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Inside out: The role of teachers’ mental representations in relationships with individual students

Book - Dissertation

Teachers interact daily with students of their class and internalize these experiences into mental representations of relationships with individual students (Pianta et al., 2003). Teachers' mental representation of the relationships with individual students may automatically impact teachers' affective and cognitive social information processing thereby influencing their emotions, cognitions, and behavioral responses toward individual students (Pianta, 1999; Spilt et al., 2011). Therefore, insight in teachers' mental representations of dyadic relationships with their students is important to increase the understanding of teacher-student interactions. Especially when teachers' mental representations are negative, an adverse impact on daily teacher-student interactions can be expected (Pianta, 1999).The present dissertation aimed to elucidate the constructs of and the associations between teachers' mental representations of teacher-student relationships, and teachers' emotions, cognitions, and behavioral sensitivity in everyday interactions. In three parts, different studies used different measurements (cf. affective priming, narratives, observations, questionnaires) in order to grasp what is going on in a teacher's mind. Part I focused on teachers' mental representations of relationships with individual students. The first study aimed at providing experimental evidence on teachers' mental representations of dyadic relationships (Chapter 2). The second study aimed at validating a narrative interview technique to tap into these mental representations (Chapter 3), in order to use this method in the third study as part of an intervention for student teachers in their final internship (Chapter 4). Part II focused on teachers' daily negative emotions with a specific student. The development and the correlates of these dyadic negative emotions of teachers were examined (Chapter 5), as well as its impact on teacher behavioral sensitivity toward the student in a cognitive and an emotionally challenging task (Chapter 6). In Part III, to use a more classroom wide approach, the last study qualitatively investigated teachers' narratives about their mental representations of all their dyadic teacher-student relationships in the context of peer group relationships in the classroom (Chapter 7). More than half of the studies were conducted in special primary education, addressing teachers' relationships with the most vulnerable students who are in extra need of emotional support of their teachers to buffer negative outcomes. Our results suggests that making teachers more aware of the influence of mental representations on everyday interactions with students may establish more caring and positive relationships with their students.
Publication year:2020