Effects of developmental relationships with teachers on middle-school students’ motivation and performance

Peter C. Scales, Martin Van Boekel, Kent Pekel, Amy K. Syvertsen, Eugene C. Roehlkepartain

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


We examined how middle-school students’ motivation, belonging, 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 associations by student socioeconomic status (SES). The study included 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 beginning and end of the school year, and also directly predicted students’ sense of belonging and school climate. Relationships 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 facets of student–teacher developmental relationships may have important effects on motivation and achievement of middle-school students.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)646-677
Number of pages32
JournalPsychology in the Schools
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We are also grateful to our colleague Chen‐Yu Wu for the supportive analysis conducted for this study. This study was made possible by a grant to Search Institute from the Spencer Foundation, Principal Investigator Peter C. Scales. The Foundation had no role in developing the study design, the collection, analysis, and interpretation of the data, the writing of this report, or the decision to submit this article for publication. The opinions expressed are the sole responsibility of the authors.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.


  • academic motivation
  • developmental relationships
  • middle-school students
  • student–teacher relationships


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