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1.1 Background to the Study

A proliferation of research from Eschenmann (1991) and other scholars suggests that if teachers take the time to build relationships they can motivate their students to learn. Further research (Whitaker, 2004) also suggests that teachers need to have a strong belief that building relationships are important to the motivation process. There is a need to capitalize on these beliefs for the child’s benefit. It is important that educators recognize the impact they have on their students, and consider strongly their students’ perceptions of them (Eschenmann, 1991). Teachers have to ensure that they are meeting student needs, both academically and emotionally. Creating classroom environments that promote positive cultures with healthy interactions can motivate students to channel their energies and desires to reach their goals.

According to Whitaker (2004), the main variable in the classroom is not the student, but the teacher. Great teachers have high expectations for their students, but even higher expectations for themselves (2004). These teachers recognize the importance of connecting with their students, that if they are unable to connect with them emotionally then influencing their minds may be impossible (2004). “Good teachers put snags in the river of children passing by, and over time, they redirect hundreds of lives… There is an innocence that conspires to hold humanity together …” (Bolman & Deal, 2002, p. 124). Whitaker (2004) suggests that teachers are the first and perhaps most important point of contact in a student’s life. Despite the countless reforms, educational movements, and programs implemented to improve education, no other element can be as profound as the human element. He urges, “It’s the people, not the programs” (Whitaker, 2004, p.9).

More profoundly he states, “There are really two ways to improve a school significantly:

Get better teachers and improve the teachers in the school” (p.9).

“A fundamental question for a student is ‘Does my teacher like me?’ Given a rigorous, aligned curriculum, the answer to that simple question is our best predictor of student achievement”(Terry, 2008, p.1). Teacher knowledge and efficacy of student motivation and achievement are crucial components to creating relationships that motivate. Both teachers and students have to value their contribution. A student has to feel worthwhile and appreciated. A teacher needs to recognize that he or she can have a positive effect on their students. Wiseman and Hunt (2001) refer to this as “teacher efficacy” and note that the more the teacher believes in this, the more they will cause it to happen (p.11).

Research acknowledges (Whitaker, 2004; Tyler & Boelter, 2008) teacher expectations as strong and reliable predictors of performance among elementary, middle and high school students. In fact, Pajares and Miller (1994) purport that self-efficacy beliefs have stronger impact on behavior and performance than self-concept and selfesteem. Other research (Walker Tileston, 2004; Whitaker, 2004) revealed that for many primary grade level students, the classroom environment and more specifically the teacher can influence a student’s desire to cheat academically, consider or follow through on dropping out of school, as well as demonstrate a decline in academic motivation and performance. Students are influenced by perceptions of their teachers’ evenhandedness, competence, caring and support as well as the nature of the teacher-student relationship that results (Stipek, 2002).

A student wants to feel connected to people and to feel as though he or she deserves to be loved and respected (Stipek, 2002). According to Stipek many of the children who are not doing well academically, are the same ones who have a poor relationship with their teachers. Typically, the more they fall behind academically, often, the more this relationship is weakened. If they are constantly reprimanded in class, the environment and the teacher-student relationship begin to hold negative associations. In her research, Stipek found that students who perceived a more nurturing relationship with their teachers tended to have better attitudes towards academics and often did better than their peers who lacked the same support system. Stipek also referenced a Belmont and Skinner study conducted in 1993, which supported the idea that a good teacher-student relationship positively influenced learning. The more connected a child feels, the more they are willing to attempt tasks and to seek help when necessary. The student who feels this sense of connectedness may want to maintain it or please the teacher by doing well in class (2002).

According to Tyler and Boelter (2008), positive teacher expectations were associated with high academic performance or academic gains; whereas negative teacher expectations resulted in decrease in academic performance. The significance of knowing teachers’ beliefs regarding their roles in student motivation is crucial due to the accepted correlation between this perception and actions (2008). Perhaps the most striking factor in this research is how evident teacher expectations seem to be to their students, the consensus that the student desires their teachers’ approval or attention and the consequences of the teachers’ response. In Lavoie’s (2007) book: “The Motivation Breakthrough: 6 secrets to turning on the tuned-out child” he told the story of an inflexible teacher arguing the need for passive instruction and passive learning. The teacher contended that his job was to provide his students with information and their job was to absorb that information. He continued his passiveness by arguing those who did not want to learn could sit in the back and sleep. The teacher’s final comment “… that is not my problem…I’m a teacher not his cheerleader” suggests that there are teachers who still have a misunderstanding of their roles in the classroom (p.4).

Teachers need to capitalize on the impact that their positive attitude plays inside the classroom, “the genuine enthusiasm displayed by the instructor is always a major factor in motivation because it is contagious. It engenders a pleasant atmosphere in the classroom and contributes to high motivation” (Miller & Rose, 1975, p.36). Marzano adds, “The quality of teacher–student relationships is the keystone for all other aspects of classroom management” (Marzano & Marzano, 2008, p.1). Reinforcement theorists argue that motivation is in the environment, not in the person such as the teacher (Stipek, 2002).

However, it is the teacher who plays the greatest role in setting the atmosphere (Whitaker, 2004).

Whitaker (2004) argues that it is better to create the relationship that will motivate the student to behave versus advertising the consequences. School climate and culture will enable or restrict classroom instruction and student learning (Stewart, 2008), since students adapt to their environment. If educators create a culture where students are expected to succeed, many often conform. Researchers van der Westhuizen, Mosoge, Swanepoel, and Coetsee, (2005) suggest that an effective organizational culture can enhance academic achievement and lead to reduced student drop out and failure rates, effective discipline, and regular attendance.

According to Freiberg and Stein (1999), “school climate is the heart and soul of a school” (p.11). Stewart (2008) identifies three facets of school climate: school culture, school organizational structure and the school social structure. The school’s culture influences students’ connectedness to their environment which research suggests affects academic achievement. The second element is school organizational structure, which Stewart uses to describe school and class size, both found to lead to positive behavioral and scholastic achievement. The third element Stewart explored was the schools social structure, which includes characteristics such as staff and student ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, teacher skill and preparation (Stewart, 2008).

 1.2 Statement of the Problem

The debate over reforming public education across the United States will continue to rage in the 21st century. It is important for the reader to understand the magnitude and urgency of the situation.  “In October 2006, approximately 3.5 million civilian non-institutionalized 16- through 24-year-olds [throughout the United States] were not enrolled in high school and had not earned a high school diploma or alternative credential.” (National Center for Education Statistics, NCES, 2008)

According to the Florida Department of Education (2008) in the 2005-2006 school year, the state of Florida had 801,286 students enrolled in traditional grades 9-12. Of that population, 3.5 % dropped out during the same academic year, that is 28,045 students in one year, in one state, Florida.

Florida is one of three states, along with California and Texas, which contributed to approximately 50% of the 100 largest public-school districts in the country (NCES, 2008). These numbers cannot be ignored.

One of the most pressing issues in this debate for reform is the overwhelming presence of seemingly unmotivated students, sometimes despite vast resources and continuous efforts of school districts. Regardless of the various curriculum reforms, legislatives mandates such as the No Child Left Behind Act (P.L. 107-110) (NCLB,

2001), and/or educational movements such as creating smaller schools and Professional Learning Communities, the student still needs to apply the skills that the teacher provides

(Bruns, 1992). Teachers need to help students believe that they can be successful. Teachers need to supply the ‘force’ that can influence students to set higher goals for themselves and according to Ruby Payne, (2003) teachers need to help students recognize the costs of the choices they make.

Significance of the Study

Statistics that will be presented next show student “apathy” and suggest a state of emergency which, drastic measures are needed to find and fix the real issues. Unmotivated students will translate into unproductive and immobile students. If these students are not productive according to local or state standards, they will be retained or reach frustration levels and drop out of school. Another major problem associated with unmotivated students is that they tend to become discipline issues both inside and outside of school. An unfavorable effect or consequence is that many of these students, especially males, end up in alternative or Special Education classes (Slocumb, 2004). In 2007, the

Florida Department of Education reported that Florida’s Exceptional Student Education

(ESE) or Special Education population increased from 499,214 in the fall of 2002 to 517,602 in the fall of 2006, an increase of 3.68 percent. For secondary students, the situation is even more critical, as these are the years in which they solidify the resources to make them employable, to enable them to provide for themselves and to live fruitful and productive lives. According to the 2006 Crime Report, released by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, FDLE, in 2007, there were 121,181 offenses commitment by juveniles in 2006. Males committed 91,590 crimes in Florida, while females committed 29,591.These offenses ranged from murders to liquor law violations (FDLE, 2007). As such, it is crucial that these children be removed from the cycle of failure, and be taught to redirect their motivation to productive tasks.

Numerous external and internal forces (e.g. home environment, peer pressure, culture, socio-economic status, etc) influence student lives. Each of these forces has a magnitude and direction. The summation of these forces drives the student in a particular direction. The student will move in the direction of these summed forces although, many instances this direction is not supportive of reaching the educational objectives the student needs to meet. If the teacher is aware of the nominal summed forces upon the student, knows the educational objectives for the student, the teacher can apply influential/motivational forces to assist the student in obtaining the educational goals/objectives for the student’s success (W. S. McGee, personal communication,

January 6, 2009) (See Figure 1).


Figure 1 Magnitude and Direction of Force (W. S. McGee, 2009)


This study is designed to add to the body of knowledge of how teacher-student interactions can improve and increase student motivation.

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of this study is to examine the correlation between teacher-student interactions and achievement motivation. Victor Vroom’s Expectancy Theory

(1964/1995) provides a theoretical framework. The Hypothesis is that if teachers develop skills and take the time to build positive relationships, to create cultures of success and the expectation or value of such, then students should or will be able to develop the desire for success and the love of learning.

Research Questions

The following research questions and Hypothesis will be tested:

  1. To what extent, if any is a difference in the perception of teacher-student interactions between teachers and students?

H1A: There is a difference in the perception of teacher-student interactions between teachers and students.

  1. To what extent is there a relationship between teacher-student interactions and motivation (Expectancy and Force)?

H2A:   There is a relationship between teacher-student relationships and motivation.

  1. To what extent is there a relationship between teacher-student relationships and achievement?

H3A:  There is a relationship between teacher-student relationships and achievement.

4            To what extent is there a relationship between achievement (G.P.A) and motivation?

H4A:  There is a relationship between achievement (G.P.A) and motivation.

Definition of Terms

For the purpose of this study, the following definitions will be utilized: Culture – A pattern of shared basic assumptions that a group learned as it solved its problems of external adaptation and integration that has worked well enough to be considered valid and therefore taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think and feel in relation to these problems (Bolman & Deal, 2003).

Expectancy -The individual’s conviction concerning the probability that a specific act will result in a specific and desired outcome (Vroom, 1964/1995).

Extrinsic Motivation – The motivation inspired by external rewards or a tangible result (Walker Tileston, 2004).

Force – Force is the element, which causes the individual to act to on their belief about the probability of achieving an outcome for a task (Vroom, 1964/1995).

Intrinsic Motivation – The motivation from within, where the enjoyment of the task is the actual reward, without the promise of a tangible reward (Walker Tileston, 2004). Motivation – The force that creates the energy for a goal holds that energy or desire throughout the task and channels a particular behavior towards that goal (Wiseman & Hunt, 2001).

Reinforcement – Response immediately follows an action, to strengthen a behavior by adding a positive consequence or to reduce a behavior by adding negative consequences (Alberto & Troutman, 2003).

Reward – A positive element received because of a desired action, which may or may not be immediate (Nye, 1996).

Valence – This is the idea that the individual has a preference to the outcome of a task (motive). An outcome is positively valent when it is the desired outcome; it is negatively valent if the outcome is not desired (Vroom, 1964/1995).



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