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Dedicated to enriching relationships between educators and their students

Summary of Research

Three Published Studies

Each article below articulates the importance of the teacher-student relationship and examines relational turning point events in teacher-student relationships and their outcomes.
Docan-Morgan, T. (2011). “Everything changed”: Relational turning point events in college teacher-student relationships from teachers’ perspectives.  Communication Education, 61, 20-50.

Docan-Morgan, T., & Manusov, V. (2009). Relational turning point events and their  outcomes in college teacher-student relationships from students’ perspectives. Communication Education, 58, 155-188.

Docan-Morgan, T. (2009). A typology of relational turning point events in college teacher student relationships. Journal of Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 9, 82-97.

Background and Methods

The teacher-student dynamic comprises a unique and important relationship. Teven (2001) has argued that “in order to maximize learning, it is essential for teachers to develop a good relationship with their students, because the rapport established between teachers and students, in part, determines the interest and performance level of students” (p. 159). Indeed, some teacher-student relationships develop into supportive and meaningful mentorships (Rawlins, 2000), some may change very little, and others endure a seesaw of friction and conflict until their demise (Meyers, 2003). Relational turning points, perhaps one of the most salient occurrences regarding change in relationships, are particularly meaningful as they affect outcomes such as closeness, commitment, and relational satisfaction (e.g., Golish, 2000; Surra, 1987), are deemed important by partners (Baxter & Bullis, 1986), and often have a powerful effect on relational development (Masheter & Harris, 1986). A relational turning point is defined as an event or occurrence when one or both people in a relationship notice that the relationship has changed in some significant way (Baxter & Bullis, 1986). Overall, I sought to answer:

1. What specific types of events do students and teachers report as relational turning points in teacher-student relationships?

2. How do important outcomes for students (e.g., learning, motivation) and teachers (e.g., job satisfaction, self-efficacy, motivation) appear to be affected by specific relational turning point events?

I explored relational turning point events between college teachers and students from both students’ and teachers’ perspectives. Students who were able to identify a relational turning point event with a college teacher (n = 394, 62% of the overall sample) completed open- and closed-ended survey questions about the event, its outcomes, and their learning and motivation. Likewise, teachers who were able to identify a relational turning point event with a student (n = 306, 78.5% of the overall sample) completed open- and closed-ended questions about the event and how it appeared to affect outcomes such as job satisfaction and teacher motivation.


Key Findings


1. Undergraduate students experience meaningful, significant changes in their relationships with
college instructors, and these changes also appear to affect outcomes such as learning and motivation. Students reported relational turning point events ranging from sharing meaningful self-disclosures to being ridiculed by their teacher. Click here to read a summary of the types of relational turning point events and their effects reported by students. Nearly 80% of the events students indicated were perceived as positive in nature (e.g., teacher using a student's name), whereas 20% were negative (e.g., teacher and student discussing a grade). In addition to changing their relationship, students also reported that the turning point affected their learning and motivation in the course. Students also responded that the turning point changed their respect for the teacher, willingness to approach the teacher and other teachers to seek help, decisions about school, and confidence in the course, subject, academics in general, and self. Ultimately, these findings illuminate that relational turning point events are significant moments in students' education and have the potential to shape their relationships, learning, and a host of other outcomes.


2. Most college instructors also experience relational turning points with college students.
Teachers reported a variety of types of events, including engaging in interventions with students, discussing advancement in education and careers, being deceived, and revealing private, personal information with  students. Click here to read a summary of the types of turning point events and their effects reported by teachers. The majority of these turning points reported by teachers were perceived as positive events (e.g., discussion of advancement in education or career), although some were deemed negative (e.g., student deceiving the teacher). Teachers also indicated that many of the turning point events affected their job satisfaction, self-efficacy, liking for students, and motivation.