Kochenderfer, & Coleman, 1997; Ladd & Troop-Gordon, 2003; Mercer & DeRoiser, 2008; Mesman, Bongers, & Koot,
2001; Rudolph, Gordon, Hessel, & Schmidt, 2011; Snyder et al., 2003; Thijs & Verkuyten, 2008; Troop-Gordon & Ladd, 2005;
Vandell & Hambree, 1994; Verkuyten & Thijs, 2002).
In comparison, there is limited research on links between children's social-emotional adjustment and their relationships with
teachers. Positive TCR (indicated by high closeness and low conict) has been found to protect children with early emotional
symptoms from developing long-term emotional problems (O'Connor et al., 2011). Positive TCR has also been linked to higher
school liking and more positive perceptions of school (Birch & Ladd, 1997; Murray & Greenberg, 2000), and more conicted
TCR has been associated with higher levels of child stress, as measured by salivary cortisol (Ahnert, Harwardt-Heinecke,
Kappler, Eckstein-Madry, & Milatz, 2012). Less consistent results have been reported for TCR and children's self-concept. Positive
TCR predicted higher social self-concept (Leot et al., 2010; Spilt et al., 2014), but not general self-concept during early elemen-
tary years (Leot et al., 2010), and academic self-concept but not general or social self-concept among rst grade students
(Verschueren et al., 2012).
In addition, a small number of studies have investigated the combined effects of TCR and peer relationships on classroom ad-
justment. Spilt et al. (2014) found that higher teacher support weakened the negative effect of peer rejection on children's social
self-concept. In a similar vein, Verschueren et al. (2012) reported that the negative effects of peer problems on rst graders' social
self-concept decreased as TCR quality increased. Whilst these studies indicate that positive teacher relations can compensate for
negative peer relations, the variable-centered approach (i.e., regression) assumed that different combinations of TCR and peer re-
lationships are equally likely, which is not necessarily true.
The present study extends previous regression analytical technique by modeling TCR and peer relationships using a person-
centered approach (cluster analysis) to describe the nature of classroom relationships. Cluster analysis generates proles of chil-
dren based on their actual response patterns to a combination of variables; thus, it is less articial compared to regression ap-
proach and provides a picture of the functioning of individual children (Magnusson & Bergman, 1988). In much the same way
that different dimensions of TCR have been found to generate meaningful TCR proles (Ahnert et al., 2012; Murray &
Greenberg, 2000; Pianta, 1994), we expected that the combined dimensions of TCR and peer relationships would generate proles
that describe different patterns of child-teacher-peer relationships in the classroom.
C. Wang et al. / Journal of School Psychology 59 (2016) 111 3

1.2. The present study

The present study aimed to investigate two research questions:


1) What social relationship proles exist in the classroom?
2) How do different social relationship proles function in relation to children's social-emotional adjustment?
Due to the exploratory nature of cluster analysis and the lack of prior research integrating both TCR and peer relationships, we
made tentative hypotheses, drawing on previous literature of different proles based on TCR only (Ahnert et al., 2012; Murray &
Greenberg, 2000; Pianta, 1994). We expected that there would be an adaptive cluster (i.e., positive relationships with both
teachers and peers), a non-adaptive cluster (i.e., negative relationships with both teachers and peers), and an uninvolved cluster
(i.e., neither positive nor negative relationships with teachers and peers). In addition, based on studies that found interactive ef-
fects between TCR and peer relationships (Spilt et al., 2014; Verschueren et al., 2012), we hypothesized that there might be a clus-
ter with positive relationships with teachers but not peers, and another cluster with positive relationships with peers but not
teachers. In terms of predictive effects on children's social-emotional development, we expected that clusters with close and
trusting relationships with teachers and peers are likely to provide children with the emotional security and support for healthy
social behaviors, positive self-worth, emotional well-being, and commitment to school (Bretherton & Munholland, 1999; Deci &
Ryan, 1985). Therefore, we hypothesized the adaptive cluster to fare the best in children's social-emotional outcomes whereas
the maladaptive cluster would perform the worst. We hypothesized the other clusters to function in-between in children's so-
cial-emotional outcomes.
This study contributes to the literature in four important ways. First, we focused on children's self-concept, emotional well-
being and school liking to enrich the literature linking TCR and children's social-emotional adjustment. Second, we integrated
TCR and peer relationships to provide a holistic understanding of classroom social relationship patterns. Third, we tested predic-
tive associations between differential relationship patterns and social-emotional adjustment two years later. Such an understand-
ing is important to help identify proles of students who need support in classroom interpersonal relationships and to better
understand how classroom relationships affect children's social-emotional well-being. In turn, this can enable the design of
targeted interventions for children who are experiencing social relationship difculties.
Finally, we followed the recommendations of using multiple informants (Sabol & Pianta, 2012), with teachers reporting on
classroom relationships and both teachers and children reporting on social-emotional outcomes. Using multiple informants can
add more condence to the robustness of the ndings. In addition, it helps reduce the potential inated relations among variables,
in other words, shared method variance, that are typically associated with a single informant.

2. Method

2.1. Participants and procedure

We used data from the Kindergarten cohort of Growing Up in Australia: The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC).
LSAC is a nationally representative longitudinal study of child development funded by the Australian Government Department of
Social Services (formerly the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs). The sampling frame
for LSAC was the Medicare Australia enrolments database (public health insurance), the most comprehensive database of the Aus-
tralian population, particularly of young children. A two-stage clustered design was used where postcodes were randomly select-
ed and children were randomly selected within each postcode. Stratication was implemented to ensure the number of selected
children were proportionate to the total number of children within each state or territory.
LSAC Kindergarten cohort data collection (n = 4983) started in 2004 when children were 45 years old and subsequent
waves of data have been collected every two years. The current study used data from Wave 2 (67 years) and Wave 3 (8
9 years). Data collection for LSAC is primarily in the child's home. At each wave of data collection, the Australian Bureau of Sta-
tistics, Australian Institute of Family Services and Department of Social Services provide two weeks of intensive training to the 176
interviewers across Australia who undertake the face-to-face interviews with children and their parents. The training covers a
range of standard procedures and practice interviews and interviewers receive 8 h of home learning including computer-based
learning module, home study exercises and reading of interviewer instructions.
The study sample for the present paper were children who had completed self-report questions during the face-to-face inter-
view at the Wave 2 home visit and whose teachers had provided mail-back questionnaires at Wave 2 and Wave 3. The sample
who met these criteria (n = 2857) were tested for demographic differences with the excluded sample who did not meet these

Table 1
Sample demographics of selected and excluded participants.

Included (n = 2857) Excluded (n = 2126) Test statistics p Effect size

Socioeconomic position 0.12 0.17 F = 104.66 p b 0.001 d = 0.29


Female ns
2
Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander 9.80% 16.20% = 46.47 p b 0.001 Phi = 0.10
Main language other than English 5.10% 2.80% 2 = 18.09 p b 0.001 Phi = 0.06

Note. ns = non-signicant.
4 C. Wang et al. / Journal of School Psychology 59 (2016) 111

criteria (see Table 1). The study sample had a similar proportion of boys and girls, but were from families with a higher socioeco-
nomic position and were less likely to have a language background other than English or an Indigenous background. Despite the
statistical signicance, the differences between the included and excluded sample were relatively small, as shown by the small
effect sizes (see Table 1).

2.2. Measures

2.2.1. Relationships with teachers and peers (67 years)

2.2.1.1. Teacher-child relationship. Two dimensions of TCR (closeness and conict) were measured via teacher reported question-
naires using the Student Teacher Relationship Scale-Short Form (STRS; Pianta, 2001) at Wave 2 (67 years). STRS is a widely
used measure for children in preschool and elementary years. Previous studies have provided evidence for satisfactory psycho-
metric properties of STRS. The reliability of teacher-child closeness scale was 0.88, 0.85 and 0.91 at rst, third and fth grade
and that of teacher-child conict scale was 0.94 at all three time points (O'Connor, 2010; O'Connor & McCartney, 2007). STRS
also showed high convergent and discrimant validity (see O'Connor, 2010 and Pianta, 2001 for a review). In the present study,
the closeness subscale consisted of 8 items tapping the teachers' perceptions of students' warmth and willingness of communica-
tion toward him/her ( = 0.83; e.g., Shares affectionate relationship; Shares information about self). The conict subscale
consisted of 7 items reecting the teachers' perceptions of the conicting and disharmonious relationship with the students
( = 0.87; e.g., Struggle to get along; The subject child easily becomes angry). Teachers rated children on the items using
a 5-point Likert scale (1 = Denitely does not apply; 3 = Neutral/Not Sure; 5 = Denitely applies). For both closeness and conict
subscales, the items were summed to create mean scores where higher scores indicate higher closeness or conict.

2.2.1.2. Peer relationships. Peer relationships were measured by the peer problems subscale of the Strengths and Difculties Ques-
tionnaire (SDQ; Goodman, 1997) (5 items; = 0.65; e.g., Picked on or bullied by other children; Has at least one good friend
(reverse coded)). Items were rated by teachers on a 3-point scale (1 = Not true; 2 = Somewhat true; 3 = Certainly true), with
item scores summed to create mean scores and means were rescaled to be an integer between 0 and 10. Higher scores indicate
more peer problems. The SDQ has shown satisfactory psychometric properties in prior studies. For example, in a nationwide com-
munity sample study, teacher-rated SDQ had Cronbach alpha above 0.70 for all subscales and showed the most stable test-retest
reliability (r = 0.73) compared to other informants such as parent-report, and showed high convergent and predictive validity
(Goodman, 2001).

2.2.2. Social-emotional adjustment (89 years)


Three aspects of children's social-emotional adjustment were assessed at Wave 3 (89 years).

2.2.2.1. Self-concept. Self-concept refers to one's conception of self and includes both domain general (i.e., general self-concept) and
domain specic aspects (e.g., social self-concept) (Marsh & Craven, 2006). Children's general self-concept and social self-concept
were measured by Marsh's Self Description Questionnaire I (Marsh, 1990). Previous studies have shown their desirable psycho-
metric properties (Marsh, Craven, & Debus, 1991; Verschueren et al., 2012). For example, in a study among rst grade students,
Verschueren et al. (2012) found the reliability for general self-concept and social self-concept were 0.61 and 0.78 respectively. The
general self-concept scale used in LSAC comprised 8 items reecting children's overall self-evaluation ( = 0.82; e.g., In general, I
like being the way I am; I can do things as well as most other people). Social self-concept comprised 8 items tapping children's
specic self-concept in the social interactions with peers ( = 0.84; e.g., I make friends easily; Other kids want me to be their
friend). Children self-reported on these items during face-to-face interviews, using a 5-point Likert scale (1 = False; 3 = Some-
times false, sometimes true; 5 = True). We ran a conrmatory factor analysis (CFA) to determine the factor structure of self-con-
cept in the current sample. The results showed that the two-factor structure for self-concept (i.e., general self-concept; social self-
concept) had an adequate t, 2(100) = 620.88; RMSEA = 0.04; CFI = 0.97; TLI = 0.96; SRMR = 0.03.

2.2.2.2. Emotional well-being. Emotional well-being refers to the absence of depressive and anxiety symptoms, somatic complaints
and withdrawn behaviors. Children's emotional well-being was measured by the emotional symptom subscale of the Strengths
and Difculties Questionnaire (SDQ; Goodman, 1997), and provided by teacher report. This subscale consisted of ve items tap-
ping the extent to which the child exhibits signs of unhappiness, worries, anxiety, and fearfulness ( = 0.74; e.g. Often unhappy,
down-hearted or tearful; Often seemed worried; Nervous or easily lose condence). Teachers rated each item on a 3-point
scale (1 = Not true; 2 = Somewhat true; 3 = Certainly true), with item scores summed to create mean scores and means
were rescaled to be an integer between 0 and 10. Higher scores indicate more emotional symptoms. Past research has shown
that the SDQ is effective in detecting early symptoms of negative emotionality (Goodman, Ford, Simmons, Gatward, & Meltzer,
2000), with a sensitivity of 7090% for depressive and anxiety disorders. CFA showed the one-factor emotional well-being to
be a good t to the data with the current sample, 2(4) = 9.04; RMSEA = 0.02; CFI = 0.99; TLI = 0.99; SRMR = 0.01.

2.2.2.3. School liking. School liking refers to the extent to which children enjoy being at school (Ladd et al., 2000), and is a measure
of children's attitudes toward school. The school liking scale was adapted from the School Sentiment Inventory (Ladd & Price,
1987) and has shown good psychometric properties in previous studies, with reliabilities of 0.87 and 0.91 (Ladd & Dinella,
C. Wang et al. / Journal of School Psychology 59 (2016) 111 5

2009; Ladd et al., 1997). In LSAC, children self-reported on ve items from the school liking scale ( = 0.84; e.g., School is fun;
Like being in school) (1 = No; 2 = Sometimes; 3 = Yes), with higher scores indicating higher school liking. CFA showed the
one-factor school liking to be a good t to the data with the current sample, 2(4) = 6.34; RMSEA = 0.01; CFI = 1.00; TLI =
0.999; SRMR = 0.01.

2.3. Statistical analysis

To answer our research questions, we conducted a person-centered analysis (cluster analysis). Cluster analysis accounts for the
combinations of dimensions within individuals in a sample (Magnusson & Bergman, 1988) to identify groups of children who
share similar response patterns to multiple variables of interest (Jung & Wickrama, 2008). Hierarchical cluster analysis using
Ward's method was conducted using standardized scores of TCR and peer relationships. R2, RMSSTD, Pseudo F and Pseudo t2 sta-
tistics were examined to identify the optimal cluster solution (Milligan & Cooper, 1985). R2 measures variances between clusters.
Larger R2 suggests greater variances between clusters, which indicates a better cluster solution. The root mean squared standard
deviation statistics (RMSSTD) is the aggregated value of the standard deviation of all the variables forming the cluster. Smaller
RMSSTD suggests within cluster homogeneity, indicating an optimal solution. Pseudo F index refers to the ratio of between-cluster
to within cluster variance (Calinski & Harabasz, 1974). Pseudo t2 index refers to the differences between the merged two clusters.
A larger Pseudo F index combined with a smaller Pseudo t2 index (and a large jump in Pseudo t2 for the next cluster solution)
indicates a better cluster solution.
Once the optimal number of groups was identied, we conducted chi-square analysis and referred to standardized residuals to
test for signicant gender differences among clusters. Standardized residuals larger than |2| indicate that a particular cell is sig-
nicantly higher or lower than expected, contributing to the overall signicance of the chi-square test statistics.
Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) with Tukey post-hoc tests was used to test each of the outcomes against the generated clusters
to examine the amount of variance explained by the clusters and to examine the specic differences among clusters for each of
the outcomes.

3. Results

Means, standardized deviations, correlations among variables and Cronbach's s are presented in Table 2. The majority of cor-
relations ranged from small to moderate size. TCR closeness was negatively related to TCR conict, peer problems, and emotional
symptoms but positively related to self-concept and school liking. On the other hand, TCR conict and peer problems were pos-
itively related to emotional symptoms but negatively related to self-concept and school liking.
An examination of the multiple t indices (Table 3) and the mean responses regarding closeness, conict, and peer problems
in each cluster indicated ve clusters as the best solution. The cluster means of ve-cluster solution on TCR and peer problems are
shown in the top rows of Table 5 and are graphically displayed in Fig. 1. The ve-cluster solution includes an adaptive group,
characterized by high teacher-child closeness, low teacher-child conict and low peer problems (n = 953, 33%); a teacher-orient-
ed group, characterized by high teacher-child closeness, low teacher-child conict and high peer problems (n = 647, 23%); a non-
adaptive group, characterized by low teacher-child closeness, high teacher-child conict and high peer problems (n = 499, 17%);
a teacher-child conict prominent group, characterized by average teacher-child closeness, high teacher-child conict and low
peer problems (n = 407, 14%); and a fth group, which we termed the invisible group, because of their low ratings on all
three indicators: teacher-child closeness, teacher-child conict and peer problems (n = 351, 12%). A summary of cluster deni-
tion and characteristics is shown in Table 4.
We noted signicant differences in the gender distribution in each of the ve clusters, 2 = 96.06, p b 0.001. An examination
of standardized residuals (Table 5) showed that girls were statistically signicantly overrepresented in the adaptive (56.5%) and
teacher-oriented (57.2%) groups. In contrast, boys were statistically signicantly overrepresented in the non-adaptive (60.7%),
teacher-child conict prominent (64.4%), and invisible (59.3%) groups.

Table 2
Means, standard deviations, correlations, and reliability coefcients among variables (n = 2857).

1 2 3 4 5 6 7

Closeness
Conict 0.27
Peer problems 0.23 0.39
Global self-concept 0.10 0.16 0.14
Social self-concept 0.09 0.18 0.21 0.66
Emotional symptoms 0.02 0.15 0.19 0.14 0.20
School liking 0.10 0.16 0.07 0.38 0.35 0.11

Mean 4.24 1.32 1.27 4.34 3.96 1.20 2.53


Standard deviation 0.58 0.56 1.63 0.58 0.76 1.76 0.47
Cronbach's 0.83 0.87 0.65 0.82 0.84 0.74 0.84
p b 0.01.
6 C. Wang et al. / Journal of School Psychology 59 (2016) 111

Table 3
Fit indices for cluster analysis of closeness, conict, and peer problems with standardized scores.

Fit indices

Clusters R2 RMSSTD Pseudo F Pseudo t2

2 0.27 1.11 1067 462


3 0.43 0.95 1056 419
4 0.53 0.94 1054 570
5 0.62 0.72 1143 255
6 0.65 0.41 1061 858

The bolded line in the table indicates the t indices of the most optimal cluster solution.

The bottom rows of Table 5 set out the results of the ANOVA for each of the outcome measures. Whist these comparisons all
achieved signicance, partial eta squared gures indicated that the effect sizes were small: 2p value of 0.03, 0.04, 0.03 and 0.01 for
general self-concept, social self-concept, emotional symptoms and school liking, respectively. Results for self-concept showed that
the adaptive group and teacher-oriented group reported higher general self-concept (i.e., had more positive thoughts about them-
selves) than the non-adaptive and teacher-child conict prominent groups. The invisible group also had higher general self-con-
cept than non-adaptive group. For social self-concept, the adaptive group was more positive about their social interactions with
peers than teacher-child conict prominent and invisible groups, which in turn, were more positive than the non-adaptive
group. The teacher-oriented group also showed higher social self-concept than the teacher-child conict prominent and non-
adaptive groups.
Results for emotional symptoms showed that the adaptive group received lower scores (i.e., were less worried or unhappy)
than the teacher-oriented and teacher-child conict prominent groups, and that these three groups had lower scores than non-
adaptive group. The invisible group was also lower than teacher-child conict prominent and non-adaptive group. With regard
to school liking, children in adaptive group and teacher-oriented group were more favorable in their feelings about school than
those in the non-adaptive and teacher-child conict prominent groups.
In sum, the pattern of results for ve clusters provide further evidence that these were meaningful groups (Fig. 2). The ve
clusters had differential patterns in social-emotional adjustment two years later. The adaptive group had the best outcomes on
all indicators of social-emotional adjustment: high general and social self-concept, low emotional symptoms and high school lik-
ing. The teacher-oriented group was similar to the adaptive group for self-concept and school liking, but had higher emotional
symptoms. The non-adaptive group had the poorest outcomes at age 89, as indicated by low general and social self-concept,
high emotional symptoms and low school liking. The teacher-child conict prominent group also had poor outcomes, but to a
lesser extent than the non-adaptive group. The invisible group achieved similar scores for emotional symptoms as the adaptive
group, average scores for general self-concept and social self-concept, and moderately low scores for school liking.

Fig. 1. Standardized mean responses for closeness, conict, and peer problems for each of the ve clusters.
C. Wang et al. / Journal of School Psychology 59 (2016) 111 7

Table 4
Cluster denitions.

Cluster name TCR_closeness TCR_conict Peer relationship

Adaptive High Low Low


Teacher-oriented High Low High
Non-adaptive Low High High
Teacher-child conict prominent Average High Low
Invisible Low Low Low

4. Discussion

Relationships with teachers and peers represent two important dimensions of the social ecology of the classroom (Spilt et al.,
2014). The current study was the rst to investigate the classroom social relationship patterns using dimensions of TCR (closeness
and conict) and peer relationships (peer problems). Our analyses identied ve distinct classroom relationship proles at 6
7 years of age and these proles had differential relationships with children's social-emotional adjustment at 89 years of age.
The results provided valuable information about classroom dynamics and the differential classroom social experiences that chil-
dren may have in their early schooling. In addition, the results showed that not all of the combinations of the three variables
were equally probable (as is assumed in regression and other variable-centered analyses). In fact, there was no group of children
identied as having low TCR closeness and conict and high peer problems, providing evidence for the merit of using person-cen-
tered analyses for a more accurate understanding of classroom social relationships patterns.

4.1. Social relationship proles in the classroom and social-emotional functioning

Conrming our hypothesis, the data indicated an adaptive group characterized by close, non-conicted relationships with
teachers and few problems with peers, a non-adaptive group characterized by TCRs that were low on closeness and high on con-
ict along with high levels of peer problems, and an invisible group who received low scores on all three relationship dimensions.
One third of the children showed an adaptive pattern of relationships with teachers and peers. Although no prior research has
included both teachers and peers, this proportion is similar to the studies using only TCR showing that around one third of chil-
dren had adaptive relationships with teachers (Ahnert et al., 2012; Pianta, 1994). As hypothesized, this group of students fared the
best in all four social-emotional adjustment outcomes. In contrast, 17% of the children were identied as non-adaptive in their
relationships with peers and teachers, and as hypothesized, had poorest outcomes (low self-concept, high emotional symptoms,
low school liking) two years later. This proportion of conicting relationship group is higher than a study among younger children
in kindergarten in the US (5%; Pianta, 1994) but lower than another study among German rst graders (38%; Ahnert et al., 2012),
using TCR only.
The invisible group (12% of the children in our study) functioned reasonably well (achieving mid-range scores) on most of the
outcomes such as general self-concept and emotional well-being, suggesting that their lack of connection with peers and teachers
at age 67 had little effect. This nding is reminiscent of the uninvolved children (based on TCR only) who were found to fare
reasonably well in the academic, behavioral and social-emotional outcomes (Ahnert et al., 2012; Pianta, 1994). However, com-
pared to the adaptive group, the invisible group had lower social self-concept. These ndings raise concerns about the particular
nature of invisible children, who may go unnoticed by teachers. This group also highlights that the absence of conicting relation-
ships does not necessarily suggest the presence of positive relationships. Studies have shown, for example that teachers are less
likely to detect socially neglected children and tend to view them more favorably than children with problematic behaviors (see

Table 5
Cluster characteristics and cluster comparisons on social-emotional adjustment.

1 2 3 4 5

Adaptive Teacher- Non-adaptive Teacher- Invisible


oriented conict
prominent

(N = 953) (N = 647) (N = 499) (N = 407) (N = 351) F (4, 2856) p Cluster comparisons

Closeness 0.59 0.47 0.80 0.004 1.33 709.66 b0.001 1 N 2 N 4 N 3 N 5


Conict 0.50 0.46 0.88 1.13 0.36 619.02 b0.001 1 = 2 b 5 b 3 b 4
Peer Problems 0.78 0.28 1.65 0.19 0.51 1945.97 b0.001 1 b 5 b 4 b 2 b 3
Girls 56.5% (3.4) 57.2% (3.1) 39.3%(3.0) 35.6%(3.8) 40.7%(2.1) 2 = 96.06 b0.001
(standardized residuals)

Outcomes (raw/standardized)
General self-concept 4.41/0.12 4.41/0.13 4.17/0.29 4.26/0.13 4.34/0.008 18.43 b0.001 1 N 3; 1 N 4; 2 N 3; 2 N 4; 5 N 3
Social self-concept 4.10/0.19 4.03/0.09 3.67/0.37 3.84/0.16 3.97/0.01 31.44 b0.001 1 N 4 N 3; 1 N 5 N 3; 2 N 4 N 3
Emotional symptoms 0.93/0.15 1.20/0.001 1.74/0.31 1.37/0.10 0.95/0.14 20.51 b0.001 1 b 2 b 3; 1 b 4 b 3; 5 b 4 b 3;
School liking 2.57/0.09 2.58/0.01 2.45/0.16 2.47/0.13 2.50/0.07 9.26 b0.001 1 N 3; 1 N 4; 2 N 3; 2 N 4;
8 C. Wang et al. / Journal of School Psychology 59 (2016) 111

Fig. 2. Standardized mean responses for the social-emotional adjustment measures for each of the ve clusters.

Gilfford-Smith & Brownell, 2003for a review). It is important that teachers are helped to identify children who are invisible or
neglected in the classroom. As noted in prior studies, it is the presence of competence rather than the absence of incompetence
that can have a greater impact on children's social-emotional adjustment (Cole, 1991; Masten & Curtis, 2000; Spilt, Hughes, Wu, &
Kwok, 2012). Therefore, whilst it is important to reduce conicting relationships, a more productive approach may be to build
positive relationships with teachers and peers and promoting a pedagogy of relationships in the classroom.
The results also conrmed our hypothesis about the presence of two other proles at age 67: 23% of the sample were de-
scribed as teacher-oriented, and 14% as teacher-child conict prominent. Children in the teacher-oriented group were similar to
the adaptive group in terms of their relationships with teachers, but they had problematic relationships with peers. It is may
be that children's positive relationships with teachers is associated with academic motivation and compliance (Wentzel &
Asher, 1995), but they may not be skillful in interacting with peers or may engage in relational aggression against peers. However,
these are only preliminary speculations and further research will be needed to understand the characteristics of children in this
prole. In terms of socio-emotional outcomes, this group was most similar to the adaptive group: having high scores for general
self-concept, social self-concept and school liking at age 89. This nding accords with other studies showing that positive TCR
can buffer negative effects associated with peer problems (Spilt et al., 2014; Verschueren et al., 2012). This is an important and
informative point for school psychologists and practitioners, underlining the premise that children's relationships with teachers
are important elements in shaping children's social-emotional adjustment and can have long-term benets for children. However,
outcomes were dissimilar in terms of emotional symptoms, which were more prevalent in the children in the teacher-oriented
group. Based on the work of Ladd (2006) and Klima and Repetti (2008), we speculated that this outcome may be associated
with the higher level of peer problems at age 67 years that characterized this group.
The results of the teacher-oriented group underscore the need for parents and teachers to pay close attention to children's re-
lationships with peers and not be misled by a good relationship with the teacher. Teachers can capitalize on the positive relation-
ships children form with them to support children's social competence with peers and shape children's healthy orientations
toward peer interactions (Howes, 2000; Howes, Hamilton & Matheson, 1994). Deliberate modeling and instruction of social inter-
actions strategies such as helping, sharing, and using empathetic responses and a focus on enhancing children's emotional and
behavioral self-regulation are likely to prove effective in increasing peer acceptance and lowering peer problems for teacher-ori-
ented children (see Parker, Rubin, Earth, Wojslawowicz, & Buskirk, 2006 for a review). Teachers are also encouraged to be more
aware of the classroom peer social ecology and exert effort in reducing status inequalities in the classroom, in particular by pro-
viding positive recognition of the behaviors of children who are at a low social status, being aggressed against and victimized (see
Pianta et al., 2003 for a review; Troop-Gordon, 2015). In a classroom where teachers emphasize qualities of mastery, appreciating
intrinsic value, exerting effort and making progress rather than demonstrating superior ability and outperforming others, children
are more likely to care about each other, respect each other, resort to adaptive social problem solving, and refrain from being
mean or putting others down (Shim, Kiefer, & Wang, 2013). Teachers who use organizational and instructional strategies in rela-
tion to the management of children's time, behavior and attention more effectively are also better able to support adaptive stu-
dent behaviors and peer interactions (Luckner & Pianta, 2011; Pas, Cash, O'Brennan, Debnam, & Bradshaw, 2015).
Teacher-child conict prominent group was similar to the non-adaptive cluster in having high TCR conict but was low on
peer problems, and mid-range on closeness. This group is interesting in that past research with elementary school children and
adolescents has shown that popularity with peers is linked with low submissiveness and non-compliance (see Gorman, Kim, &
Schimmelbusch, 2002 for a review). It may be that this association also occurs in much younger children (age 67). The longitu-
dinal results showed these children had lower levels of general self-concept, social self-concept and school liking than the adap-
tive and teacher-oriented groups, and higher levels of emotional problems than the adaptive and invisible groups at age 89. Their
pattern of scores was similar to the non-adaptive group, although not as severe. It appears that the presence of conicting
C. Wang et al. / Journal of School Psychology 59 (2016) 111 9

relationships with teachers played a key role in these children's maladaptive social-emotional adjustment, supporting earlier nd-
ings that the relationship with teachers in the early years is a critical inuence on later social-emotional functioning (O'Connor et
al., 2011).
Avoiding conict with children is a key challenge for teachers. In order for the children to accept and internalize the academic
and social values promoted by teachers, it is particularly important for teachers to show unconditional care and support (Urdan &
Schoenfelder, 2006). Children care about their relationship with teachers and as shown in the study, a desirable relationship with
teachers has long-term benets. Strategies that communicate such care include providing children with autonomy rather than re-
quiring compliance in their learning, embedding learning in meaningful topics and fostering safe, supportive and risk free class-
room environment (see Urdan & Schoenfelder, 2006 for a review). School psychologists can also provide teachers with
professional development on children's social-emotional functioning during the early years of elementary school and facilitate
group discussions among teachers, helping them identify children's behaviors and their own behaviors that may suggest frustra-
tion and stress and potentially lead to negative TCR. Children with particular conicting relationships with teachers can benet
from teachers' acknowledgement of feelings, unconditional acceptance, care and positive expectations (Pianta, 1999).

4.2. Limitations and future directions

Our data are correlational in nature; thus, we do not suggest causality. Children's social-emotional characteristics may affect
their relationship with teachers and peers (Rudasill & Rimm-Kaufman, 2009), and it is possible that children who start school
with more positive social-emotional development form more adaptive classroom social relationships (Baker, 2006; Breeman et
al., 2015). Future studies on the direction of TCR and peer relationships and socio-emotional outcomes are likely to elucidate
this issue. We also encourage future studies to employ direct observations or child self-report measures to examine if the ndings
are robust across situations with different informant ratings (Sabol & Pianta, 2012).
We also note that the study sample was different from LSAC children not included in the study in terms of socioeconomic po-
sition, language background and Indigenous background. Although this is typical of longitudinal patterns of attrition, the study
sample is no longer representative of the original LSAC sample and the Australian population. However, as shown by the effect
sizes, the magnitude of the differences between the included and excluded was quite small. Further, the large sample size, mul-
tiple informants, and longitudinal nature of the data are key strengths that underline importance of the ndings.
We also accept that small effect sizes were found in our longitudinal prediction of outcomes, which indicates that there may
be other factors to be taken into account. We note, however, that the effects were similar in magnitude to effect sizes reported in
previous studies among children in both general education (Mercer & DeRoiser, 2008) and special education (Breeman et al.,
2015). Nevertheless, interventions for improving children's social-emotional adjustment should seek to employ other effective
strategies in addition to the enhancement of classroom social relationships.
Due to the scope of the study, we were not able to include a broader range of social-emotional adjustment constructs. Plans
are in place to examine links to prosocial behaviors and school belongingness in future analyses of the LSAC dataset. Furthermore,
the present study did not explore the possible factors associated with different patterns of relationship. Efforts have been made to
examine predictors of groups of TCR during elementary school (O'Connor, 2010). Future studies could examine the specic pre-
dictors of different proles of TCR and peer relationships to further inform intervention.

4.3. General implications for practice

Children's positive social and emotional functioning has implications for their learning as well as for teachers' teaching prac-
tices (Durlak et al., 2011). Teachers and school psychologists are important resources for children's successful adaptation during
the early years of formal schooling. The present study encourages continued effort in enhancing the quality of classroom social
relationships during elementary schooling in addition to the focus on effective instruction and academic interactions. The clus-
ter analysis results of the present study draw attention to different dynamics of the patterns of social relationships in the class-
room and suggest that interventions that target children's specic relational needs may be most effective. The results call for
particular effort in supporting children with a non-adaptive relationship prole to develop positive relationships with teachers
and peers.
Teachers' role in creating a culturally, socially and emotionally respectful environment is often overlooked in teacher education
programs and professional development in Australia and elsewhere (Baker, 2006; O'Connor & McCartney, 2007). Currently, the
Australian Professional Standards for Teachers (Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership, AITSL, 2015) underlines
the signicance of creating and maintaining supportive and safe learning environments. However, these standards emphasize
the potential for enhanced learning outcomes through good management of classroom activities, challenging behaviors and stu-
dent participation. Less attention is given to management of classroom environments to foster social-emotional adjustment. Fur-
ther, there is no specic reference for teachers to establish positive TCR and encourage better peer relationships in their
classrooms. Effective classroom relationship-building strategies should be explicitly incorporated as a core element in teacher ed-
ucation program and professional development models (Wu, Hughes & Kwok, 2010). Importantly, teachers who are provided
with ongoing individualized support in implementing effective strategies have been shown to experience increased positive
TCR and peer relationships (Luckner & Pianta, 2011; Pianta et al., 2012).
10 C. Wang et al. / Journal of School Psychology 59 (2016) 111

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